Apparently there’s been a big to-do over the fact that Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat vying for Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat, has Cherokee and Delaware Indian ancestry, and that ancestry was reflected in her listing as a minority law professor. People are mad! People are mad because Warren isn’t “really” Native American — she’s only 1/32, which is not enough Native American blood to count as “real,” I guess. Of course, as Sarah Burris points out, white-lady clubs like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames of America don’t have percentage rules for their bloodlines — you’ve just gotta have one relative who fit the bill. And if being 1/32 Native American isn’t enough to make you “really” Native American, someone should probably tell the current chief of the Cherokee Tribe.
This bit from the WaPo op/ed is also key:
An Indian identity has become a commodity, though not one that is openly traded. It has real value in only a few places; the academy is one of them. And like most commodities, it is largely controlled by the elite. In the 19th century, the U.S. government, Indian agents and even commercial barons had power over who was and who wasn’t identified as Indian. This meant controlling who got annuities, rations of food and clothing, funding, land, and trade. After the passage of the Dawes Act of 1887, which allowed Indians a certain amount of acreage based on tribal enrollment, it meant controlling who got an allotment of land and who didn’t. Half-blood Indians enrolled in tribes were allowed to sell their allotments, while full-bloods were not.
So if you were on the make, it was better to classify Indians as half-blood on paper, get them in debt to you and then have them sign their land over to you. Millions of acres were transferred out of tribal control and into the hands of the government — and to timber, mining, farming and railroad barons. Those with power and those in power controlled who could be classified as Indian and how strongly so.
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