Before and after colonizers
In all the millenniums before colonizers, most tribe members had a family connection to their Indigenous tribes in the Americas. You were generally born into or married into the tribe. However, just like every other tribe in the world, tribes were in charge of their own citizens, they could confer citizenship on whomever they pleased. And for a time, even after the colonizers arrived, they did exactly that.
This is one of several reasons why some tribes have black, white and other races or ethnicities mixed in. Being Indigenous is not a pure racial thing. That’s a white construction that has nothing to do with the rest of the world. My tribe, the Muscogee, Creek, or my preference the Mvskoke people, before and throughout the existence of the United States has been a mixture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. There are brown people, red people, black people, white people, and whatever other skin tones you want to pin a name to people.
Blood Quantum is a colonizer construct
Every Indigenous tribe throughout the western hemisphere has its own history with colonizers. Obviously European colonizers have seriously interfered with Indigenous folk since the day they set foot in ever increasing ways, but in 1898 the United States essentially took control of the membership of my tribe. The Muscogee, one of the five civilized tribes, were required to participate in a census. Although the Muscogee did not consider strict ‘blood’ descent the only way to determine if a person was a member of the tribe, the Dawes Commission did.
Henceforth, the Dawes Rolls were the main factor to determine if you were a member of the Muscogee (and the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole as well). There were also separate Dawes rolls for Freedmen or formerly enslaved people associated with the tribe. There were also mistakes between the two ‘rolls’ as well as people that bribed their way into the rolls to steal land allotted for the Indigenous and Freedmen.
Indigenous DNA is nice, but by itself is meaningless for citizenship in an indigenous nation
You might have seen some claims of indigenous descent disputes before, Elizabeth Warren likely the most infamous. Family myth or lore is silly beyond reason and usually accompanied by a great deal of ignorance.
Minute amounts of DNA, as well, do not mean much. DNA is just not the end all. Sometimes DNA may confirm or buttress some historical beliefs and it may or may not indicate ancestors of the general Indigenous population, but not to the tribal level for sure.
Family and connection to tribe is what it is all about
Traditionally, the lineage of the Mvskoke people, like most Native American tribes, is matrilineal. I have a clear, straight and recent matrilineal line to 2 women on the Dawes Rolls. My grandmother and my great grandmother whom you see in the images above were both born in the Creek nation before the establishment of Oklahoma. Only my mother stands between them and me.
My grandmother of course, was personally known to me. I have talked with her, been held by her, kissed by her, sat on her lap… She lived with us for a time… You get what I’m saying.
If matrilineal descent were the only factor that mattered in any racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation, I would be nothing but a born 100% Native American. Fortunately for my children and grandchildren patrilineal matters too. Like me, they also have a clear lineage to women and men on Dawes Rolls. This lineage is why I and the majority of my descendants are enrolled members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
I believe my 4 major ethnicities (Mvskoke, Jewish, Dutch, and English) are 100% complete layers, not 25% of each and not only that but I feel them, I know the people, I am connected. It’s not myth or lore or the result of a surprise DNA finding.
I do find my DNA results to be informative though. For instance I was thrilled to discover African DNA, that confirms a common understanding that most Mvskoke have black ancestry as well. I’m excited and dying to know more, but I don’t know the people; I can’t run around claiming I’m an African American. An ally is what I’ll always likely be.
None of all this is to say my experiences in life have been as a fully Indigenous person growing up and living life from the reservation onward. I grew up in a time of assimilation and have been white passing most of the time. Culturally it’s a different story, I’ve been an urban Jew my whole adult life.
And that’s it for now, stay tuned for more.
Heritage related posts
May 18, 2022 – The 2022 DNA of my Native and Jewish Heritage
Apr 30, 2022 – I am Native, I am Mvskoke
Sep 26, 2021 – Cultural reflections on whiteness & my new 2021 DNA
Jun 16, 2021 – I have three percent African DNA
Apr 27, 2021 – Why I identify as Native
Dec 18, 2020 – About indigenous DNA and blood quantum
Dec 12, 2020 – Thoughts for Descendants & 2019 DNA