Delegates from 34 Native Nations at the Creek Council House in Indian Territory, now called Oklahoma, 1880
We Are Native because We Are
These are present tense statements. Our connections to our Native Nations and Native communities are current. They are not something in the past or the distant past. They exist now.
I am Mvskoke because my mother Mona Lee Smith Rothschild is. She is Mvskoke because her mother Leola May Berryhill Smith, my grandmother is. My grandmother is Mvskoke because her mother, my great grandmother Jeanetta May Grayson Berryhill is, and because her father, my great grandfather Pleasant Luther Berryhill is, and ad infinitum.
It is the same thing with my next door neighbors. They are Cherokee because their father is. He is Cherokee because his father, their grandfather is. He is Cherokee because his father, their great grandfather is and so on through numerous great grandfathers and great grandmothers.
My children are Mvskoke because I am. My grandchildren are Mvskoke because their mother is. And so the future will go on further.
None of us are alone either. I come from a large family and I believe my neighbors do as well. I have many 1st and 2nd cousins either reconnecting or in most cases never left the embrace of our Tribal Nation.
All of us have great responsibilities to learn, grow, and teach others, now and in future generations. In person, remote, and digitally documented. Digitize, digitize! Speak it, show it, write it, type it, scan it, photograph it, video it and share it all.
Waking up from the effects of genocide
This is what genocide, colonialism, and assimilation do. They disconnect survivors from our Native Nations and Native communities. They turn our collective focus and growth into scattered individuals with no connections rather than nourishing vibrant communities; rather than connecting citizenry of Native Nations that existed for tens of thousands of years at minimum, way before the United States or Canada. They slowly and sometimes invisibly burn our Native Nations and Native communities down to nothing or next to nothing.
Our ancestors are not prehistoric people either
I saw on Twitter today a post where a skull was found in a construction site in Oklahoma and of course, it was a prehistoric skull. Just one example of the relentless, uncountable and never ending dehumanizing minimization of Native lives. History didn’t start in North America when white colonizers came. Geesh.
We are whole and not fractional people
Colonizers of course, did everything they could to kill every Native in North America. When all was nearly done and colonizers were coveting the final pieces of Native land, they invented blood quantum. To this day Native peoples are categorized by the government as to what fraction of a whole Native they are. No other group have their ‘pedigree’ measured. Yet we are human beings, not dogs or horses; we are never a partial person. Still, colonizers think nothing of minimizing our humanity and of reducing our Native being to inevitable mathematical disappearance.
Truth be told, there are only 2 valid measurements of Indigeneity, either 100% or 0%. There is no in-between or fractional state. A person is either all Native or they are not Native at all. Native Nations and Native communities decide who is Native, not colonizer governments or non-Native people.
Thank the Creator
Our Nations have woken up. There is a great return and indwelling of citizens back to the Native Nations and Native communities. Thank you Creator.
Yes, there is much work to do, but I do believe the future is bright for Natives, Native Nations and Native communities.
Every situation with Indigenous heritage is unique
This is my personal story and how I relate to it. It is not a blueprint to measure others.
There are fake tribes and phony Indians out there, but there are also legitimate tribes and legitimately connected members that haven’t fared well so far under colonizer control or other issues. That is why I say every situation is unique. There could be a number of mitigating factors; ‘insufficient’ blood quantum, refusal to cooperate with colonizers, missed a census, infighting, disenrollments, competing economically with non-Natives and other possibilities… With hundreds, even possibly thousands of tribes, and even more personal relationships to tribes, there is no way I could rationally speak authoritatively about every situation.
With the exception of blood quantum, these mitigating factors are rare in factual reality, and represent an extremely small percentage, less than 1% in my amateur estimation. 99%+ of actual Indigenous people meet the requirements for citizenship in a Tribal Nation. No doubt, enrolling in a Tribal Nation sometimes entails some challenging research and difficult to acquire documentation.
Fortunately for my family and I, our Indigenous Nation is well known, large, and our connection to it is a straight line and well documented for quite some time. I will say this much, if you meet the criteria for citizenship in an Indigenous Nation you have heritage with and the only thing standing in your way is your own inaction, in my opinion you need to become a citizen before claiming indigeneity publicly.
I am 100% Native. I am connected. Connected by DNA, blood quantum, descent, relationship, citizenship in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, education, participation and growth. I was born Native. It’s a gift of inestimable value that the Creator, my mother Mona Smith Rothschild and many other ancestors gave to me. No one could validate it except them. No one can invalidate it or take it away except me, and I will not be relinquishing it.
FYI, I feel the same about being 100% Jewish, with a few changes. I’m a multi-layered person. I’m not one layer fractured into pieces. My Native layer and my Jewish layer are both full and complete. I will write about this more later, but for now this is about being Native.
Most personal things I write on this website are for my descendants; hopefully these writings will outlive me somehow and prove useful to others who read my writings as well.
As I have discussed before in previous posts here and here, DNA is not the end all for me or most Natives. Still, it is definitely a bonus and can corroborate other information. I was aware of the heritage of my 4 grandparents – Native, Jewish, Dutch and English. I was not aware that the Native included not only North American Indigenous, but other Indigenous and African DNA. By itself, DNA can [maybe] pinpoint geographic regions, but [definitely] not specific Tribal identities. Some Indigenous Nations have citizens with no Indigenous DNA as well.
My great-grandmother Jeanetta Grayson Berryhill was full blooded Mvskoke, so her blood quantum was 1/1. My great-grandfather Pleasant Luther ‘Duke’ Berryhill‘s blood quantum was 1/8. This of course made my grandmother’s blood quantum 9/16, my mother’s blood quantum 9/32 and my blood quantum 9/64 or about 14%. Roughly three-fourths of my Indigenous Nation has a blood quantum of less than 1/4. I believe my blood quantum is above the average and above the median of my Tribal Nation.
You might have noticed my great-grandfather’s blood quantum of 1/8 is less than my blood quantum of 9/64. He was born and lived on the reservation, was a Captain of the Lighthorse, and was very active in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Government. A picture hung in the Creek Nation Council House in Okmulgee, Oklahoma of him and my great-grandmother and outside the Council House, a monument honors him. Me, I’m trying. This is an example of why blood quantum is essentially meaningless.
Blood quantum is a colonizer construct. The United States Federal Government designed it to steal land and erase Indigenous culture. Every Mvskoke is 100% Indigenous in my opinion. Blood quantum is by design arbitrary and inaccurate, a corrupt conspiracy from over 100 years ago. Sometimes it is subject to fraud and/or ineptitude, including people that shouldn’t be, and not including people that should be.
Blood quantum also only counts the blood of 1 Tribal heritage in an individual, even when there are multiple Tribal heritages involved. Blood quantum is a meaningless classification forced upon the Indigenous and no others, but it has its legal and citizenship ramifications today, so it is important in a practical sense ultimately. Some Indigenous Nations have even significant numbers of citizens with no blood quantum as well.
Starting in the early 1700s, before the United States was a country, through today, there are 10 generations of my Indigenous ancestors and descendants that I know of so far, by name, as well as their birth/death dates. This is an unbroken line of descent. Often there are photos, drawings, writings and other documentation of their lives.
My grandmother and her parents were born on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation in Indian Territory before Oklahoma was a state. Ancestors before them traveled to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears from the Old Creek Nation. Others lived and died in the Old Creek Nation, in what is now Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, where they lived with their ancestors for who knows how many millennia, perhaps time immemorial.
Obviously my mother and grandmother were not strangers to me or obscure relatives discovered through research or testing. I was raised, nurtured and loved by them. It doesn’t get bigger than this to me. As a common and understandable sign of their times, they were not exactly standing on street corners with megaphones broadcasting their indigeneity. Hopefully this ends with me. I am broadcasting it, literally around the world.
I am Native. I am Indigenous. I am Indian. I am Mvskoke and proud of it.
Citizenship in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
This is super important to me. Anyone that is a direct descendant of someone on the Dawes Rolls or the relevant census for other tribes, would be crazy not to become a citizen of their Indigenous Nation. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation criteria for Citizenship is that you must be Creek by Blood and trace back to a direct ancestor listed on the 1906 Dawes Roll by issuance of birth and/or death certificates’. This and the forms you need to fill out may seem overwhelming at first, but with hindsight I can tell you it is not that complex.
I don’t need to tell you, historical and ongoing colonizer genocide against Indigenous peoples has been devastating to populations. If you are Indigenous, join your Nation! Your people need you and you need them. Fortunately many Nations are rebounding. My Nation has over 90,000 citizens now.
Education, Participation and Growth
To me being Native is not a static thing. I’m deeply immersed in learning about my culture and tribe, and have been for some time. There is quite a bit of written and video material out there. Realistically, I’m probably too old to gain fluency in our language, but for those who can, I highly recommend it. I hope to incorporate some of our ceremonial and music legacies into my experimental music recordings. When I do I will post the recordings on this website.
As an at-large citizen, I do what I can to participate. I vote in Tribal Nation elections and US elections as pro-Indigenous as I can. Sovereignty and provision for my Nation is always foremost on my mind and in my vote. I influence who I can. I hope to be blessed enough to visit my reservation with family someday.
I strongly support #Landback. Nothing short of the restoration of Tribal lands, full sovereignty, reparations and the complete removal of the US Government from Indigenous Nations will satisfy me permanently.
Every month that you talk to me or read my writings, I will have grown. I do my best to pass down knowledge to my descendants, and light their fire, which is the best growth card in my deck.
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.