I went to the Indian Steps Powwow yesterday. It was my first time going to that Powwow and they allowed pictures there. So, I took some and posted them today on my Xanga. The comments have been positive, people really like the pictures. But one comment made me mad.
The commenter said “Were there actual tribal members there, or they were just stupid white people?”
I’m not even sure how to respond to that. I just know that is actually kind of offensive. Not all Native people look. . . well, Native. And even before Europeans came to America, not all Indian tribes looked the same. The image most people have in their minds when they think of Indians is that of the Plains Indians. Not all Natives look like that, some have lighter skin and others have darker skin. I believe it was in the 1500s that the Europeans came in contact with a tribe of Native Americans that they described as having light skin, sometimes even lighter than that of the Europeans themselves. I can’t seem to find where I read this, but I read it in a book and a few places online. But the point is, even before the Europeans came to America and began marrying the Indians, Natives were of all different skin colors even then.
Even in the book Rethinking Columbus, there is a chapter called “What Not to Teach About Native Americans” and it is written by June Sark Henrich. One thing the author says is “Don’t expect Native Americans to look like Hollywood Indians.” The author goes on to say “Whatever it is that people expect Native Americans to look like, many do not fit those images. Since they come from different nations, their physical features, body structure and skin color vary a great deal.” The author then goes on to talk about Native and non-Native marriages, Natives and Europeans marrying, Natives and Africans marrying, etc.
So, depending on which tribe, where they are from, Natives will look different. And then you have to take into consideration that Natives have been marrying non-Natives as well. And that is where I come from and others in my family. My great-grandpa was Cherokee, as was his sister. They lived on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina and later moved to Pennsylvania. They married non-Native people. But my dad does look Cherokee, as did my grandma and her siblings. A number of them even had darker skin. I, however, do not have dark skin and I don’t think I look Cherokee. But just because I don’t look like it, does this make me any less Native?
Earlier this year, I met a woman at a pet store where I was buying a hamster. She saw my Dreamcatcher necklace and asked me if I was Indian. I told her that I was and she asked which tribe, I told her Cherokee. She said that she was Cherokee, too; that she lived on the reservation when she was younger. But if you were to look her, you’d never know. She looks white and not Indian at all. I’ve learned that looks can be deceiving and you’ll only know what a person is if you ask them.
But these “stupid white people”, as the commenter put it, are also Native people. Some might be non-Native who married a Native person and they like to dance at Powwows as well. Some are tribal members, others are not due to lack of proof of their Native ancestry and this can happen because some Natives decided to be “white” to protect their families. Some Natives have destroyed proof of their Native American ancestry, for whatever reason. It happens, not everyone has proof of what they are, but does that make them any less Native? If someone is Irish, but has no proof, does that make them any less Irish? I don’t think so; you are what you are and proof or not, nothing will change that.
Are there some people who pretend to be Native American? Of course. There will always be people who pretend to be something they are not. You have people like this in every race and it’s not right to be pretend to be something you are not.
But this doesn’t mean that all Natives who have white skin are pretending. Not all of them have proof of what they are, but they are still proud of their heritage and they should be able to celebrate it, to share it with others and express their love of their heritage. But I’ve even found that Natives who look white and have proof, that are a registered member of their tribe, people still just think they are a white person because that’s how they look.
As the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The same could be said for people, “Don’t judge a person by their skin color.”
So, if you see white people at a Powwow, don’t think that they are stupid white people. They are Native people too, just celebrating and sharing their heritage.