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These Are Not Indians

From: The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 26, Number 4, Fall 2002
pp. 643-644 | 10.1353/aiq.2004.0011

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The American Indian Quarterly 26.4 (2002) 643-644

I've lived in Connecticut for a decade now. That is longer than I have lived anywhere else. I've never lived in the South, but have lived twenty miles from Berkeley, California. I've also lived in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

When I came east, I thought it would be for just a short while. Here it is, ten years later. I like it here better than I've liked anywhere I've lived. I like teaching as an adjunct professor.

What I don't like is Connecticut's definition of "Indian." Why? Because I am an Indian. I grew up Indian, look Indian, even speak Indian. So it offends me to come east and to see how "Indian" is defined in this state that I now call home.

What offends me? That on the outside (where it counts in America's racially conscious society), Indians in Connecticut do not appear Indian. In fact, the Indians in Connecticut look more like they come from European or African stock. When I see them, whether they are Pequot, Mohegan, Paugussett, Paucatuck, or Schaghticoke, I want to say, "These are not Indians." But I've kept quiet.

I can't stay quiet any longer. These are not Indians.

The federal recognition process has become a new arena for profit making, as any venture capitalist in America can see. What had been an obscure Bureau of Indian Affairs process has become a loophole for speculators and opportunistic individuals forming "tribes." These speculators are willing to bankroll these questionable "tribes" for mutual gain.

Connecticut has been doing it now for a decade. People who had been indigent elsewhere can come here and claim lineage and book a cruise to the Caribbean islands or move into a spanking new retirement home on casino income as a tribal member.

There are no remnants left of the indigenous peoples that had proudly lived in Connecticut. What is here is all legally created. The blood is gone.

So, who are they? They are descendants, perhaps—though even that seems questionable—of the once proud people who lived in this state called "Quinecktecut." These races have died out. Here's how: What if, in 1700, a Pequot married a European or African, and thirty years later their half-blood offspring married another European or African and so on? By the early 1800s, that blood would be less than 1/32 Indian. By 2002, if the pattern continued, that Indian blood would be virtually nonexistent. Yet a person could identify herself as a descendent of that 1/32 Pequot and be considered Indian according to a questionable and flawed federal recognition process.

Is she? I say no.

We from the West called ourselves "Treaty Indians" to remove ourselves from the influx of so-called "newly born" Indians who had not identified themselves as Indian until it became profitable to do so.

I am Indian and have had to live all that means. I do not claim to descend from a full-blooded Indian. I am it. What I am witnessing in this casino-mad state is a corruption of my heritage. I am outraged by it. These are not Indians.

I hope that the residents of Connecticut see these new casino tribe members for who they are. I challenge all the press and tv stations to include photos and footage of these individuals who claim Native American heritage. Let the public see these people for who they really are (certainly not Indian) and see what a sham the federal recognition process has become at a time when real Indians are facing extreme poverty and neglect.

Delphine Red Shirt of Guilford, Connecticut, is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, an adjunct professor of American studies at Yale University, and author ofTurtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter (University of Nebraska Press, 2002).



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