Communing with the Dead: The “New Métis,” Métis Identity Appropriation, and the Displacement of Living Métis Culture

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Canada, Media Archive on 2018-05-22 02:25Z by Steven

Communing with the Dead: The “New Métis,” Métis Identity Appropriation, and the Displacement of Living Métis Culture

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 42, Number 2, Spring 2018
pages 62-190

Adam Gaudry, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Native Studies & Department of Political Science
University of Alberta

Métis are witnessing an increase in the number of self-identified “Métis” individuals and groups lacking affiliation with long-standing Métis communities. For these groups, genealogical discovery of previously unknown Indian ancestors acts as a catalyst for personal self-discovery, spiritual growth, and ultimately the assertion of a Métis identity, regardless of whether or not this identity is accepted by contemporary Métis communities. These “new Métis” do not situate their Métis identity in the lived practice of Métis communities that have persisted for generations throughout Western Canada but in written genealogical reports that link them to long-dead Indigenous relatives who may not have even understood themselves to be Métis. In light of this problematic “new Métis” orientation to “the dead,” this article explores the narratives generated by the unprecedented growth of Métis self-identification, particularly in Eastern Canada, and how shifting conceptions of Métis identity have inaugurated a problematic “new Métis” subjectivity.

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Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review) [Steineker]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-08-22 13:40Z by Steven

Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review) [Steineker]

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 38, Number 3, Summer 2014
pages 400-402
DOI: 10.1353/aiq.2014.0028

Rowan Faye Steineker
Department of History
University of Oklahoma

In Becoming Indian, anthropologist Circe Sturm provides another innovative study of Cherokee identity politics to accompany her previous work, Blood Politics. Sturm uses ethnographic data to explain the contemporary phenomenon of “racial shifting,” which she defines as the process of reallocating one’s racial self-identification from non-Indian to Indian. This surprising and controversial demographic trend has caused the number of people claiming a Native identity on the US Census to increase over 300 percent between 1960 and 2000. Additionally, the number of people claiming to be of mixed Native American descent grew by over 600 percent during the same period. Most of these racial shifters have gravitated toward a Cherokee identity, a trend that Sturm attributes to a history of cultural syncretism, high rates of exogamy, and Cherokee tribal enrollment policies, leading to the public perception that most Cherokees appear white. As a result, the number of self-identified Cherokee individuals in the United States has grown at an astonishing rate during the past thirty years. In order to shape this provocative study, Sturm conducted ethnographic fieldwork as well as documentary research among multiple self-identified Cherokee organizations, including the three federally recognized Cherokee groups: the Cherokee Nation, the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She also skillfully builds upon historical studies concerning race, whiteness, and Native identity within American society, including Phil Deloria’s Playing Indian and David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness.

Sturm divides the study into two sections: “Racial Shifters” and “Citizen Cherokees.” In the first, she provides a detailed examination of racial shifters and their motivations for reindiginization based on her research among members of self-identified Cherokee organizations. She found that they claimed a Native identity based on a variety of reasoning, including newly discovered and documented Native ancestry, undocumented family stories, or even spiritual feelings. Despite their differences, Sturm finds that typical racial shifters previously identified as white, yet they all assert claims to indigeneity using blood discourse. After analyzing the narrative accounts used by racial shifters, she concludes that conceptions of whiteness drive this identity transformation. Racial shifters describe their change to Cherokeeness using a discourse of whiteness, an identity that they associate with the “excesses of American individualism, secularism, and anomie” (85). Sturm argues that these racial shifters undergo a type of conversion involving a search for a meaningful life, social transcendence, a process of socialization, and proselytization similar to a religious conversion experience. This process of converting to Cherokee neotribalism allows racial shifters a means to repudiate their whiteness and find a “remedy for the ‘ills of the modern, neoliberal age’ while keeping their white privilege” (85). Thus, Sturm greatly complicates widely held notions concerning racial shifters, particularly the argument that most are motivated by material gain. She also places the discussion of Native identity within a very present context that demonstrates shifting conceptions of race, indigeneity, and American identity within the cultural and political climate of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

While Sturm provides a balanced portrayal of racial shifters in an attempt to explain the cultural reasoning underlying their transformation, she clearly demonstrates that racial shifting is also a political act with numerous consequences. She does so by devoting the second half of the study to the reaction of members of the three federally recognized Cherokee groups to individuals and groups claiming Cherokee identity. Through their reactions, she explores how racial shifting is profoundly affecting what it means to be a member of a sovereign Native nation. Typically, these “citizen Cherokees” react negatively toward people trying to reclaim an indigenous status. As Native Americans via documented ancestry and political recognition, “citizen Cherokees” often use terms such as “wannabes” and “fake Indians” to describe racial shifters whom they commonly view as “poor white trash” attempting to access a higher social status. Sturm also describes several cases of racial shifters misappropriating Native symbols and beliefs in ways that are offensive toward “Cherokee citizens.” Not only is racial shifting a cultural threat to “Cherokee citizens,” it also becomes a legal threat to their political status as federally recognized members of sovereign indigenous nations, especially as some states have begun to legally…

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Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2013-06-11 04:18Z by Steven

Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Circe Sturm (review)

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 37, Numbers 1-2, Winter/Spring 2013
pages 269-272
DOI: 10.1353/aiq.2013.0006

Miguel A. Maymí

Circe Sturm’s book Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-First Century is an insightful view into the motivations of those who began identifying as Cherokee on the US census in recent years. There has been an explosion in the number of Americans now self-identifying as Native American (an increase of 647 percent from 1960 to 2000), an overwhelming majority of whom identify specifically as Cherokee. Circe Sturm, herself a Mississippi Choctaw descendant, set out to discover who these “racial shifters” were and why they had suddenly decided to become Indian. She also set out to discover what the politics and sentiments citizen Cherokees held for those “racial shifters.”

Sturm’s analysis is very ambitious. She sets out to answer a great deal of questions that vary from social, economic, and political implications of racial shifting for both those making the shift and citizen Cherokees, as well as theoretical and analytical practices and understandings in the field sites. However, the overriding question she asks is, Why are so many people shifting from simply claiming family ties to identifying as a more explicitly Native American ethnicity (8)? She strives to uncover the underlying motivations surrounding these decisions and considers whether they are mostly part of an attempt to reap the perceived financial and institutional benefits or whether there is an emotional reason behind the shift.

From the outset of the book, Sturm makes a clear dichotomy, which she puts in constant conversation throughout the work: the essentially “authentic” citizen Cherokee and the racial shifters. Citizen Cherokees are those who have legal, federal recognition as being Cherokee, whereas racial shifters are “individuals who have changed their self-identification on the U.S. census from non-Indian to Indian in recent years” (5). Sturm also delves into the discussion of white privilege as an essential differentiator between race shifters and those who were born Cherokee, the establishment of Cherokee neotribal sects and the perceived threats to the federally recognized tribes they impose, and the greater implications of a country whose citizens are increasingly abandoning their white identity in preference for a less privileged and more discriminated Indian race.

Sturm’s book is derived from primarily three sources. First, she conducted both formal and informal research with the three nationally recognized tribes: the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and United Keetoowah band of Cherokee Indians. Second, Sturm’s data are based on a survey she mailed out to leaders of prominent self-identified and state-recognized Cherokee groups; she received only a limited number in return from primarily retired and older members. Finally, much of Sturm’s information comes from interviews with racial shifters conducted by her research assistant, Jessica Walker Blanchard, who was sent to Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma to conduct interviews with racial shifters. That Dr. Sturm is three times removed (and her reader four times) from the interviews with racial shifters attained by her assistant is inherently fraught and problematic (I will discuss this issue below).

Becoming Indian is divided into two parts, split down Strum’s dichotomous line of the race shifter and the citizen Cherokee. Part 1 is an analysis of the motivations and undercurrents of the migration of racial shifter identity. The first chapter of part 1 (chapter 2) explores the stories that commonly mark the impetus for change for many racial shifters. She states that from the interviews we can see that “race shifting is always a narrative act,” that in the stories racial shifters tell we can see the changing of self. Sturm identifies a common thread in the narratives, that of hiding, passing, and persecution. She ends the chapter by discussing the apparent need for racial essentialism, which plays out in these stories through the trope of Indian blood. Chapter 3 analyzes the inescapable whiteness that is inherent in racial shifters. That white privilege enables them to choose their ethnicity and thus is part of their identity. She nevertheless discusses how many racial shifters consciously attempt to completely…

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“African and Cherokee by Choice”: Race and Resistance under Legalized Segregation

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2012-01-11 18:42Z by Steven

“African and Cherokee by Choice”: Race and Resistance under Legalized Segregation

American Indian Quarterly
Volume 22, Numbers 1/2 (Winter – Spring, 1998)
pages 203-229

Laura L. Lovett, Associate Professor of History
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Zora Neale Hurston once boasted that she was “the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.”‘ In the same breath, Hurston confessed that she was of mixed blood, but differed “from the party line in that I neither consider it an honor or a shame.” This difference from “the party line,” as she referred to African American perspectives on Native American ancestry, must have been especially striking to Hurston because she had helped to document race mixture during her brief stint as a research assistant to anthropologist Melville Herskovits. Hurston participated in a 1928 study of the ancestry and physical traits of African Americans, which surveyed 1,551 Howard University students and found that 27.2 percent claimed to have some Native American ancestry. Herskovits reports that he went to great lengths to adjust for the “distinct prestige value” of having Native American ancestry within African American communities, but neither he nor Hurston explained why Native American ancestry would have bestowed prestige.

Herskovits’s study was aimed at a long tradition of scientific research on the nature of racial difference. Strongly influenced by the work of anthropologist Franz Boas, Herskovits wanted to explain the achievement of those African Americans with lighter skin and European features in terms of the dominant system of values in American culture. Since the 1860s, Social Darwinists and later hereditarian eugenicists had sought to explain racial differences in terms of the value of innate biological traits possessed by what were considered to be separate and distinct races. Indeed, the perception that all characteristics were biologically determined and maintained in bloodlines, which were then regulated by “blood quantum” standards, formed an important part of how family identity was constructed. Herskovits questioned the biological framework of “racial integrity” by appealing to cultural and social differences to explain differences ascribed to races. However, this scientific attack did not work its way into American racial ideology for quite some time. In the interim, people renegotiated what were understood to be scientific racial categories in various ways, pointing to places where biological classificatory schema denied the historical realities of interracial relations…

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