Who gets to be Metis? As more people self-identify, critics call out opportunists

Posted in Articles, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2017-11-24 22:38Z by Steven

Who gets to be Metis? As more people self-identify, critics call out opportunists

National Post

Graeme Hamilton

Robin Robichaud shows his t-shirt after a meeting for the Wobtegwa aboriginal community, a new Metis group.
Christinne Muschi /National Post

The arrival of new players is stirring up tension with established Métis groups and raising concern among First Nations leaders

SHERBROOKE, Que. – The scent of burning sage lingers in the air as drummers begin a song of welcome. They are traditions dating back centuries, but on this Sunday afternoon the ceremony opens a gathering of one of the country’s youngest Aboriginal groups — the two-year-old Wobtegwa Métis clan.

The meeting, held in a high school auditorium, has brought together members from a corner of Quebec stretching northeast from Montreal past Quebec City and south to the United States border. Some of those present have long known of their Indigenous roots; for others the discovery has come recently. But they have all come together to push for government recognition of their rights.

“This clan is sovereign on its territory,” Yves Cordeau, band chief for the Lac-Mégantic region informs the group.

If the claim comes as news to many in Quebec, it’s because the province’s Métis awakening is recent. Raynald Robichaud, the Wobtegwa’s clan chief, says even members of his own family discouraged him from returning to his Aboriginal roots. “We knew we had a great-grandmother who was aboriginal, but our family absolutely did not want to talk about it, because they were afraid,” he says. “For us now, the fear is gone, and people are coming back.”…

…Checking a box on a census or connecting to family heritage is one thing. But as groups like the Wobtegwa lay claim to special services and territorial rights — in some cases, the same land as other Aboriginal groups — a backlash to the influx of new Métis is emerging. Some critics question the motivation of those who “become” Métis, and the impact of their activism on more established groups. Others question the right to self-identify at all…

…Leroux, Gaudry and organizations representing western Métis maintain that mixed ancestry alone does not make one Métis. True Métis — as recognized by the Constitution as one of Canada’s three aboriginal groups — must have roots in Manitoba’s historic Red River settlement, they say. That can include Métis all the way west to British Columbia and into Ontario, but not as far east as Quebec and the Maritimes

Read the entire article here.

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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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Anthropology 324L/American Studies 321: The Black Indian Experience in the United States

Posted in Anthropology, Course Offerings, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2012-03-19 18:22Z by Steven

Anthropology 324L/American Studies 321: The Black Indian Experience in the United States

University of Texas, Austin
Fall 2011

Circe Dawn Sturm, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Texas, Austin

This course explores the entwined histories, cultures and identities of African American and Native American people in the United States. Long neglected in popular and scholarly accounts, the Black Indian experience sheds light on comparative histories and legacies of racial formation, as well as the conjoined role that these two groups played in the emergence of the United States as an independent nation. Students will be exposed to a range of voices, including Black Indian artists, scholars and activists, as well as other scholars working in a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, Native American Studies, African American Studies, American Studies and women’s studies. The readings will range from primary historical documents and ethnographies, to creative and autobiographical accounts. Course content will cover key issues and topics critical to Black Indian communities, such as US settler colonialism, American Indian slaveholding, cultural and linguistic exchange, kinship practices, forms of resistance, and ongoing struggles for tribal citizenship, with an in depth focus on several different tribes as they are represented in the required texts. Throughout the course, we will focus particular attention on how American race making practices have shaped Native American and African American views of one another and overshadowed the contexts in which they have interacted. Students are also required to consider how their own perceptions of race, culture, and indigeneity might limit their understanding of how American Indians, African Americans, and those of both heritages, answer the question, “Who am I,” for themselves.

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Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2011-09-21 00:58Z by Steven

Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century

School for Advanced Research Press
280 pages
1 map, 3 tables, 6 appendices, notes, references, index
7 x 10

Circe Dawn Sturm, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Texas, Austin

In Becoming Indian, author Circe Sturm examines Cherokee identity politics and the phenomenon of racial shifting. Racial shifters, as described by Sturm, are people who have changed their racial self-identification from non-Indian to Indian on the US Census. Many racial shifters are people who, while looking for their roots, have recently discovered their Native American ancestry. Others have family stories of an Indian great-great-grandmother or -grandfather they have not been able to document. Still others have long known they were of Native American descent, including their tribal affiliation, but only recently have become interested in reclaiming this aspect of their family history. Despite their differences, racial shifters share a conviction that they have Indian blood when asserting claims of indigeneity. Becoming Indian explores the social and cultural values that lie behind this phenomenon and delves into the motivations of these Americans—from so many different walks of life—to reinscribe their autobiographies and find deep personal and collective meaning in reclaiming their Indianness. Sturm points out that “becoming Indian” was not something people were quite as willing to do forty years ago—the willingness to do so now reveals much about the shifting politics of race and indigeneity in the United States.

Read the beginning of Chapter 1 here.

Table of Contents

  1. Opening
  2. What Lies Beneath: Hidden Histories and Racial Ghosts
  3. Racial Choices and the Specter of Whiteness
  4. Racial Conversion and Cherokee Neotribalism
  5. Shifting Race, Shifting Status: Citizen Cherokees on “Wannabes”
  6. Documenting Descent and Other Measures of Tribal Belonging
  7. States of Sovereignty: Tribal Recognition and the Quest for Political Rights
  8. Closing
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Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

Posted in Anthropology, Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-20 21:28Z by Steven

Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

University of California Press
March 2002
267 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780520230972

Circe Dawn Sturm, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Texas, Austin

  • Finalist in the Non-fiction category of the Oklahoma Book Awards, Oklahoma Center for the Book
  • 2002 Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History, Oklahoma Historical Society

Circe Sturm takes a bold and original approach to one of the most highly charged and important issues in the United States today: race and national identity. Focusing on the Oklahoma Cherokee, she examines how Cherokee identity is socially and politically constructed, and how that process is embedded in ideas of blood, color, and race. Not quite a century ago, blood degree varied among Cherokee citizens from full blood to 1/256, but today the range is far greater—from full blood to 1/2048. This trend raises questions about the symbolic significance of blood and the degree to which blood connections can stretch and still carry a sense of legitimacy. It also raises questions about how much racial blending can occur before Cherokees cease to be identified as a distinct people and what danger is posed to Cherokee sovereignty if the federal government continues to identify Cherokees and other Native Americans on a racial basis. Combining contemporary ethnography and ethnohistory, Sturm’s sophisticated and insightful analysis probes the intersection of race and national identity, the process of nation formation, and the dangers in linking racial and national identities.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One. Opening
  • Chapter Two. Blood, Culture, and Race: Cherokee Politics and Identity in the Eighteenth Century
  • Chapter Three. Race as Nation, Race as Blood Quantum: The Racial Politics of Cherokee Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century
  • Chapter Four. Law of Blood, Politics of Nation: The Political Foundations of Racial Rule in the Cherokee Nation, 1907-2000
  • Chapter Five. Social Classification and Racial Contestation: Local Non-National Interpretations of Cherokee Identity
  • Chapter Six. Blood and Marriage: The Interplay of Kinship, Race, and Power in Traditional Cherokee Communities
  • Chapter Seven. Challenging the Color Line: The Trials and Tribulations of the Cherokee Freedmen
  • Chapter Eight. Closing
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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