As a Native American man that was forced into adoption as a baby, and told by the courts that my Native family could do nothing to stop the adoption process, I have residual issues that I go through. With no chance of rescuing me from assimilation into "white" America (the way the courts intended -- look it up), I grew up with no sense of identity or self-worth, stayed in a constant state of flux mentally, and found peace only when I discovered music, and that I might have a talent for doing it. I've wrestled with a lot over the years, knowing that while many Natives share a similar story, I am forced to walk my own path, and live with the decisions of a system that was designed to culturally kill me, wholesale, so that I might find their version of life.
I don't think people understand that the death of Indian people still exists on many levels: through destitute and hopeless conditions, no jobs, drug and alcohol abuse, abduction of our people by the courts, and murder rates that rival major cities per capita. We have been forgotten, and are only looked at as monolithic relics of yesteryear in the eyes of most people. We only seem to matter when we are propped up as a one-dimensional type of entity, designed to serve a basic idea or thought (example: Indians are stoic). It frustrates me when I see a post or an article about the Native plight, and it's met with resistance, or ideas that Indians should get over what happened in the Wild West, or, that they should pick themselves up by the boot straps.
Which brings me to this...
I find it frustrating when white people -- with joy in their faces and a sense of kinship in their tone, tell me that they are also, in fact, Native American. It fucks with my mind. I get these spells where I am down, and can't figure out why. It's never lasting or depressing (the way it used to be), just a layer of loneliness that comes from not having much in the way of family. I start to process the death of my adoptive parents, the death of my biological parents, the fractured relationship I have with my Native family, and it occurs to me that I never had a chance, that the system worked, and I am forced to either continually pick up the pieces, or, quit -- It's constant -- The picking up never stops. The only one-off is the quitting part. Rinse, repeat, until the end. It gets better, I have months and years without these spells, but, the spells are never fully gone, never "cured."
White guy at bar never has to face that struggle.
I discussed it with my friend, and he put it in a way that makes sense to me, and encapsulates what I feel inside during those moments. He explained that it's another way for white people to colonize, not just land, but identity, in what the academic field calls, "Symbolic Identity." White people, especially those meeting the minuscule (and deeply problematic) blood quantum requirement, can live their lives as white people, but, can conveniently, at-will, insert themselves into the conversation when Native affairs are being discussed, because they are 1/16th Navajo or some shit. They get to enjoy their mystified versions of what it's like to be US, but, without any of the lasting damage, scarring, and icky genocide stuff getting in the way of their experience.
White people claiming Native is a complex issue for me to tackle internally. Sometimes when I am out drinking I get people coming up wanting to join our table to talk. Most of the time my buddy Jacob and I are knee-deep into pro wrestling, or sports, but, sometimes it's social issues, or things that matter to us beyond the mundane -- one of those being my identity as a Native man living in America. It's almost a given that these people will tell me about their Native history, about their history with my culture. I try -- I really do try to stay invested and listen, but, sometimes I withdraw and go inward, and think, "fuck this guy," even though I harbor no ill-will, or anger towards that person. I bark more at the ease at which a person can claim my identity, more than the person for doing it. It's complex, because I wear being Native everyday. I wear not only my skin, but my stripped culture, the pain of not having a lifelong relationship with my family, and every minute piece of my history that I will never know, or, will only know through hearing about it or reading.
I have no resolution, or answer other than to advise my white friends to open themselves up more to the idea that we Natives are historically oppressed, and that the blood quantum you use to mingle hard with your boy, was used as a tool for the oppression of your boys people. Read up on it, and know that I fucking love you.
I also struggle with people telling me that because I do not vote, that my opinion does not matter. As a Native man, whose people are still being oppressed, and forgotten by a system of government that swore it would honor, and protect after first attempting to wipe out, I choose to not participate. My views matter, the views of my people matter, no matter how small the voices in the eyes of the American government. My people are still struggling, still being exploited, still without hope beyond what they sculpt and mold from the base-level bullshit offered to them. I choose to not participate as a symbolic gesture, not a lethargic act of defiance. The burn I feel is generational pain, not a warmth caused because I am overwhelmed by a politician who swears he has my best interests in mind (again). You'll have to forgive me for not trusting, no matter how sincere the messenger might appear to be. But, that's another story for another day.
It's complex, y'all.