Been busy. Finished big huge exam that almost melted my brain, though it's mostly in tact now. I started to forget words like "Jello" and "dustpan." No, really, one day I had to describe "that thing you use to put stuff in after you are done sweeping, the sweeping shovel, that thing" to my Husband. My brain was full. Full of information you may someday hear me go on and on about like the gendered aspects of the Spanish missionization process in California, or why Allotment can suck it. But I'm coming out of the woods slightly, enough that I'm finally posting blogs that I started a while ago. In this episode we finally learn about my penchant for hashtagging and why I'm going to never use my PhD (because when I become a famous t-shirt designer I will say so long academic craziness! Hello hashtag empire!)
A few weeks ago I got a phone call.
In case you didn't know I am the Executive Director for a nonprofit organization called The Native Women's Collective. We are an entirely volunteer organization (for now, but we are working on becoming a fully fledged awesome sauce nonprofit- donate if you can!) dedicated to arts and culture.
"Art" is a funny thing if you think about it because a lot of what we call "art" now was tied to Indigenous ways of life, where we didn't separate "art" from health, well-being, spirituality, politics and community.
There were anthropologists who when they came to California said (and I am paraphrasing) "Man, these California Indians live such a life of leisure! All they do is make beautiful things that we want to buy and put in a museum. Where are their banks? Or their office buildings? How come they don't have posters that complain about Mondays? When do they work?"
The "work" was a part of life and "balance" was the name of the game. And balance took time, energy, forethought, organization and -- "art."
Anywho- the phone call.
I'm not going to provide a summary of the whole thing (actually two things, it was two phone calls) but I will say, buried deep within what I think could have been some interesting constructive feedback was precisely the attitude that persists about how Native peoples are "supposed" to be. Within this one phone call the identity or "blood quantum" of people on our website was questioned, as if these people were somehow not "real" Indians simply because of the color of their skin. That is most likely what this assertion was based off of, because the caller would really have no idea "how much" Native any of these people are. (And really, it's none of their business.)
The truth is, these continued misinformed ideas about who Native people are "supposed" to be are really based in the continued attempts to de-legitimize Indian people and their continued existence. They are challenges to our identity because, in reality, many people (Native and non-Native) have been taught that one day all Indians will cease to exist, that the further you get away from some romanticized version of a Native person created by Western history, the less Indian you are. And people tie this loss of identity to things like eating at The Olive Garden or getting an education or using Facebook. Like any non-Native pioneer person was already using Facebook. Like "real" Native people are stuck in the past somewhere. We learned this about Native people, because there has always been a desire for Native people to just disappear. When this couldn't be accomplished through genocide. When it couldn't be accomplished through allotment, termination and relocation, they redesigned it as a "scientific" system and they called it "blood quantum."
Blood quantum is an issue that continues to be debated and referenced in many Native communities. It was not a value built in Indigenous societies where being "Native" was based on kinship and marriage and spirituality and culture and where you lived and many other systems utilized by each tribe. But once the federal government got involved somehow Native people had a quantifiable amount of "blood" that could be tracked through generations. Suddenly, we were 1/2 breeds and 1/4 bloods and "mixed bloods." This should have led to the ever important question of "what part of me is the Native part?" (And the answer is always, my super fantastic good looking cheekbones). Another important question would have to be "Can I get a blood transfusion from a full blooded Indian person and become a full blood myself?" (That would be fun to watch, some small, non-Native hipster in a headdress goes in to the blood bank, requests a full blooded Indian donor, and proceeds to get a blood transfusion where you slowly watch them morph into a beautiful Indian. Ta da - I'm an Indian too!) Blood quantum is complicated.
Also within this one phone call, the legitimacy of our ties to our culture was challenged. How could we claim to be doing anything "Native" when our website was so "bouji." (Spelling? I have no idea - I guess cause I ain't all that bouji...)
And finally, the caller seemed irked that we were content to ignore the "real" issues of Native people and instead talk about how cool and awesome and talented Native people are. Because - as the caller pointed out - Native people have many more problems than positives. And if we, as an organization, don't reflect that, we are ignoring it. And that, the caller asserted, would contribute to these problems. The caller was also personally aware that many of our people are in rehab. (I believe the caller said half, half of our people are in rehab.)
The caller ended with "because there are so many other problems besides I'm so busy and cute and Native."
That stuck with me.
I thought - but I am #BusyCuteAndNative (I hashtag in my mind all the time BTW. I'm one of those annoying people who will, in real conversation, actually say the words "OMG hashtag #YouAreAwesome hashtag #ICan'tBelieveYouSaidThat". Sue me, I watch Happy Endings. #Save Happy Endings!)
I am #BusyCuteAndNative. I also have a lot of people I know or have known who are alcoholics. I am also the good friend of Native women who have been in abusive relationships. I have also been in an abusive relationship. I know lots of people with diabetes. I know many people in rehab. I have family who are addicted to drugs. I know that many Indian people struggle. I know that many Indian people continue to fight for basic necessities in life. I also know that we laugh a lot. That we tell some pretty great jokes and have twisted senses of humor. That some of us have #FirstWorldProblems and many of us #AreReallyGoodAtBasketball.
Maybe half of us are in rehab. But guess what - half of us are in rehab! We are trying to heal. We are lots of other things besides --tragic.--
We are funny.
We are smart.
We are activists.
We are artists.
We are dancers.
We are poets.
We are movie makers.
We are funny (part II).
We are designers.
We are wearing headdresses and dancing to FUN at festivals in really hot climates that are exceptionally dusty with a limited supply of bathrooms. Wait. No, that's not us.
We are busy.
We are cute.
We are Native.
I guess I want to think of it as a good thing. #BusyCuteAndNative can represent that (Woo Hoo!) we are #BusyCuteAndNative because despite the systematic attempts to keep us from maintaining our connection to the landscape where we came into being, we are still here and many of us are busy. We are busy helping our communities. We are busy supporting each other. We have a lot of issues facing our communities and to this day our statistics continually demonstrate that our community healing is a process that we must prioritize. And we are busy working on this healing process.
I don't want to focus only on the "deficits" in our communities. I don't just want to talk about what we "lack" or how we "struggle." Those things are real. But we are also so much more than that. The things I do are because I want to support Native people to do the things that they love, to believe in themselves, to ground themselves in our culture and our ideologies, and to revitalize our communities.
So - I made a t-shirt. Proceeds from the t-shirt help to support the Collective to do things like our upcoming basket weaving retreat, or our demonstrations at various events. I don't make any money off the tshirt myself. I made it because I am #BusyCuteAndNative. I I made it because it's true. Also because I think we should all wear our Hashtags loud and proud.
Plus - I like hashtagging stuff.
Once I went to this workshop for "women in the academy" where we had to write down on this huge poster thing something about ourselves that we were really proud of and I wrote #MyMadHashtaggingSkills #TrueStory
P.S. Our next limited edition t-shirt will be coming out soon. It will be for sale through the NWC with the hashtag: #ActivelyDecolonizing
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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