A Race or a Nation? Cherokee National Identity and the Status of Freedmen’s Descendents

Posted in History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-03-10 23:16Z by Steven

A Race or a Nation? Cherokee National Identity and the Status of Freedmen’s Descendents

bepress Legal Series
Working Paper 1570
72 pages

S. Alan Ray, President
Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois

The Cherokee Nation today faces the challenge of determining its citizenship criteria in the context of race. The article focuses on the Cherokee Freedmen. As former slaves of Cherokee citizens, the Freedmen were adopted into the Cherokee Nation after the Civil War pursuant to a treaty with the United States, and given unqualified rights of citizenship. The incorporation of the Freedmen into the tribe was resisted from the start, and now, faced with a decision of the Cherokee Nation’s highest court affirming the descendents’ citizenship rights, the Nation prepares to vote on a constitutional amendment which would impose an Indian “blood quantum” requirement for citizenship. If approved, potentially thousands of African-descended citizens would be eliminated from the tribal registry. In this Article, Professor Ray examines the legal and social history of the Cherokee Freedmen to criticize and reject definitions of Cherokee political identity based on either the federal Dawes Rolls of the allotment era, or notions of “Indian blood.” Both, he argues, are heteronymous authorities for determining tribal citizenship criteria and should be replaced by the critical hermeneutic of indigenous cultural resources. Professor Ray offers a model for constructing tribal citizenship criteria that attempts to deliver ancestry from biology, and law from legal fetishism of the Dawes Rolls. The wise use of sovereignty, he suggests, requires sustained dialogue between Freedmen’s descendents and Cherokees by ancestry, not the “quick fix” of the political process.

Table of Contents

    • A. A Race or a Nation? Identity by Blood or Base Roll
    • B. Cherokee Identity: Legal Definitions and their Limits
      • 1. Collective Definitions: The Cherokee Nation
      • 2. Individual Definitions: Citizenship in the Cherokee Nation
      • 3. The Limits of Legal Definitions of Citizenship
    • C. Cherokee Identity: Biological Definitions and their Limits
      • 1. The Construction of the “Red” Race
      • 2. The Construction of “Black” by “Red”
      • 3. Cherokee Slavery and Cherokee Nation
      • 4. The Limits of Biological Definitions of Citizenship
    • D. From Biology to Ancestry, From Legal Fetishism to Law
    • A. Foundational Commitments
    • B. Assumptions of the Model
      • 1. Role of Practical Knowledge
      • 2. Relationship to Spiritual Heritage
      • 3. Effective History of Colonization
    • C. Critical Hermeneutics of Ancestry and Reciprocity
      • 1. Relationship to Ancestry
      • 2. Responsibility to Reciprocity

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Blood Quantum, Race, and Identity in Indian Country

Posted in History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, United States on 2012-03-10 22:44Z by Steven

Blood Quantum, Race, and Identity in Indian Country

January 2011
32 pages

Sarah Montana Hart, Judicial Clerk
Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby
Federal District Court for the District of Montana

This article discusses how blood quantum laws affect racism and other relations between Indian nations and the United States.

1. Introduction

Throughout the history of our country, different levels of “blood quantum” have been required to achieve different levels of status – one drop here, one-half there, and so on. In this way, “[o]ur propensity to sort people into categories has, over the course of history, contributed to immense human suffering.” Depending on the group, its political clout, and the monetary resources at stake, different lines are drawn around or through a group, and only enough “blood” will get you across those different lines. For example, one drop of “black” blood (aka anyone black in your family tree) was enough to make you a member of the “negro” group. However, it took anywhere from one-fourth to one-half “Indian” blood (an Indian parent or a grandparent) to get you into the “Indian” group. In this way, blood quantum has been used to define the boundaries of groups throughout our history.

A closer examination of the history of Indian blood quantum shows, however, that sometimes this boundary drawing was completely arbitrary, based on nothing more than an individual’s appearance. Sometimes the determination of insider/outsider status was also based on the property interest of the powerful class (read: whites). Despite the dubious history of blood quantification, however, the mechanism is still used today by many Indian tribes to determine insider or outsider status. Blood quantum has been adopted by the tribes to determine, for their own purposes, who is considered an Indian and who is not. Thus, blood quantum has been used by tribes to decide tribal membership.

Adoption of blood quantum rules by Indians themselves would be troubling enough, given the imperial and arbitrary history of their early implementation by the U.S. government. What is even more troubling, however, is that even today, blood quantum is used to determine who gets valuable resources – land, money, and preference. Those who are determined, by their blood quantum, to be “Indian” enough are given rights to land, natural recourses, per capita payments, and a number of other valuable assets.

In the United States, however, we have developed a very strong belief in equal protection: no one should be deprived of anything, or get anything extra, based only on the color of their skin, their racial heritage, or their affiliation with a certain group. We take this equality very seriously; people died to make sure that could happen. And yet, Indian tribes today are determining that one tribal member gets a certain amount of government money because they have the right “blood quantum,” while depriving someone who does not have that same “blood quantum” of getting an equal amount of money. To many people, tribal members or otherwise, this determination seems suspect. Given the history of our country, and our tradition of equal protection, should we be suspect of any rule that gives an individual anything on the basis of race alone?

The United States Supreme Court has said, however, that “Indian” is not a racial category. It has determined that Indian blood quantum is a political, rather than a racial determination, and therefore no one is getting anything extra, or being denied anything, based on their race. The Court has carved out Indian blood quantum rules from regular equal protection analysis, and created a troubling legal fiction. By insisting that “Indians” are political, rather than racial beings, the Court ignores both the history and the reality of tribal membership.

This paper argues that this legal fiction is not only absurd, but harmful to Indian interests. Blood quantum is a suspect classification that should be subject to normal equal protection analysis. Part Two of this paper discusses the intellectual concept of “blood quantum” and defines it in the abstract. This discussion and definition show how easily blood quantum rules can be used as arbitrary political tools. Part Three puts this abstract definition into actual historical contexts and shows how Indian blood quantum rules came to exist. The history shows that the rules were based on a disturbing historical precedent, and implemented by the U.S. government with the specific intention of limiting the number of “Indians” who were eligible for land grants. The history also makes it clear that who was determined “Indian” and who was not was the product of a split-second, racial determination by random government officials during a chaotic enrollment process. Part Four shows how, despite the dubious history of blood quantum rules, tribes have increasingly used them to determine tribal membership. Part Five discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court continues to insist that “Indian” is not a racial category, but a political one. The section explains why, in the light of the history and the practical use of blood quantum by tribes today, this is a complete legal fiction.

Part Six discusses why the continued use of blood quantum rules should matter, based on an equal protection analysis. The section explains that maintaining a legal fiction (that “Indian” is not a racial category), actually harms Indian interests, and promotes racism rather than understanding. While blood quantum rules are racial, and should be subject to strict scrutiny, this section also discusses arguments that could be used to overcome that judicial hurdle. The conclusion, in Part Seven, reiterates that discussion about Indian identity, and the benefits or preferences that one can receive as an Indian, should be candidly one of racial distinction. This discussion should also include a justification of policies specifically tailored to advance a compelling tribal and governmental interest in maintaining a trust relationship and righting historical wrongs. If that conversation can occur openly, the racist idea that Indians get special treatment or something for nothing, is addressed head on, and justified through recognizable equal protection standards. This is a far more productive discussion than side-stepping the issue entirely and pretending that race is not a factor in the equation…

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No School Left Behind: Providing Equal Educational Opportunities: Where Have All the Lovings Gone?: The Continuing Relevance of the Movement for a Multiracial Category and Racial Classification After Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-03-10 21:25Z by Steven

No School Left Behind: Providing Equal Educational Opportunities: Where Have All the Lovings Gone?: The Continuing Relevance of the Movement for a Multiracial Category and Racial Classification After Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
Volume 11, Number 3, Spring 2008
pages 409-452

Shalini R. Deo, Court Attorney to Hon. Rita Mella
New York City Criminal Court

Shalini R. Deo’s Where Have All the Lovings Gone?: The Continuing Relevance of the Movement for a Multiracial Classification After Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. Deo assesses how racial classification, especially in the U.S. Census, has an enormous impact on the make up of public schools. She debates the efficacy of a “multiracial” census category versus the “check all that apply” approach endorsed by the Supreme Court in Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1. She critiques the Court’s approach, fearing it will lead to continuing “disregard of the contemporary effects of a race-conscious history” and the presumption that ignoring the issue of race will make it disappear.


Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
This nation has a moral and ethical obligation to fulfill its historic commitment to creating an integrated society that ensures equal opportunity for all its children.

June 2007 commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the Loving decision.  In two years, the 2010 Census will, for the second time, specifically enumerate the Loving’s children – and grandchildren – through the “two or more races”  category. With the authority to apportion representation, this constitutionally mandated counting is an historical measure of the population as well as a social gatekeeper, determining who counts and for how much. From its founding, the United States recognized the relevance of race. Through the U.S. Constitution, the United States organized the populace of the young nation; identifying some who would not be counted and dividing others, unnamed, who became only fractions. This carefully crafted document reflects an even older story, one of the racism deeply rooted in our nation’s history.

Historically, race has served many functions in the United States. The process by which individuals have been and continue to be “raced” is multi-faceted and complex. The census has played a significant role in this process, …

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Am I that Race? Punjabi Mexicans and Hybrid Subjectivity, or How To Do Theory So That It Doesn’t Do You

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Law, Media Archive, Mexico, United States on 2012-03-10 20:34Z by Steven

Am I that Race? Punjabi Mexicans and Hybrid Subjectivity, or How To Do Theory So That It Doesn’t Do You

Hastings Women’s Law Journal
Volume 21, Number 2 (Summer 2010)
page 311-332

Falguni A. Sheth, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

This paper explores the conceptual and racial status of “Punjabi Mexicans” at the turn of the twentieth century. I refer primarily to marriages between East Indian men and Mexican or Mexican-American women on the West Coast and in the Southwestern United States. The scant information available about these alliances has been uncovered by several historians and an anthropologist.  In that literature, this group appears to be a “given,” i.e., it is portrayed as a coherent identity that emerges from a simple set of circumstances.  Yet, it is anything but a given; its existence and its collective and individual consciousness is created out of a complex nexus of legal, political, social, and natural environments that spurred the migration of East Indian men and Mexican women from their homelands and to their adopted lands. I am interested in examining the collective consciousness of individuals who are located in the same moment, but who are living in distinct but overlapping contexts. The structural sources – laws, institutions, explicit and implicit prohibitions, cultural trends, and economic interests – converge to give this population its subjectivity. By subjectivity, I refer to the complex existence of human beings, whose self-understanding is found in the nexus of historical, political, and social circumstances; juridical and social institutions such as laws and government; as well as in their creativity and imagination in negotiating and resisting those circumstances in order to survive or flourish. In other words, as Michel Foucault says, “There are two …

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The Stones of the Village

Posted in Books, Chapter, Novels on 2012-03-10 19:32Z by Steven

The Stones of the Village

The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Current copyright holder unknown. Due diligence has been exercised by the National Humanities Center to identify the copyright holder.
ca. 1900-1910
19 pages

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Victor Grabért strode down the one, wide, tree-shaded street of the village, his heart throbbing with a bitterness and anger that seemed too great to bear. So often had he gone home in the same spirit, however, that it had grown nearly second nature to him—this dull, sullen resentment, flaming out now and then into almost murderous vindictiveness. Behind him there floated derisive laughs and shouts, the taunts of little brutes, boys of his own age.

He reached the tumble down cottage at the farther end of the street and flung himself on the battered step. Grandmére* Grabért sat rocking herself to and fro, crooning a bit of song brought over from the West Indies years ago; but when the boy sat silent, his head bowed in his hands she paused in the midst of a line and regarded him with keen, piercing eyes.

Eh, Victor?—she asked. That was all, but he understood. He raised his head and waved a hand angrily down the street towards the lighted square that marked the village center…

Read the entire short story here.


“The Force, the Fire and the Artistic Touch”of Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “The Stones of the Village”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-03-10 04:11Z by Steven

“The Force, the Fire and the Artistic Touch”of Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “The Stones of the Village”

Journal of the Short Story in English
Number 54, Spring 2010

Michael Tritt
Department of English
Marianopolis College, Montréal

Ambiguous of race they stand,
By one disowned, scorned of another,
Not knowing where to stretch a hand,
And cry, ‘My sister’ or ‘My brother.’
(“Near White,” Countee Cullen)

The Stones of the Village” details the successful negotiation of the color line by Victor Grabért, a Louisiana Creole who has Negro ancestry and yet manages, through a combination of luck and subterfuge, to hide his lineage and climb to the highest rung of the social ladder. In developing the narrative of Grabért’s life, Alice Dunbar-Nelson engages a powerful social critique, portraying realistically the endemic color prejudice of white and black alike in New Orleans and its environs toward the beginning of the nineteenth century. Written between 1900 and 1910, yet published posthumously only in 1988, “The Stones of the Village” has been gaining well-deserved recognition ever since as a story of considerable force, especially as a narrative dramatizing the phenomenon of passing. Indeed, since its publication the tale has been included in six different anthologies of short stories, has been dramatized by the Public Media Foundation of Northeastern University on a popular website for teachers and students, and has been made widely available on the Internet through the auspices of the National Humanities Centre. Moreover, recent literary histories and source books related to Southern literature by women, to local color fiction, to Afro-American (and Afro-American women’s) literature explicitly recognize Dunbar-Nelson’s contribution in this specific story. By and large, however, critical commentary has been relatively brief, limited to a focus generally upon theme and various associated autobiographical dimensions of the fiction, as these relate to the author’s ancestry and to the prejudice Dunbar-Nelson herself experienced. There has been, to date, little concentration upon—and certainly no detailed exposition of—the author’s impressive literary technique in the tale. Such a detailed exposition is all the more necessary in the context of apologetic reservations about Dunbar-Nelson’s lack of skill as a short story writer. In her careful foregrounding of early incidents in Victor’s childhood, her masterful use of point of view and other particulars to counterpoint the protagonist’s social accomplishment with his psychological anguish, her notable orchestration of characterization, imagery, symbolism and especially allusion, and through a variety of other means, Dunbar-Nelson renders a remarkably nuanced portrayal of the way emotional conflict determines the tragic course of life for a black Creole in search of a viable identity.

Dunbar-Nelson skillfully structures her tale so as to highlight the childhood turmoil which underlies Victor’s tormented—and lifelong—struggle to control his emotions and to fit into society. Crucial to this portrait of Victor’s early experience is the extent to which the protagonist (and his fellow playmates) are victim to culturally-created prejudices which destroy what Dunbar-Nelson depicts as a type of childhood innocence of color and background.

Several pages into the text, the narrator provides a crucial flashback to Victor’s earliest memory, when, as a mere toddler, he receives a whipping at the hands of his grandmother, the result of his straying from home to play with a group of “black and yellow boys of his own age” (5). Although it is no doubt true, as Jordan Stouck (281) and Marylynne Diggs (13) suggest, that because of the protagonist’s background he does not fit into any of the culturally defined racial categories of his village, nonetheless in this early scene he is pictured: “sitting contentedly in the center of the group in the dusty street, all of them gravely scooping up handfuls of gravelly dirt and trickling it down their chubby bare legs” (5). Clearly, Victor is accepted by the toddlers, included in the narrative description of “all of them” at play. Neither he nor the other children, it seems, yet recognize socially-defined racial and ethnic categories. To be sure, it is the prejudicial action of Victor’s grandmother, (herself imbued with widespread exclusionary social/cultural attitudes) that initially precipitates her grandson’s isolation and exclusion. When she “snatched at him fiercely” and “hissed” at him: “‘What you mean playin’ in the strit wid dose niggers?’” (5), Grandmére Grabért creates resentment (and self-consciousness) in Victor himself and no doubt in the other children as well. In truth, she initiates a tragic reaction, for learning of the incident, the parents of the toddlers with whom Victor was playing “sternly bade [their children] have nothing more to do with Victor” (5). Making matters worse, Grandmére Grabért forbids him to converse in his native Créole patois, forcing him to learn English. As a result, the young boy struggles all the more, speaking a “confused jumble which is no language at all” (5), further alienating him from the “black and yellow boys” and from the white ones as well, intensifying his isolation, confusion and crisis of identity…

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Reading Boddo’s Body: Crossing the Borders of Race and Sexuality in Whitman’s “Half-Breed”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-03-10 02:17Z by Steven

Reading Boddo’s Body: Crossing the Borders of Race and Sexuality in Whitman’s “Half-Breed”

Walt Whitman Quarterly Review
Volume 22, Number 2 (Fall 2004)
pages 87-107

Thomas C. Gannon, Associate Professor of English
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Offers an extended cultural reading of Whitman’s early story “The Half-Breed,” focusing on psychosexual and post-colonial implications of the story in the context of Whitman’s career, and examining Whitman’s half-breed character Boddo as a racial and sexual “border figure.”

He was deformed in body-his back being mounted with a mighty hunch, and his long neck bent forward, in a peculiar and disagreeable manner …. His face was the index to many bad passions-which were only limited in the degree of their evil, because his intellect itself was not very bright …. Among the most powerful of his bad points was a malignant peevishness, dwelling on every feature of his countenance …. The gazer would have been at some doubt whether to class this strange and hideous creature with the race of Red Men or White—for he was a half-breed, his mother an Indian squaw, and his father some unknown member of the race of the settlers.

—Walt Whitman, “The Half-Breed: A Tale of the Western Frontier”

[T]he question of the abject is very closely tied to the question of being aboriginal. …

—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

The “Noble Savage” and the “Monstrous Abortion”

“They showed the child of the Indian girl—my son!—I almost shrieked with horror at the monstrous abortion! The mother herself had died in giving it birth. No wonder.” (“The Half-Breed” [EPF 272])

WHITMAN’S EARLY TALE, “The Half-Breed” (1846), with its contrived plot, sometimes ludicrous melodrama, and blatant appeal to an audience primed for frontier exoticism, would hardly be included on many people’s “A” lists of required Whitman readings. And yet the relatively scant critical attention it has received from scholars is still rather surprising, given the current interest in cultural studies of race and ethnicity. Indeed, the title character’s sheer physical status as a mixed-blood stuck between the worlds of “White” and “Red” seems to beg for an analysis of the work in terms of recent ideas of racial and cultural “hybridity.” William J. Scheick would read Boddo as simply “the passionate, revengeful hunchback half-blood,” whose deformity and moral degeneracy portray the “unnaturalness” -in Whitman’s view-of interracial union. But might not the title character’s racial ambiguity allow for a consequent ambiguity of meaning, and his mixed-race “body” thus serve as a heterogeneous, contestatory site of competing discourses, perhaps even producing its own “discourse of rebellion,” in Michael Moon’s phrase (80)? The half-breed Boddo would thus not only serve as the “immediate instrument of the friction between the races” (Scheick 37), but also as the liminal site or border upon which the encounter of discordant cultural discourses is negotiated.

Some of the discussions of “The Half-Breed” that do exist seem to get the story only half-right, as it were. It may be symptomatic of a continuing Euro-American uncomfortableness with racial mixing that David S. Reynolds finds the novella’s plot “too tangled to be summarized”—as, in the story, Boddo’s own “blood” is too “mixed up” to be culturally viable? Reynolds should have stopped there, for his own summary is so “tangled” that he goes on to identify one of the tale’s fullblood Natives, Arrow-Tip, as the “wrongly accused half-breed” who “is tragically hanged. ” (In point of fact, Boddo is the half-breed, whose lago-like machinations of revenge lead to the hanging of Arrow-Tip.) Scheick rather muddles the whitelNative American issue in another way, by discussing Boddo as, above all, an emblem of Southern fears of white-black miscegenation (36-38), in line with various readings of Whitman’s early or intermittent sympathy for the South. As for Native Americans, Whitman’s view is characterized as follows: since “racial separation” is an “unalterable natural law,” and the results of racial inter-marriage are so “grotesque” and “unnatural,” Native Americans are doomed to extinction (37). But at last, while Scheick’s move to Southern racist attitudes yields an interesting cultural reading, it also sidesteps the real white-Indian interaction of Whitman’s plot…

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A Textual Analysis of Barack Obama’s Campaign Discourse Regarding His Race

Posted in Barack Obama, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-03-10 00:46Z by Steven

A Textual Analysis of Barack Obama’s Campaign Discourse Regarding His Race

Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana
April 2011
44 pages

Andrea Dawn Andrews

This study is a textual analysis of Barack Obama’s nine most noteworthy speeches from 2004 to 2009 during his rise to prominence and presidential campaign. Because Obama was considered an inspiring speaker and because he was the first African American to win either a major party’s presidential nomination or a general presidential election, this study examines how Obama’s use of language about his race may have contributed to his success. Previous research has shown that use of six rhetorical devices resonates with the American people: abstraction, democratic speech conversational speech, valence messages, conciliatory messages and imagery. The study analyzed Obama’s speeches for use of these devices in relation to his race. In the nine speeches studied, Obama addressed his race twenty-nine times and used all six rhetorical devices frequently when doing so. Recurring themes he discussed using these devices were the American dream, heritage and family, and unity. His overarching message about his race was that racial differences and a negative history of race relations could be overcome because the U.S. is a land of possibility, and he offered himself as proof of that idea. Previous research shows that the rhetorical devices Obama used to present this message about his race are those that would have helped him connect with his audience and appeal to the public. Thus, Obama’s use of rhetorical devices and presentation of a positive message about his race may have helped him win votes to become the first African American president of the United States.

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