I was recently told “It’s so cool to meet a ‘real’ Indian. Everyone I’ve met is only a fourth or an eighth, and that doesn’t count.”
This comment made me wonder, what is a “real Native American?” Does a definition even exist?
Since people love to talk about blood quantum when discussing Native Americans, I am only a fourth. I have lighter skin. I haven’t lived on a reservation. And at times, I have felt that I wasn’t a “real Indian.”
I sat in on a panel about Native American Identity and why it matters while working on the UNITY student projects and learned that identity is a complex issue.
While there are no clear answers when it comes to identity, this is the most important question: Why do I identify as a Native American?
I am Native American because my father is Yakama and Choctaw. I am Native American because my grandmother weaves baskets. I am Native American because I fish and pick huckleberries on the Yakama reservation. I am Native American because my brother decided to grass dance last year.
I am not Native American because it wins me scholarships or earns me money. I am not Native American to get special treatment. I am Native American for the same reason that I’m Irish and Scottish.
I am Native American because it is not something I am trying to be, it’s just who I am. I am a Native American because I don’t know how to be anything else.