Part-time Indian

As the discussion of Self noodles through my mind I begin to think aloud about Indigenous ways-of-knowing.

And let me clear: I am a novice on a long journey to understanding what this means. My desire is to be humble and modest as I approach the topic.

I find it humbling indeed to be part of an Indian community that my ancestors left some time ago. While some of my cousins still live and work on the rez, my grandmother moved her children when they were little, off the reservation.

Like thousands of American Indians my grandmother moved to a large, urban city which beckoned indigenous families to plant roots, in places like Chicago and Los Angeles.

So with great humility I return to Oklahoma to visit family members and my mother’s grave. And it is only because of my relatives and their warm generosity that I am able to return to the reservation.

Today I write this more as a “think aloud” observation to be ever mindful of the humility I need to muster on my journey to understand my past and present.

And, to my dearest pal, I said recently: “You can’t just say, I want this. Not if you’re an Indian.”

What I mean is, you can’t just telephone your relative and say, I want to be Indian today. You can’t be a part-time Indian.

And my pal’s response? “That sounds very Zen.”

I had to laugh because anthropologists have long argued that American Indians are genetically tied to Asians whom they believed crossed the Bering Strait to occupy North America.

But I know what he meant: he meant that you can’t just demand what you want.

And I remind my pal that my grandmother always insisted that it was the North American Indians who were here first, who crossed over to populate Asia.

She insisted that the history books got it wrong.

I like her version.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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1 Response to Part-time Indian

  1. conrad says:

    such a hard pill to swalllow but because of my distance and uppbringing the closest i could ever become an indian is to attend local pow wows, and read your blogs or the osage news,,you know. be a part time indian.


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