Citizenship: There Is No “Part Indian”

There’s an peculiar thing that happens when people talk about being Native. Some Native people, but especially non-Natives, say they are “part Cherokee” or “part Choctaw.”

Now this makes sense if you’re talking about your ancestry. If you really do have Native ancestry, that’s great. If you’re not sure or if you don’t really have Native ancestry, don’t claim it.

But being Native American is just as much a nationality as being American is. And there is no “part American” (unless you count DACA recipients). Just the same, there is no “part Choctaw.” You’re either Choctaw or you aren’t. You’re either a tribal citizen (or eligible to be a citizen) or you aren’t.

In America, because of our mixed history, many of us come from different ancestries. For example, I have Swedish and Polish ancestry, mostly. That’s where my people migrated from. But I don’t claim to be Swedish, even though I ate Swedish meatballs growing up and can sing-song my words up and down in a Swedish fashion. Instead, I call myself a Swedish American. I am not, after all, a citizen of Sweden.

Some people in Indian Country claim the matter is not who you claim, but who claims you. You are a tribal person if a tribe or tribal people claims you. If not, not. And if you are claimed, you are claimed in full.

Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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