Articles

Mixed Identity

I belong to two different tribes: to the Shoalwater Bay Indian tribe on my grandfather’s side, and the Cherokee tribe on my grandmother’s. However, of my parents, only one is Native American–my mother.

Though I could enroll in either of my tribes, I was enrolled at birth in the Naahps Chaats (Shoalwater, in our language) tribe. From a very young age, I participated in cultural events, but I found that even in elementary school, people jeered at me for insinuating my Nativeness. In Jr. High, they called me “white girl” because I have light skin, a name which ignores the fact that Shoalwater people have lighter skin in general, and even my Cherokee grandmother, though black-haired, was very pale.

To others, the fact that I had light skin obliterated all of my Nativeness and ruined my right to assume a full Native identity. But this was their bigotry, not my failure. At one point, I believed that the way I wear eagle feathers at powwows would deter people from their suspicion that I’m not “truly” Native. Sometimes it does, and people accept me, but at other times, they don’t.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this kind of discrimination, too. Perhaps you’ve been told that you’re too much of one thing, not enough of another. There is no point accepting the things other people say about you as if they are facts. I am the only person whose opinion of myself matters. I don’t have to defend myself to others as if I were standing trial. I simply accept my mixed heritage as a part of who I am–different, but not better or worse.

A Mixed-Blood Native’s Soapbox Gospel

My father
has the most beautiful blue eyes
in all the world.

They are the color of the Seattle sky on a good day.
They are the color of an ocean at its calm.

And I don’t care
if a thousand thousand
Indian men call me white girl.

And I don’t care
if all the Indian women in the world
get together in a knitting circle
and call me half-breed.

I would not trade
my father’s blue eyes
for all the copper skin in the world.

Special Thanks:
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.

 

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