I don’t look Native and I get a lot of teasing for it. How do I convince people I’m Native?

Anna, you are not alone. I know many young people who don’t feel “Native enough” and who are made to feel less because they are bi-racial, lighter skinned, don’t speak their tribal language, or because they didn’t grow up on their rez.

We are battling among ourselves when we judge one another’s “Indianess.”

In a way, though, it is not surprising that we do this, because in the U.S. we have a long history of the federal government determining who is “Indian enough” through blood quantum laws and passing laws that deny the recognition of individuals and entire Bands and Tribes.

Basically, laws have been created by the federal government that decide who is “Indian enough” to be recognized as an Indian. And the ways the federal government has decided who is “Indian enough” has been based on racist and hateful ideas.

And it breaks my heart when I see young people using the same logic historically used by the federal government to determine one another’s “Indianess.”

I think we are better than that.

Because really, when you think of it, what is it that makes someone Indian? Our DNA? If we speak our language? If we know our songs and teachings? Where we live? Where we grew up? The color of our skin? Our financial situation? If we have a tribal enrollment card? If we meet blood quantum requirements?If the federal government recognizes our Band or Tribe?

The truth is that what makes someone Indian is different for different people. You are no more or less Indian because others tease you, Anna. Feel free to express your Nativeness, participate in your traditions, learn your language, and explore what it means to be Native to you. You don’t have to prove your Nativeness to anyone, especially to those who bully you. You are enough.

Know that when people tease you, it may be because they don’t feel like they are enough, and that this is a piece of our historical trauma that we all carry with us. These issues are challenging to deal with, but often it is our struggles that make us stronger in the end.

Take care, Anna.

Auntie is sending you lots of love.

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