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The Natives Issue

Red Apple

I've never really been exposed to anything different from the reservation. I haven't really traveled.
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Κείμενο Brandi Lane
1.1.06

I’ve never really been exposed to anything different from the reservation. I haven’t really traveled. I live pretty isolated here, outside of town, in ranch country.

I hear about all the unemployment in town, but I think that there’s always work if you’re willing to work. With our people, Native Americans, we got used to welfare and not having to work. It’s really hard to break that cycle of having the government give you everything as opposed to having to work for everything. Like I’m used to child care being subsidized because I live here, but if lived in Missoula or somewhere, I probably wouldn’t be.

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I know that a lot of my classmates never went to college. A few of them were on the streets before we even graduated. A few were killed in drunk-driving wrecks. Kids started drinking around here as early as third grade when I was little. They start even younger today. So you have people who are full-blown alcoholics in high school. But in this community it’s basically considered normal.

The unemployment rate here is just ridiculously high and that contributes to the alcoholism. Also, men are not raised in a warm environment here. They aren’t encouraged to express their feelings, and I think that leads them to drinking. Men here don’t express themselves very well. Same with the girls.

My mother didn’t fall into that mold, and I was raised differently. I am different. In high school, you can be considered stuck-up for not being like everyone else. I was considered stuck-up. But I had made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to be a statistic. I didn’t want that kind of life for myself. But yeah, I did drink when I was underage. But I lost a good friend when I was a freshman in high school to a drunk-driving accident. That was a realization for me. I would say there are at least five fatal drunk-driving accidents here a year.

There’s been a higher suicide rate among young people here recently, too. I don’t know if it’s because of being unaccepted by peers, or drug use, or what. The biggest drug when I was in high school was cocaine, but now it’s crystal meth.

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The main thing I want to instill in my daughter is confidence. A lot of girls make bad choices at a young age because of not having enough self-esteem. There are so many teenage pregnancies here.

With our tribe, you have to be one-quarter Blackfeet to be enrolled. It’s the amount of Blackfeet blood that you have in you. It’s called the blood quantum. Back when they put us on reservations, the government came in and dealt with our great-grandparents. Back then, the Blackfeet didn’t know English and they didn’t know the difference between different numbers. The white people would just say to them, “OK, you’re the mother and you have four children, so all your children are a quarter,” and then have them sign an X on a piece of paper. This really broke us down. There were Blackfeet who said they were from Canada, so they weren’t enrolled into the American Blackfeet. Now there are four bands of Blackfeet, but we all consider each equal and we all are united in wanting sovereignty. Sovereignty would mean that the US government and the state would have no jurisdiction over us. Of course, I don’t think that this will ever happen.

Anyway, our enrollment, I think, is somewhere around 15,500. It isn’t really going up every year because you have to take the blood quantum into consideration. You get half from one parent and half from the other and that has to equal a quarter. Take my daughter: Her father is three eighths, so her quantum from him is three sixteenths. Mine is below a fourth, but enough that added to his, my daughter can enroll. But I can’t enroll, even though I consider myself fully Blackfeet. When I turned 18, I didn’t start to get a per capita payment like people who are enrolled do. There are even Indian scholarships that I didn’t qualify for. I was born and raised on this reservation, I am Blackfeet, my entire family is Blackfeet—even my daughter is Blackfeet. But somehow I cannot be an enrolled tribe member. Do you understand what I’m saying? I am zero percent white, but because of a bad registration form I’m considered mostly white. It’s funny too, because anyone could have signed for me. If we had known how this would have turned out, my father wouldn’t have signed for me. We would have gotten another man to do it.

They implemented this one-quarter cutoff in 1962. My grandmother said they came around and had you sign a petition to start the blood quantum because it would mean more money for them. But what they didn’t think of then was how it would affect future generations. The more members you have, the more benefits you have, but this blood quantum limits the amount of Blackfeet population growth.

This whole thing really divides our community. If you aren’t enrolled, you aren’t really considered Indian. They call us Whitey. There is no way to check the blood quantum, either. It isn’t like a blood sample can tell you how much Blackfeet is in you. If you look at my grandfather and his brother, who are full brothers, one still has less blood quantum than the other. My grandfather has less than his brother. It is mind-boggling. This is due to a clerical mistake. Things like that happened all the time. For instance, my mother has three full sisters, but the youngest one isn’t enrolled just because she was born after 1962.

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The Indian community has internalized this stuff too. The enrollment issue is such a battle here. Some people feel that if we did away with the blood quantum system, we’d be opening enrollment up so that anybody could call himself or herself an Indian. They think that people would be trying to illegally claim benefits, but if you really look at the benefits, it’s like, what are they? The tribe doesn’t pay medical benefits—the government does. You get those as a Blackfeet whether you’re enrolled with the tribe or not. The benefits that have to do with the quantum are things like car registration. I have to pay $168 for mine, but my dad, who is enrolled, pays $23. I pay taxes, but my parents don’t have to.

I used to feel very resentful about this growing up. It was like a constant struggle to prove that I was Indian because I’m so light. It was a big self-esteem issue. I just wanted to be accepted. I am Blackfeet. It was just the tone of my skin.

There’s also bias toward Indians who marry whites. I personally would never date a white guy. It’s outside my race and as far as their culture and their beliefs, it’s just so different. Plus I just like the way Indian men look. It might sound racist, but I don’t really have any non-Indian friends. Maybe it’s just that I don’t know anybody who isn’t Indian.

Indians also often look down upon other Indians who are successful. They call you a red apple. Red on the outside, but white inside. They say, “She thinks she’s too good for us and too good to live here,” instead of saying, “Good for her. I’m so glad that she got out of here.” This is just another symptom of the defeatist attitude in town that leads to all the drinking and everything else. My mother says it goes all the way back to the oppression. We were raised to feel inferior. Our grandparents have trouble overcoming the way that the boarding schools changed them. My grandmother was sent to a boarding school and made to feel that she was no good because she was dark complected. So did she grow up to be a successful woman? No. She ended up having 13 children by three different men. She never really worked—she stayed on welfare. Luckily for me, my dad broke out of that attitude. Not many of his siblings did. The circle is hard to break.

BRANDI LANE