Earring Cattle: And the Sin of This Generation(s)?

JustLiving Farm


November 15, 2015

The calves were weaned two three months ago. Standing on a fence rail, looking at calves, I know weaning is never an easy time—for anyone. The calf is on the teat and the next day not. That makes for an upset mama and calf, which can lead to steady bawling for a day or two. When you have fifty cows and fifty calves in the corrals and those corrals are located next to home, like our closest neighbor, no one sleeps well for those couple of days. No, weaning is not easy for anyone. Standing on the rail, I know another stressful event for these calves lies ahead.

Yellowing leaves of autumn trees is the signage of fall roundups and selling of spring calves. Leaves falling from trees mean it is time for me to buy spring calves. Calves will spend twelve to fourteen months on the…

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The One-Drop Rule, Racial Classification, and Identity


November 8, 2015

Remember the one-drop rule? No? Well, either did I until the use of it became common in my life. If yours is a US education, you probably heard the one-drop rule mentioned during your high school US History class. However, how much did any of retain two weeks after finishing high school history?

Many US states used the one-drop rule to racially categorize people by codifying the idea that if a person has one drop or more Black heritage/blood their classification is Black. For instance, with the ending of the Civil War in 1865 Florida people quickly amended the State constitution (Chapter 1, 468 Sec.1-3) to say,

Section 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Florida in General Assembly convened, That if any white female resident hereafter within this State shall hereafter attempt to intermarry or shall live in a state of adultery or fornication with any negro, mulatto, or other person of color, she shall be deemed to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars or be confined in the public jail not exceeding three months, or both, at the discretion of the jury, and shall moreover be disqualified to testify as a witness against any white person.

Section two goes on to deal with negro[s], mulatto[s], or other person[s] of color as above, except instead of jail time they are to “be made to stand in the pillory for one hour and to be whipped not exceeding thirty nine stripes, or both, at the of the jury.” It goes on to say in Section 3,

Be it further enacted, That every person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood and shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.

Blood quantum was not new in 1865. Rather, it was normative prior to the war. For instance, blood quantum is what allowed the enslavement of children from the rape of enslaved Black women by White men. Such classification led to the increase of a slaveholder’s holdings or assets. Though the end of the war was to lead to change, the old order found it important to begin codifying pre-war norms that might allow for some semblance of pre-war norms to return.

As an aside, the amendment speaks to the normative hierarchal understanding of humanity by White male Floridians 1865. Blood quantum clearly is not an imposition to White men. However, the same is not true for White women. Though society considered White women better than folk of color in 1865, it was only by a notch or two. Therefore, unlike White men, the moment a White woman entered a sexual relationship with a person of color they also entered a purgatory of sorts. The clause that a White woman who had sex with a Black man would no longer have standing and rights of an witness in a court of law, meant she was no longer White or of color. Her status becomes located somewhere below that of White women and people of color.

The systemic structure of the US Senate also found the one-drop rule valuable. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act. Though not written into the Act, the one-drop rule became the means to shatter the land base of existing Tribal nations into small apportionments. Indian agents were to use formal tribal rolls as a guide to break reservations up into small allotments, and then assign those allotments to individual reservation Indians. While we can assume Indian agents had a list of one type of another that listed the folk living on a specific reservation, the Dawes act required a formalization of those rolls. Having no specific written guidance, but plenty of verbal guidance, Indian agents used the one-drop rule to develop those rolls.

The US government supported the blood quantum/one-drop rule construct for one simple reason: One Nation. When the Civil War ended in 1865, folk immediately started questioning what caused the war. The top two causes were those of slavery and States’ Rights. (These are also the top two reasons most US folk will give today for the war.) However, the Indian Peace Policy of the Grant administration clearly speaks to slavery and States’ Rights being background causes. The reason for war was secession. Secession meant two nations would be present where one currently existed. This military administration, clear on the reason for war, grasped that while the war consolidated the North and South, a much larger problem (from a US systemic perspective) loomed ahead. Grant’s administration recognized every treaty signed by the US or its predecessor European empire(s) with an American Indian Tribe indicated and gave that Tribe Nation status. The 1870 administration quickly grasped the problem lying before the US government westward expansionist efforts was not one of two nations, but of hundreds. The question before the Grant administration and it successors was how to eliminate those nations.

Having Indian agents use blood quantum as the means to construct formal Tribal rolls allowed the Grover Cleveland administration to begin a process of eliminating Tribal nations. Unlike its use with Black folk during slavery, the government used the one-drop rule in reverse to decrease the number of Tribal members. The jest of the rule was that if an Indian had one drop of White blood they were on their way to becoming White. Thus, the more White blood an Indian has, the Whiter, the more rational, and the more capable they are.

This blood quantum construct allowed the government to construct Dawes Act Tribal rolls based on the White blood percentages. Which in turn led to who would receive an allotment of reservation land and who would not. The “full-blood” Indian would receive land, but because of no White blood, they were considered inept and unable to maintain their own affairs, thus the government placed restrictions on the land and held the land “In Trust” until such time they could prove their competency. “Mixed-blood”—White and Indian blood—folk were held competent and received their land in simple fee patents (Deeded land). Section 6 of the Dawes act allows that,

…every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States.

Therefore, an Indian agent had the ability to determine a level of White blood by which an individual is no longer Indian, but civilized and “White” enough (capable of rational thought) to be considered fully human, thus losing their Indian classification. This loss of Indian identity through marriage with White folk meant fewer and fewer Indians and more and more White folk (US citizens) would live on reservations. Thus slowly (generationally), American Indians would disappear and with their disappearance Indian Nations would fade out.

Identity matters to most of us. Where we come from, where we have been, what my ancient culture is, what is my recent culture, who is my family, what makes up my ethnicity-my heritage-my race, are questions that matter. Blood quantum is an ancient marker of identity, but hardly adequate, and surely not worth a damn in the hands of government. While folk may have once thought of identity as simple and straight forward, there is little support for such thinking today.

A new and complex conversation on identity has begun. Straight lines and constructs of This thus That are no longer meaningful or possible in this conversation. Rather, the freedom of complexity allows lines and thought to swirl and fold over themselves, which listened to and considered, might lead to relationships that establish richer, grounded identities. Such a conversation is worth the having.

White Culture and the Hard Conversation of Racism


October 18, 2015

US racism—the oppression of American Indians and People of Color—is one of the hardest conversations a US person will ever have. For while most folk born in the US learn (from people) and develop a mindset that resists racist values, they also live in a systemic culture that invites them to maintain and practice these same values.

I use the term White culture for this systemic culture that has all folk, White, People of Color (POC), and American Indians, taking problematic stances that support systemic racism (while hating it). Some may use the term American culture, but this does not work for me for two reasons. One, the systemic culture I speak of benefits White people, not American people, and White culture speaks to this privilege, up front. Second, this systemic culture is not American but US. This distinction matters for it calls people to soil based honesty.

For example, when Columbus Day rolls around each year it has become acceptable to say Christopher Columbus did not land in America. What folk really mean is he did not land in the landscape now known as the United States. However, he did land on South and Central American soil. It takes a mindset of US exceptionalism to think an arbitrary boundary between the US and Mexico is continental separation. Taking exceptionalism off the table recognizes the soil of the Americas intimately ties all American landscapes together, so, sure enough Columbus landed in America(s). Therefore, I argue that rather than using language like “American culture” to describe a US system of White privilege, we are better off using the term “White culture.”

Thinking in this way is helpful for it not only recognizes there is an arbitrary culture in the US that benefits White folk, but that the supporters of this culture are both White and non-White folk. To acknowledge such is very hard, for acknowledgement admits all US people (White and non-White) live out at least two cultures: the culture of heritage and White culture.

An article that came my way after last weeks End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family entry gives an example or two of White Culture normalization in the mindset(s) of US folk.

On the 13th, Crosscut.com ran Jennifer Karami’s article Local indigenous peoples gather to reconcile history on Columbus Day. Her article opens with, “the Seattle City Council…unanimously pass[ed] a resolution acknowledging the city’s role in the deep psychological damage inflicted on Native Americans, particularly in relation to United States Boarding School Policy.” It goes on to note an American Indian storyteller observing the resolution as, “more than symbolic…The myth that’s been told for 500 years in America is not true.” He nails it on the myth, but the resolution is purely symbolic. As Karami notes, “The city’s resolution doesn’t require the city to provide funds or act in any tangible way.” A resolution for American Indian justice that does not include monies (or action) to engage systemic change does little more than allow the City of Seattle to look good while it goes on oppressing American Indians.

The normative White culture continues as Karami tells the story of an American Indian woman whose father grew up in boarding school system. She recognizes the evil of her “identity [being] stolen because of” the boarding of her father. However, White culture is voiced when she says, “I think the next step would be having indigenous people work with their elders on identity development, really pushing policies for people to be able to access their culture, and be able to access indigenous forms of knowledge that they’ve been deprived of in the school system.” In a general context, she is right on. Elders and non-elders should be in close conversation to know, enhance, and retain identity. In the context of the Seattle City Council resolution though (let us just acknowledge for a moment her words might have been taken out of context…), she lets the city and its White power structure off the hook by placing the responsibility of change on indigenous people.

Accepting White culture as a systemic reality, of which we are all educated into, makes the racism conversation harder but maybe a little clearer. Harder because it speaks to how each of us supports this existing racist system we live within, even when we are resisting it, even when we are working to change it, even when it is hurting us. Perhaps it is a little clearer, for when we know systemic racism is complicated and aspects of it are normalized in our mindset(s), we better understand our and our neighbors resistance to change.

End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family


October 11, 2015

Funny (in a non-funny way) how many people and State governments have learned a flag (Confederate) has the ability to destroy justice and people and that there is integrity of removing it from the public life, but continue to hold on to and honor a day ruin—Columbus Day. Some are going to talk about this day of history that honors humanities quest of exploration and adventure. I would not be surprised to see the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria compared to Friendship 11, Apollo 11, and Space Shuttle Columbia. Others will speak of the day as a day of conquest, subjugation, and genocide. While others will move for a governmental name switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, like the City of Seattle did in 2014.

Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, I am not a fan of either. I find governmental days of recognition little more than fluff when it comes to justice. Few folk give them serious thought. After all, there is already Native American Day—just a few weeks ago (September 25). What special events or education opportunities were in your community on that day? What did you attend? (Really, feel free to post!) Alongside, Native American Heritage Month is all next month! What might your congregation, non-profit, or business have planned? What event do you plan to attend? (I’ll give two suggestions found in the Northwest: JustLiving Farm is screening of who are my people a film Emmy Award winning filmmaker Robert Lundahl on November 05. And Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is offering the Collins Lecture in Portland on the Doctrine of Discovery with Robert J. Miller, George “Tink” Tinker and Kim Recalma-Clutesi on November 19.)

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Day is but a symbolic move. Does it matter? Well of course it does, but it benefits the government much more than people. Does anyone believe the City of Seattle is going to make substantial change that would have governance structure become accountable to American Indians? Or fund better education for American Indian children? Or fund better American Indian health, mental care, spiritual care, or care for family structure? What I am getting at is while Indigenous People’s Day sounds good, it is a day of governmental structure, which allows governments like Seattle sound and look good while maintaining oppressive policies against American Indians. Meaningful insight is not going to come from the government, but from the people. I’ll take Idle No More or #BlackLivesMatter any day over one more government holiday (that does not honor a person of resistance).

Having said that, I not going to change anything, so let us talk about what I like about Indigenous People’s Day: its broadness. Indigenous People’s Day specifically is not Native American or American Indian, but Indigenous. That distinction is one of resistance.

Indigenous, when spoken in the American landscape is something very different from that of Native American or American Indian. Indigenous is a call to rootedness in the land. Indigenous should be a reminder that American people, as a whole, have lost the identity of their ancestors, themselves, and their children. Indigenous is a call to resistance and a reclaiming of identity.

Indigenous calls folk to learn their family and their people were and are violated by the US manifest destiny construct. A violation seldom noticed. For instance, don’t most of us hear or think US citizen we say or hear the identifier American? Such thinking tears both the individual and their people from the land. This violation also holds true for any government on American soil who uses blood quantum to define their people. This is a violation of the landscape and her people, for family is not known their creative being rising out of the soil but rather through the abstract of blood purity. Such intangibles hurt people because their allegiance is no longer to land, family, community, and Creator, but to government.

Indigenous calls people to remember their people and their land. A hard idea for many living within US borders, both Native and non-Native. Movement is possible though when one begins to accept the soil on which they are birth is intimately and forever part of them. It means every person born on American soil is American native (soil identity not political identity). Such a thought calls people to quit playing at the surface of identity and delve deeper into the presence of self and neighbor.

Being one of the soil is to know the soil is the identifier of self. Knowing self of the soil is to know the heritage of one’s soil is fundamental to knowing self and neighbor. This speaks to a richness of identity that does not change with revolution of governments or colonization. The American native whose folk come from, say Scotland, is fully of American soil and at the same moment a person of the soil—the feel, the fragrance, the life—of their ancestors birth. That Scottish soil is forever part of them and their children’s children. The American who comes from people of Scotland is an American native but also an intimate native daughter or son of Scottish soil.

Similarly, is to know the richness of being American native whose ancestors are of American soil. The heritage that goes to the beginning of time on American soil means one has within them the ancient stories of American canyons, mountains, rivers, and deserts flowing through their veins. To recognize the soil within is to know there is a difference between the American native who is Native American and the American native who is also native to the creeks and hollows of another landscape.

I figure such thinking is not what Seattle politicians and people—Native and non-Native alike—had in mind when they moved from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Which means Indigenous Peoples Day lies in the realm of the political rather than the grounded or the spiritual. Perhaps that is fine and perhaps it will bring about some political justice for American Indians. Yet if people of the Americas are to become a people known for their presence, life, and spirituality, there is need to become a people grounded in the soil.