Film Club: “A conversation with Native Americans about race”

I’m Apache, but that’s really the name of the government, because they can’t say “Dził Łigai N’dee”. They will tell me how great they think I decided to be part of my culture. And it’s funny to me. It really freaks me out, and I don’t like it. And I didn’t know why at first, but it’s because I didn’t decide to be part of my culture. I live it every day. I’m more comfortable with the term “native”, divorced from “Native American”. I know there are people who use “indigenous”. If there’s one term I don’t like to be called, it’s “American Indian.” And for me, being Indigenous means having an intimate and interconnected relationship with a homeland. And so that’s really important, because the land is, you know, tied to every aspect of who we are. Being a native of a city is an almost daily reminder of how erased your people are. About the fact that people don’t even remember that you are there and that you exist. But what I encountered was just this preconceived notion that all Native Americans are dead. I’ve had older white men come up to me and say, “Oh, man, if it was 40 years ago, I could do whatever I wanted to you.” You know, the cattle outside doing the work and the dog inside the house are property. They are the blacks of America. They are the property of white men. Then the exotic antelope on the wall or exoticism – that’s how the natives are perceived in America. We are treated like animals. They monitor our amount of blood. I mean, other than dogs and horses, I don’t know of any other animals that they monitor the amount of blood. The way I explain it to people is to imagine a pizza with different slices, and let’s say 32 slices. Of the 32 slices, I have 28 Apache. This is my particular blood quantum. And Native Americans in the United States are the only minority group that must prove their origin on an Indian map. It is used to divide natives against each other, as it can be used as a way of saying, I am more native than you. And I was part of it too. I used my 4 shifts to feel better about others. The one drop rule, which means a drop of black blood makes you black, was to keep as many people oppressed or legitimize their oppression as possible. But on the other hand, a drop of anything else completely dilutes you as a native. So if you’re native, you have a drop of something else, then suddenly you’re less native. So it’s the opposite. Traditionally in Apache society you go through the mother. And if the mother is recognized as an Apache, she has her clan, the children are unmistakably Apache. Not in the American context, not when patriarchy trumps matriarchy. So what does this mean? My sisters are missing 1/16 of a degree. What does it mean? Does that mean their earphones aren’t Apache? What does it mean? You know, being mixed-race is a whole different thing, but it’s a very common experience in our tribe. So it’s not like we’re unusual in that way. What is unusual is the mixture of black. In fact, my grandfather doesn’t want anyone – if he hears someone from the tribe is coming, he won’t come out of his room. Because he doesn’t want them to know he has that complexion, which he doesn’t have – I guess he doesn’t want me to be affiliated with having African-American blood. But I mean, I say it. It won’t change anything. If it were up to the US government, the natives wouldn’t be here. Because after a while, this blood will dilute. He’s going out. And so, if there are no Indigenous peoples to provide benefits, we are not obligated to respect those treaty rights. And if we’re not bound by those contracts, then the land is available, the resources are available. And I think that essential point of our claim to sovereignty, our claim to land, our claim to a culture, our claim to resources is a point that gets lost if we don’t insist that we are nations. And we have taken huge steps towards decolonization, and this proof comes from the fact that people have the possibility of speaking their language, of being on their ancestral land. But the problem with decolonization is that it’s an ongoing process, just like mourning, like any loss. As much as possible now, I try to tell people that I have a Native American name, and maybe that means nothing to you, but it means everything to me. My name may not have a romantic Hollywood Indian name, but my name has more meaning than that. My name means my family survived. My family survived the disease. My family survived Catholicism. My family survived settler colonialism, and my family survived. I survived. My existence is resistance. Me saying my name is Skiumtalx, that’s the resistance itself.

Nohemi M. Moore