Pin It
Friday, September 30th, 2011

A Few Drops Outside the Tribe

By
outside-the-tribe/ © carlos_bcn - Fotolia.com

Although I have a diverse cultural background, I have always identified myself as a proud Native American woman. My family is from the Pueblo of Isleta, just south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. My grandfather was born and raised in Isleta, speaking our native language of Tiwa before learning English. I am blessed with the dark, striking features of my mother, features which identify me as Native. Growing up, I spent a great deal of time at our family home in Isleta.

Some of the most vivid memories of my childhood were spent at the apron strings of my great grandmother, my Granny Shapop. Standing at 4’ 9”, my Granny Shapop was one of the most formidable people I have ever encountered. She taught me to respect my elders and the land we live on, to always work hard, to pray to the Virgin and to indulge on apricot empanadas whenever possible. Most of all, my Granny Shapop taught me to be proud of my Native heritage. I have a deep respect for where we have been as a people, and how we got to where we are today. My Indian heritage has defined who I have been for most of my life, that is, until I became a mother.

I left Albuquerque for San Francisco right after high school, but I clung to my Native roots to forage an adult identity for myself. I kept track of tribal affairs from 1,100 miles away, went to church every Sunday and made beans with ham hocks regularly. Then I fell madly in love with the fair-haired grandson of Hungarian immigrants and got married. My mother always says that Indian blood is thick, so I expected to produce dark-haired, dark-skinned babies. Instead, our children have their father’s fair skin and European features. These are not Indian babies.

When I wanted to register the birth of my firstborn with the tribe, I learned that my children would not have enough Indian blood to be recognized tribal members. In Isleta, tribal membership, which is a controversial issue in native studies, requires you to be at least one-fourth Isleta. I have the minimum amount, which means that my children, with one-eighth Isleta blood, do not qualify. Ritual dances, which are held regularly, are a large part of the culture of the tribe. They are like prayer services for specific purposes and only tribal members may participate in them. I realized that the culture that I have most identified with my entire life, a very part of who I am, cannot be fully shared with my family. How was I going to raise my children?

Because of extensive exposure to Spanish beliefs and customs hundreds of years ago, our Native beliefs are closely intertwined with Catholicism. My husband and I baptized our children in the Catholic church and try to raise them as children of a modern generation not bound by cultural constraints. Although we moved back to New Mexico, I found myself spending very little time in Isleta. The business of raising children makes nearly everything else fall to the back burner. The identities of “mother” and “wife” took precedence over that of “tribal member.”

When the time came to register my son for kindergarten, one simple section on the registration paperwork troubled me greatly: “Ethnicity (choose one.)” Choose one? There was a box to check for Native American with a line to supply the Certification of Indian Blood (CIB) number. Since my children do not qualify for a CIB number, are they not Indian at all? What ethnicity do I check? Hispanic? Caucasian? I was floored. I knew that the main purpose of the question was for funding. Are Indian kids worth more to the school district? Less? I ended up classifying him as “Caucasian with some Hispanic decent” and walked away feeling like I failed.

Following the registration debacle, I felt I needed to reconnect with my heritage. But how was I going to do that? I started to think of my own childhood, the time when I felt the most involved in tribal life. Then it hit me. It wasn’t my participation in dances or my tribal I.D. card that connected me to my tribe. It was the special time I spent with my Granny Shapop. Everything that I learned about being Native came from my Granny, my mother, and the rest of my family. Just because my children can’t be tribal members doesn’t mean that I can’t teach them how to be Native. The core values of my Native culture are values that my husband and I already share and strive to teach our children. Those values are things like respecting the earth, respecting one another, and the importance of family. As they get older, we can talk more about the history of our people and customs but for right now, they’re learning everything expected of such young children. So what do you know? It seems we’re raising Indian babies after all.

© 2011 – 2013, Jamie Stevens. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Si­, Yes: Raising Bilingual Twins

Language acquisition in three-and-a-half year old, bilingual twins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Jamie Stevens is a stay at home mom to her two children, a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In between playdates and PTA meetings, she is also a part-time student studying anthropology.

Leave us a comment!

5 Comments
  1. Commentsclaire niala   |  Thursday, 06 October 2011 at 2:19 pm

    thank you for your heartfelt piece.

  2. CommentsSamantha   |  Thursday, 06 October 2011 at 8:06 pm

    What a beautiful and descriptive article, bringing your heritage into your every day life.

  3. CommentsKim   |  Sunday, 30 October 2011 at 11:02 am

    Reading this story reminded me of the CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) issues my children faced. My husband & I are Deaf. 90% of Deaf come from hearing families, 90% marry each other & 90% have hearing children. Our children were in some ways more culturally Deaf than we were, but they were hearing. Most of our Deaf friends had deaf children thru adoption or heredity. My daughters went thru wanting to to be deaf when they grew up to being ashamed of having deaf parents, to proud bilingual adults fluent in ASL & English & proud of both cultures. It is a challenge!

  4. CommentsA.D. Powell   |  Sunday, 30 October 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Jamie, your Nordic kids are still white. By your definition, everybody who cares about ecology is also “Indian.”

  5. CommentsOur Top 10 Articles in 2011 | InCultureParent   |  Friday, 06 January 2012 at 8:35 am

    [...] and Sex: My Childhood in Egypt and Saudi 9. Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs? 10. A Few Drops Outside the Tribe Happy reading! Be Sociable, Share! Tweet No comments PRINT [...]









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!




What Confused Me Most about Brits

The process of adjusting to the culture when I moved to England.

Do WASP Westerners Deserve Visibility in a Foreign Culture?

Yes, they most certainly do says this mom in China.

Managing a Picky Eater with International Travel

How would I succeed in getting her to eat in Europe?

A Year of Multicultural Picture Books for the Global Child

A fantastic reading list that includes a multicultural children's book for each month of the year.

Making Sense of the Berlin Wall as a Multicultural Family

How we see history has everything to do with the context in which we were taught.

21 Ideas for Families to Celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha

Crafts, recipes, books, games and more to make the most of this joyful Baha'i celebration.

Why Raise Global Citizens? An Interview with Homa Sabet Tavangar, Author of Growing Up Global

Why raising global kids is so important and the one quote everyone should keep in mind.

8 Children's Books for Black History Month

Learn about the world's richest man of all time and much more about African-American history.

Balancing Faith and Fashion with My Muslim Daughter

I never thought I would struggle to buy clothes for my daughter this young.
[…] and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting Czech Easter tradition of “whipping” girls and women with a special braided p...
From What’s Easter without a Whipping?
[…] InCulture Parent has a sweet Easter recipe for Italian cookies, and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting Czech Easter tradition of...
From Polish Easter Craft: Palma-Wycinanka
[…] took me months to figure out that I was being rude (I am German, after all), and that the tutting was actually a very strong display of […...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
Dear Not Fluent, I think it's positive that you speak to your child both in Cantonese and English. Between 0-5 years, language learning is emotional, as opposed to adult learning, when you turn t...
From Do I teach my child my native language even though I am not fluent?
[…] from InCulture Parent has a sweet Easter recipe for Italian cookies, and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting […...
From Easter Recipe: Aunt Angie’s Italian Cookies
I can relate totally. There is a point where one can adjust what read but what you read May not work at all. Mostly, it's going back to heart centered awareness not the mind that determines the bes...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
I can totally relate to your list, as we are raising our son to speak English and French. People say really stupid stuff about raising multilingual children, but then again, people say really stupid...
From 10 Things Not to Say to Parents of Multilingual Children
[…] spricht, begegnet man Menschen verschiedener Herkunft mit mehr Offenheit. Ein Beweis dafür ist meine dreisprachige Tochter, wie sie auf Koreanisch singt – dank einiger ihrer Koreanisch...
From Is My Daughter Singing in Korean?
Love this. I had read the other article and comments earlier, and was also horrified. One only needs to read more of your articles and blogs to know you are the furthest thing from a racist with a s...
From Do WASP Westerners Deserve Visibility in a Foreign Culture?

More Tradition and Parenting