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:


Overheard on the Beijing Subway When People Don't Think I Speak Mandarin

The awesome stuff I overhear like what these two Chinese women think of foreigners.

Around the World in One Semester

Welcome to our newest blogger--a world traveling, homeschooling mom--to the InCultureParent family!

How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000

It's cheaper than you think to make that move abroad you always dreamed about

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!



Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.

Why We Need to Read Multicultural Children's Books

Children need to see the world around them reflected in books.
[…] ben die daar zo over denkt, werd mij laatst op Facebook weer bevestigt. Daar kwam ik het bericht ‘Waarom Afrikaanse kinderen niet huilen’  (Engels) […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] potty.  I guess I remember always hearing (especially when I went through a time reading about Elimination Communication and early potty training when the Girl was small) that children f...
From Thanks to Chinese Potty-Training We’re Done With Diapers at 19 Months
I took a class called Psychology from an African Perspective and it talked about the African perspective on time. I love it. We are exactly where we are supposed to be and at the right time. I would...
From Why African Time is Best for Children
I luv your blog and look forward to reading more. I have an African child and want to raise him in his Father's culture. It is definitely NOT as easy as I thought it would b...
From 10 Tips on Living with Chronic Illness
Sorry * none at a...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
I know this is a very old article but I had to chime in. Mom's mental health matters also. It matters ALOT! I could never keep up with a schedule like this woman did. To each their own. I tried to B...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
This was a lovely write-up. I stopped when my kid was one. Breast milk had become an evening snack by 9 months and then, he just forgot. Two days in a row he went off to play with his cousins, and t...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] This is a link to one of my favourite articles on breastfeeding, and here is my favourite breastfeeding photo of Kaylee and I. […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] How I Talk to my Classroom about Race by Madeleine Rogin […...
From How I Talk to My Kindergarten Classroom About Race

More Tradition and Parenting