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:


Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty

Birth, Loss and In Between

Life after devastation

Why African Toddlers Don't Have Tantrums

The secret of why African babies don't meltdown like Western ones.

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!



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.

How My Two Year Old is Teaching Me Thai

I am just another "farang" or stranger until my son starts speaking fluent Thai
I had a baby boy the 13th of May 2015.... In a private hospital, verrrry western! One night the Baby was crying and crying... Non stop ... Nothing I did worked!! I was in a ward with 3 other woman,...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
Salam I came across your post and found it very good..... I need an advice .. I have a one yr old daughter... My husband works in dubai. ..... I have to do training for my specialization am a...
From An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline
[…] I assumed I was going to have them. I am a modern African woman, with two university degrees, and a fourth generation working woman, but when it comes to children, I am typically African. ...
From Why Being a Working Mother is Better
[…] via InCultureParent | Why African Babies Don’t Cry. […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] that has been known and passed on for millenia. So, I encourage you to read her article, “Why African Babies Don’t Cry” to find out the […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] doesn’t exist, because it’s just the natural way of doing things. I recently read a fascinating article written by a modern African mom about how she decided to care for her ba...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] and movies. ● Use anonymous sites to talk with people using different languages  or seek a pen pal who is a native speaker. Omegle is an app that pairs people up with similar interests....
From 29 Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids
[…] the majority of non-Western societies, babies sleep with their parents–if not in the bed, then in the same room. So do young children. It is only in industrialized […...
From The African Guide to Co-sleeping
While I enjoyed the article and the idea of reading your baby is exactly how you should do it, I don't think that the author was following this at all. Becoming a full time walking zombie human ...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry

More Tradition and Parenting