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:


Primary School Privilege

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

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

Circumcision Wars

She fought her Turkish in-laws on it--did she succeed?

All I Want for Christmas is Perfectly Bilingual Children

Why OPOL has been harder than we thought.

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!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

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!
For quite sometime, whenever there were articles that surfaced the internet concerning whether it was appropriate to breastfeed in public, I was so baffled. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that som...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
For quite some whenever there was articles circulated on the internet concerning whether it is appropriate to breastfeed in public. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that some countries considered i...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
I live with my Czech in laws with my four children and my Czech is crap I try to learn but the baby doesn't sleep well I'm a constant zombie and the brain just doesn't work. Plus being tired makes m...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
I am so glad I found this site. I am happy to see that I am not alone in experiencing 'family issues' after getting married. I am not from the West but I am married to a Canadian. I never truly unde...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
[…] my most favourite article about breastfeeding called Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan by Ruth Kamnitzer. I have no doubt that Mongolians would find our social stigmas around [R...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] sources and reasons for the rules of these countries too, such as China, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Hungary (see above re “Titanic”).  Has anyone got s...
From International Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing?
[…] Source Inculture Parents […...
From Lotus Lanterns for Wesak (Buddha Day)
If your nerves shat down your hormones , can you get pregnant by injecting a sperm in you to develop a baby . Please let me know...
From Baby-Making the Hindu Way
[…] Diwali Lantern from InCultureParent […...
From Diwali Craft: Make a Lantern

More Tradition and Parenting