Most Americans never really stop to think what exactly makes somebody a Native American. Most people believe you simply need to have a parent who is a Native American. This isn’t the case. At least, that is what some people are quickly learning in Washington State.
To find an example, you don’t have to look any further than Terry St. Germain. In 2012, he decided to enroll his five young children as members of the Nooksack. This is a federally recognized Native American tribe, and yes, you actually have to be registered with the tribe to count. Located in the northwest corner of Washington State, the Nooksack have about 2,000 members.
St. Germain became registered with the tribe as a teenager. He didn’t foresee any problems getting his own children registered. Unfortunately, Bob Kelly, the chairman of the Nooksack tribal council, denied the request. He said there were problems with the ancestors St. Germain claimed. St, Germain’s brother, Rudy, previously served as Kelly’s secretary. The application denial destroyed Rudy’s faith in Kelly, and the denial threatens to change everything for St. Germain and his family.
Bob Kelly sees himself as preserving the true identity of the Nooksack. He explains how being a Native American isn’t a game, and making sure members of the tribe truly belong is about protecting Native American culture. However, for those left out of the tribe, a host of federal benefits and rights are jeopardized. These Native Americans also have no place else to go for their heritage. The rejection shatters souls.
Imagine a panel that could determine if you were truly gay, Asian, or African-American. It would be chilling. This is what Native Americans sometimes face with their own cultural identity. It’s far time average Americans started paying attention to this struggle Native Americans face in their lives.
Categories: Native American, Native American Culture