02 July 2009

Family legends

You are not Native American. I'm sorry. You're just not.

I know you have high cheekbones.

I know you rarely have to shave your face.

I know that family legend says that you are descended from a Cherokee princess.

Nonetheless, you are not a Native American.

At work we get a lot of people who want us to prove they are Native American. A lot, I tell you. The thing is, most of these people are not, and even if they were, most tribes have closed books these days (meaning, they are not accepting new members). Why do people suddenly want to become members of the tribes? Affirmative Action? Not really. Cool stories? Nope. Money? We have a winner.

Native American tribes with casinos and hotels and such are making big bucks. My fellow-genealogist just spent a week with members of a certain tribe who earn $45,000 per month. Each. Every single tribe member. That's $540,000 per year. No doubt, that is a lot of money. And who wouldn't want to get in on the action?

The only thing is, if you are a white individual who has been raised as a white individual, who has never had to endure any sort of hardship because of your race, you do not deserve to cash in.

I believe my great-great-grandfather was Jewish, which would make me 1/16th Jewish. That does not mean I deserve a settlement on the West Bank. My family and I have not ever had to endure any trial related to our Jewish ethnicity. I cannot even begin to claim any remote sense of connection to Jewish people. In short, I am not Jewish even though my second-great grandfather, Isadore Gasser, was.

Attempts to claim Native American ancestry irritate me (in case that wasn't already apparent). It's one thing to know that your ancestors endured a lot as part of their race; it's an entirely different thing to attempt to profit from that.

And yet, it's a two-edge sword. If a client wants us to determine their Native American ancestry, we are not going to turn them away. We will certainly tell them from the start if it looks unlikely that we will be able to prove such a thing, but we do need to make a living, and if you want to pay us for something, we will gladly take your money. Just know that if I am researching your Native American roots, I am (a) probably not going to find anything, and (b) I am going to be annoyed that you are trying to profit from other people's misery.


Brianne said...

Do you think I would have a shot at being a Native American...?

Packrat said...

Great post. Please tell some of my cousins this! lol

The irony is that two of my nieces *are* part Native American, but they don't want to belong to any tribe or group. They're happy just the way they are.

Erin said...

We've totally got a Native American legend in the family - but I don't think any of us have been cunning enough to consider cashing in ...

Alice said...

We have a Native american story on both side of my family. That makes it your family also. Grandma Rustenbach use to say it was some one married to Younge Stevens. On Dad side I am not sure but it was an Apachie women. Oh well there is ours.

Mariah said...

When I read that first line I felt a little sting, right in my pride. I've been telling people that I am for years (or at least I did all the years I was at high school) just for the exotic flavour it might give me. But you're right. Being 1/16th isn't enough (even thought legend says I'm more)...