Janice Arnold-Jones went on Fox News and insinuated that because Deb Haaland, her Democratic opponent in Congressional District 1, did not grow up on the Pueblo of Laguna reservation, aka The Rez, that Deb cannot claim that she is Native. This is another striking example of how removed Janice and other non-Native people are from the complicated history of Native Americans, not just in the district she wants to represent, but across New Mexico and the nation.
Janice, what you said on national television is racist and here’s why. Federally recognized tribes in this country have jumped through endless hoops and faced extreme prejudice just to achieve recognition from the federal government to access healthcare and education promised them under the myriad treaties foisted on them by the United States of America. Tribes have land held “in trust” with the federal government and must receive permission to use their own land. Since the Dawes Act of 1887, Native peoples were “encouraged” lease land as a way to further assimilate, forcing tribal economies’ hands to operate within capitalism and a more individualized form of ownership, as opposed to the communal way in which Native families lived across the nation.
Chief Justice John Marshall helped codify this very paternal relationship between tribes and federal government, this relationship “resembling that of a ward to his guardian.” As a result, many tribes are forced by the federal government to live on plots of land that were not at the time (and still aren’t) on their ancestral lands or are essentially bullied into forming borders that are amenable to what the federal and state governments need in terms of access to resources.
Nearly every part of a Native person’s life is dictated by some federal policy with the aim to make tribes’ members “self-sufficient”– a cruel joke played on Native peoples since they’ve not had true self-determination since European colonization. On top of that, many Native peoples were pressured to leave the reservation because the federal government did not live up to its promises in order to pursue self-sufficiency and find jobs.
Then there’s the blood quantum issue– how much “Indian blood” a Native person has to qualify as a member of their tribe; this is a codified way to literally exterminate Native peoples. If a tribe starts to go extinct given the criteria from the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal recognition may go away. No more trust responsibilities. What if you live a Public Law 280 state, where the state has jurisdiction over tribal affairs because the federal government signed it away? Native people’s identities have been up for debate for generations- are you still Native if you live off the rez? Are you still Native if you don’t speak your language (thanks, boarding schools!)? Are you still Native if you don’t meet the blood quantum (thank you, Indian Reorganization Act!)? Are you really Native if you have light skin or curly hair or don’t wear buckskin dresses?
For generations, non-Native people have been quick to comment on who gets to be a Native, essentially defining for Native and Indigenous peoples what it means or what it should mean to be a good Indian.