Dances With Bureaucrats: Should I Become an Indian?

Guess I should have turned on the Irony Alert yesterday. Already one reader has e-mailed to ask just what in the heck’s going on with all this stuff about becoming an Indian, so here’s the back story:

1. During a Thanksgiving visit a couple weeks ago, I met a charming, talkative woman who proceeded to tell our group all about her latest business venture. She was getting ready to launch in the first quarter of ’08 and was close to nailing down all the preliminaries, but she had one important hurdle to clear: She needed to finish up the paperwork so she could be certified as a Native American by the Small Business Administration and other government offices. This new, uh, feather in her cap would go nicely with the “Woman Owned” business status she already enjoyed.

Now she was female and had been for a long time. Any fool could see that. But Native American? Two people in the group had known this lady at least 25 years. They seemed puzzled; how could she be certified  Native American when they, her friends of long standing, knew nothing of this proud heritage?

Well, you’ve probably seen the hole card by now: She had some distant ancestor who was 1/12 Sioux or 1/24 Seminole or something, so Native American blood coursed through her veins as well, and since there were government programs set aside to favor such bloodlines, why shouldn’t she scoop wampum with everyone else?

2. Meek, polite soul that I am, I said nothing, just sipped my firewater, but I returned home to a pile of paperwork sent by one of my magazine employers. This employer, one of America’s great and usually on-time airlines, is involved with every government program imaginable, and so I was instructed to pigeonhole myself on a sheet offering several options,  including:

___ Minority Owned Small Business

___ Woman Owned

___Small Disadvantaged Business

___African American

___Asian American

___Hispanic American

___Native American

___None of the Above

You may have guessed by now that I belong to the NOTA Tribe–None of the Above–though I am a small business, the smallest possible, and often feel disadvantaged because the NOTA, I’m told, used to rule the world, and it was bad that they ruled the world, and so now the NOTA must be last so that others can be first.

Which is why–and no, I’m not making this up, truly–I’m remembering my Native American blood. Seriously. My maternal grandmother’s people were–trying to remember–Ogallala Sioux, I think, yes, that’s it– and the line was strong enough in my mother that it remained a sore spot for decades with my father, who found all kinds of creative ways to insert that heritage into their frequent arguments.

So the fact is I’ve got more than a tumbler of Native American blood in my racial cocktail. So many others have decided to cash in stepped forward to embrace diversity and explore their fullest, most multi-dimensional personhood; why, I ask, shouldn’t I? As 2008 looms, I may add “Go Back to Native American Roots” to my Life List.

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