Steve Russell: Don't head to Arizona without your 'papers'
"I was slow to learn about Indians and complexion, having been born with the name Teehee in a small Oklahoma town. Nobody would question my ethnicity and if I wished to deny it there was no chance. Indians were the largest “minority” in town and I was a Cherokee on Creek territory, a double minority. However, just about all of the discrimination based on color was inflicted upon African-Americans.

When I got involved in the repatriation movement in Texas, I learned that my light complexion was a mixed blessing. I spent a lot of time playing tag team with a dark-skinned Pawnee lawyer and it was plain to us both that some people would rather listen to me than to him. On the other hand, one legislator made me prove I was “a federal Indian” because in his mind I did not look the part. And I overheard, at a meeting of archeologists where I was being discussed as a troublemaker in advance of my speech (but not quite enough in advance because I was just outside the door) this backhanded compliment: “if he would work half as hard at being white as he does at being Indian, he could!”

One thing about being Indian is that, regardless of complexion, you always have “papers.” In my tribe, there’s the “white card” (CDIB) and the “blue card” (Cherokee Nation Registry). Lucky I keep these cards in my wallet, since I may not be able to avoid setting foot in Arizona, though I will avoid it if I can.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has just signed a law that empowers, or, I should say, requires Arizona police officers to stop anybody they suspect may be an undocumented person and demand papers. For people insufficiently light complexioned, it will be like the old Soviet Union, where internal passports were required for travel. In my formative years, during the Cold War, I thought the freedom to travel from one end of the continent to the other without having some bureaucrat demanding “papers” distinguished the Free World."

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Steve Russell: Don’t visit Arizona without your papers (Indian Country Today 4/27)