James Giago Davies: Mixed-race Indians forced to choose identity

James Giago Davies. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Reminding myself why I write this column
'You are what you are!'
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Columnist

Every now and again I have to get back to the reason why this column is called Iyeska Journal. Being an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe does not make me an Indian, but it certainly doesn’t make me Wasciu.

Like many brown-skinned Iyeska, my identity was not something I developed for myself, or co-opted from some other group. I have lived a Lakota life because I was forced to by circumstance.

My mother was mixed blood so when she suffered from racism, I was there to see it, and when I was old enough to interact with the world at large people noticed something my own son noticed when he was four years old: “Dad, you’re different, you’re brown!”

One time I overheard another teacher say to my teacher about me, “OH is that little Indian boy in your class?”

I had never thought of myself as an Indian boy. But what I thought was irrelevant, because White authority figures thought of me as one. As I have mentioned several times in this column, Davies is a Welsh surname, and I am one quarter Welsh, but no teacher in North Rapid ever said, “Hey, is that little Welsh boy in your class?”

Nope, and for the same reason an angry nun hollered at my mom, 70 years ago, at Holy Rosary Indian Mission.

The nun had said her mother was French and her father was German, but because she had a German surname and was raised in Germany, she considered herself German. My mother said her father’s surname was Hispanic, so she considered herself Spanish. That is when the nun told her she was an Indian girl, not Spanish, and she needed to just accept that. When my mom objected, the nun responded with a resounding, “You are what you are!”

This always brings us to the logically inescapable mongrel consequence that regardless of which identity an Iyeska internally accepts, the other one taints both.

Back when my mother was young, because of the overt prejudice, most Iyeska wanted to be seen as White. Today many Iyeska fully identify as Lakota despite the fact most of them have French or Hispanic surnames. That Holy Rosary nun could not have penned a better script.

(James Giago Davies can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

(Native Sun News Today Editor’s Note: There is a long list of Iyeska (mixed bloods; Iyeska actually means ‘interpreter’ in Lakota) who have helped to bring about tremendous changes in the Indian world. Vine Deloria, Russell Means, U. S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Gwen Shenatona, and Oren Lyons to name just a few. They saw themselves for what was in their hearts and what they saw was ‘Indian’)

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Reminding myself why I write this column

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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