The Perfect Recipe

Identity. It’s a hard thing to explain. There are a lot of factors that lead an individual to identify with one group. Whether it is where your family is from, where you go to school, what your hobbies are, or even what color hair you have. Figuring out this intricate recipe for yourself is difficult. The issue of blood quantum only makes it harder.

I play volleyball. I love to travel. I’m basically fluent in Spanish. Piano jazz is my favorite music genre, along with Christmas music. If I could, I would be a volleyball playing, jazz piano prodigy, who travels the world spreading cheer de la Navidad (Christmas cheer). Why isn’t that enough?

Before college, I was never fully aware of how important the amount of “Nativeness” or how much of this tribe or that tribe is to a person. My opinion was just, “If they have a card, why not?” Growing up, I always heard the stories about the great, great, great (continue to however many needed to make the point) Cherokee princess grandma or whatever, but I never actually took it to heart how awkwardly important that actually was in the Native community.

One night, I was sitting at a small get together with some friends. A few of them were enjoying a certain type of canned beverage that tends to make some slightly rowdy and made the few of us that don’t enjoy sipping on the tainted liquid fairly annoyed. As I was about to get up and head for the door as a disagreement arose within the group about how much Native everyone in attendance was. And of course, the only way to completely settle this situation was to go around the circle and have every individual state “how much Nativeness” they had. As the random fraction and tribal jumbles were being called out, compared, and teased about, it hit me. This is exactly what was meant to happen. Back then – they didn’t think Natives would survive long enough to even care about keeping fractions to the 256th degree. They just needed something for us to become almost obsessed with to make their jobs easier.

I’m half Navajo, a fourth Blackfeet, and a fourth Shoshone-Bannock. This has always been my tribal affiliation. When my sister decided she wanted to enroll in Sho-Ban instead of Navajo, she had to do some digging from our mom about our real father’s blood quantum. As she did this, she found out that all this time, we weren’t only Blackfeet and Shoshone-Bannock, but Cree, French, and Irish, too!

My sister, being herself, immediately embraced this newly found quirk in her identity and ran with it. I, on the other hand, didn’t. It was mind boggling how one day someone could be one thing, then the next change it based on some piece of paper. Although I had never put much effort into my “tribalness,” this seriously bothered me. For days, I tried to figure and refigure the numbers, hoping that somehow I could still rightfully claim my original and odd combination of tribes. Then it dawned on me. It really doesn’t matter.

Why do I have to state my “Nativeness” on a piece of paper? Why don’t my white friends have to explain their lineage going back hundreds of generations? Why did my cousin have to appeal to the tribal council to be enrolled because she didn’t have enough of one tribe to enroll normally? Why can’t I just be that joyful, bilingual volleyball player, with nimble fingers, and a bunch of frequent international flyer miles?

Is this something that we as a people should really continue to buy into after all of these years? Especially when it was just put in place to keep us occupied, so the government could continue to take advantage of unfulfilled treaties and make sure they didn’t have to pay more than the desired amount of money to the desired amount of people? (I personally don’t think so).

After all of this thinking, I began to understand myself a little bit better. I may have grown up away from “back home,” I may have skin that’s continually tanner than my white friends but lighter than some of my Native friends, and I may be one of the only student-athletes at my university that is slightly obsessed with jazz chord progressions, but that’s all me, and I’m comfortable being me. That, I think, is the beauty in my identity recipe.

Chamisa Edmo is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and is also Blackfeet and Shoshone Bannock. Currently, she is attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, and playing volleyball. Edmo has numerous creative artists in her lineage, including her mother and grandmother. She was fortunate enough to have several poems selected to be published in a collection of local young authors.

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