By Bridgette Annalyse Jameson
Perhaps the title should be “Being Indigenous in this Moment” because surely my brothers and sisters from other tribes, nations, and countries can relate. There is a multitude of emotions being felt because of this case; a multitude of wounds being opened, triggered by different bits and pieces of the story at hand. Lexi, (also known as Baby A and Alexandria P.,) a now-six-year-old Choctaw girl, was locked in the middle of a three-and-a-half year custody battle between her biological family and the foster family (Russell “Rusty” and Summer Page) that was supposed to provide a temporary home until said family could be located and reunified with her. Media coverage has told only their side, and for the most part, points out Lexi’s amount of Native blood – or lack thereof, according to many.
Headlines meant to slander the birth father, videos of children screaming, photos of Russell sprawled on a hot asphalt street crying: these things publicized to make viewers feel empathy for the Pages seem to be ripping the bandages off wounds across Indian Country instead.
I spent the day at the beach looking to clear my mind. I set the volume on my phone up “higher than recommended for headphones” to drown out conversations around me and enjoy the place I currently call home. But that familiar sadness was present behind my eyes; the sadness that urges a tear or two during a sad film or when someone else cries. I started thinking about Lexi again, wondering if she had been reunited with her family in Utah or if she was sitting somewhere waiting, overwhelmed and sad. I started thinking about what this case will mean for those of us who raise our heads high and say “Chahta hapia hoke!” I started wondering how many Indigenous people were doubting themselves because of articles screaming “Part Native” and “1.5%” this last week. So many thoughts invaded my mind all at once that I couldn’t think fast enough to get them all into my Evernote list for this article. And I’m not sure which hurt the most.
Seeing posts that refer to us, members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, as barbarians… as evil people… it’s something that comes with a feeling I can’t even describe. Something worse than heartbreak. To demonize someone for caring about their people but turn around and defend how Russell and Summer Page broke the law by refusing to return Lexi, releasing her name and photos, parading her in front of cameras and journalists seems hypocritical. My mind hits a blank when I read these words, unable to comprehend the logic behind it. Worse still was seeing the information for the Okla Chahta 21st Annual California Choctaw Cultural Gathering smeared across the Save Lexi Facebook page. Is it not barbaric to encourage protest at a cultural event? Is it not evil to put the safety of a specific group of people at risk? In just a short time there seems to be such a growing hate, not just for Native Americans, but for my people. And that scares me.
Unfortunately this hate seems to be at least partially driven by the words plastered along news articles and television screens. “Santa Clarita Family Files Appeal in Custody Case Over Part-Choctaw Girl” – ABC 7 (source). “Girl, 6 removed from foster home under law to keep Native American kids with Native families; she is 1/64th Choctaw” – NBC News (source). The unnecessary mentions of her 1/64th Choctaw ancestry were regurgitated like standards written on a chalkboard, and when 1/64th transformed into 1.5% that was regurgitated by supporters as well. The world-wide cri de cœur seems to be of 1/64th (1.5%) not “being enough” to be Choctaw despite the fact that Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma no longer uses blood quantum as a means of determining membership. But how can so many cry “Part Choctaw” when for us, a tribe that has rejected blood quantum, there is no such thing? “Chahta sia” means “I am Choctaw” not “I am part Choctaw.”
The dangerous obsession with invalidating someone’s Native-ness has more consequences than just dwindling our numbers. As we are erased so are our cultures, traditions, and languages. Then there’s the effect these actions have on the mental health of our youth. It’s an appalling thing to see even people of color supporting blood quantum. “How does 1/64th even count? That’s nothing. Even 1/16th is pushing it.” This from both non-Native people of color, and of course, white people. But most shocking was the Native Americans I saw participating in this. Some went so far as to say below 1/8th shouldn’t count, whereas others said below 1/4th was blood too far tainted. One, was Choctaw.
If any response has left me feeling defeated, it’s seeing a member of my tribe say that Lexi and any of us who are like her and have less than 1/4th blood shouldn’t count. As someone with less than a quarter Choctaw ancestry, I’ve always struggled to find my place in Indian Country. I find myself asking myself if I have the authority to speak on certain things, be interested in certain things, even repost certain things. My insecurities have magnified with each Native who tried to define who should and shouldn’t be able to register and I find myself feeling like I’m right back at square one. Do I have the right to even say these words? Do I have enough blood? Am I enough? Yes. Yes I am enough. I am a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, who cares about my people. So what if I don’t fit the stereotypes or molds people want us to? Chahta sia, alhpisa sia. But this isn’t just about me. This is about all of the other Natives who come from mixed ancestry – be it multiple tribes and nations or different ethnicities. This is about our young and impressionable children. The future generations.
We should not be defined by a number, a percent, stripped of our identity and reduced to next-to-nothing when our tribes love us exactly as we are and considers us something.