News flash

SAL/UER Videos

Racism and the Collapsing Society, Barbara Love and Tim Jackins, June 7, 2020

RC Webinars listing through December 2022

New Online Workshop Guidelines Modifications


White People with Native Ancestry

The White/Native Workshop, led by Barbara Boring1 in June 2014, left me with a sharpened clarity about the work for white RCers with Native ancestry and for Native RCers raised white.

The main purpose and goal of the white/Native workshops is to advance and support the liberation of Native people raised Native—those who are living Native lives, on their Native land, in Native cultures.

The goal is not for us white/Native people to deny or ignore the oppressor “white” patterns we have accumulated (in the same way that all white people have accumulated them). Our goal is not to become Native or “not white.” It is to discharge the patterns in order to be more effective in supporting the liberation of Native people raised Native. At each white/Native workshop we discharge on oppressor patterns, and anyone who wants to attend must first do a year of intensive work on claiming his or her white heritage and discharging on it.

On the other hand, we do not want Native people raised white or white people with Native ancestry to ignore the effects of genocide on their family. Working on these effects is another way to understand and free up our attention around Native people raised Native. It can also free us from distresses that our ancestors were unable to acknowledge.

People who discharge on the white/Native identity may end up in vastly different places. We do not advocate, promote, or favor any particular outcome except, of course, discharging and being a strong ally to Native people raised Native.

Some white/Native people may reclaim their lost Native culture or language. Some may join Native people in protests against the ongoing assault on Native lands and resources. Some may teach RC on reserves or Indian lands.

Some may retain their white identity. They may speak out about the history of genocide and its place in the current functioning of the oppressive class society. They may speak out against the ongoing removal of Native young people from their families and how they are forced to adopt white identity and culture. They may lead white people in discharging on ending racism and genocide.

All of this is equally good. It is not the identity or direction we choose that matters. We white/Native people have widely different experiences, so naturally the choice will be different for each of us.

I will now speak for myself as a white person with Native ancestry. I will not speak to the experience of Native people raised white, except to say that the policy of forcefully removing Native children from their families and raising them as white has been and continues to be an active strategy of genocide and that these workshops have been useful to people who have experienced that.

Speaking only for myself, the white/Native work has been what has most effectively moved me forward in discharging white racism and working to eliminate it. My family’s terror about identifying as Native, and their assimilation and denial of Native heritage, are directly related to my terror in being visible as an ally to people targeted by racism. The recordings2 say that standing with a person targeted by racism is just too risky to attempt.

Some of my ancestors were Indigenous people who lived in the area where I currently live in the northeast of what is now called the United States. They lived here for more generations than anyone knows. The Native part of my family (those who survived the genocide) lived in close contact with white European immigrants (the other side of my family) for nearly five hundred years. They may have made first contact over a thousand years ago.

(As a result of this extended contact, a significant number of Native people, including tribal leaders, who speak an Indigenous language as their first language have light-colored skin and blue eyes. This can be another source of confusion for people not familiar with the realities of the Indigenous people of this area.)

During the time of coexistence, the Indigenous people and the white European immigrants had every sort of relationship with each other that humans have ever had—neighbors, murderers, lovers, wives, husbands, captors, friends, enemies, and so on—but the Native people always had the overt policy of genocide hanging over their heads. A little less than three hundred years ago, or about four or five generations before my grandmother, there was an all-out3 war against the Native people of this area. One of the major Native leaders was killed and for twenty years his head stood on a pike in the center of town. There could not have been a clearer symbol of the danger of being identified as Native.

Many Native people were killed outright, and, according to most U.S. history books, the rest withdrew into what is now Canada. In fact, several tribes retained their tribal organization, particularly in areas removed from white population centers. These Native communities exist today. Some are recognized by the U.S. and/or state government.

Another group of Native people disappeared into the dominant white culture, simply for survival. At the time it would have been hugely unwise to be visible as an Indian except under a few exceptional circumstances. We (though I retain my white identity, in this instance I use that pronoun in acknowledgement of my Native ancestors), out of fear or wisdom, became silent about our identity and assimilated into the white culture that surrounded us. (As some of us white/Native folks might say, we got all of the oppression and none of the culture.)

The oppression we internalized shows itself in various ways: violence acted out mostly on ourselves or our family, the shattering of closeness and the fracturing of family relationships (genocide lives on after the direct killing), heavy humiliation to the point of not being able to speak, terror of being visible or prominent, self hatred, the loss of language and cultural practices.

The strengths of the Native cultures that were passed on to us are not always so visible. Some of them are not particularly helpful in a white-dominated culture. These include a lack of “ambition” (meaning a desire to compete to acquire wealth or status), generosity, a quiet connection to and knowledge of the natural world, and a stubborn persistence in holding on to one’s own mind and way of thinking.

I wonder what my life would be like if two hundred and fifty years ago there had not been a genocidal war against my Native ancestors. Nearly all of the rivers, many of the lakes, and some of the towns around here have Indian names, so there is no question that Indians were here and that the white people who made the maps knew them and were familiar with their language. The contact must have been much more intimate than the history books acknowledge. Would I speak the Native language and know what the names mean? What would my family’s culture look like with a full blend of the diverse traditions?

My mother’s father was Welsh (his father was born in Wales), and though he was only around for two years of my mother’s life, I doubt that many people would question my claiming Welsh ancestry. With Native ancestry, it is different. One’s identity as Native comes under question. Huge political and legal battles are being fought between Indigenous people and the governments imposed on them over who is Indigenous and which peoples the governments are willing to acknowledge. A lot is at stake, and the question of one’s individual identity can get all caught up in the struggle.

I am proud of my Native ancestors for the way they lived on the earth and retained important aspects of humanness in a white-dominated capitalist culture. I am proud to share some of those strengths, which I believe they passed on to me. I am proud to have done a few things to stop the genocide of Indigenous people.

I am proud of my white European ancestors, who were courageous and industrious; who always did the best they could, adhering to principled Protestant values of integrity and discipline; who at least once in a while had human and mutually beneficial relationships with Indigenous people; and whose descendants I now hope to organize as effective allies against all oppression.

Thanks to Barbara Boring for her love of all humans and her ability to organize and present all that we have learned. It was only through her clarity and precision that I was able to clarify these thoughts in my mind. Thanks to Marcie Rendon4 for her clarity on these issues and her long-term commitment to healing the hurts of genocide and restoring humanness to all people of the planet who have been harmed by oppression.

Dan Nickerson
Freeport, Maine, USA

1 Barbara Boring is an RC leader in Seattle, Washington, USA.
2 Distress recordings
3 “All-out” means total.
4 Marcie Rendon is the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00