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The difference between racism and tribalism

Every once in a while, someone wonders if they can get some of the Indian Casino money they hear about. They may say "look at my cheekbones!", or "I have a photo of my great-grandparents, and they look they might be Indian!" But that's race, not tribe. In order to prove that you are a descendant of a particular Indian tribe, you need documentation.

This is not race. Race is a nonsense concept. Trying to categorize people into various races based on skin color, or the shape of their heads, or whatever, has been attempted for hundreds of years, and it has failed. Of course, just because something doesn't exist, doesn't mean people don't believe it exists, especially if it fulfills some type of need in their life, especially financial.

And that brings me to tribalism. And this is where people often confuse race with tribe. Unlike race, a tribe is not a nonsense concept. It's cultural, like being a citizen of a state, or a city, but it's also hereditary. And if you've been paying attention to the successes of Indian Casinos in the last few years, it's important that you understand.

If I use myself as an example, I have a connection between two tribes - the Angles and the Saxons. I know it might sound goofy, but really, those tribes really existed, and I am a descendant of them, and I can prove it with documentation. I won't ask you to look at the color of my eyes, or my skin. I have ancestors from England. I have written records of my ancestors. Yeah, that won't get me any Indian Casino money, I know!

Being part of an Indian tribe, and therefore deserving of your share of the money that is dispersed, requires proof that you are of that tribe. For many people, this is so easy that they don't need to give it a second thought. I have several Indian friends, and they know their tribes, and have no doubt about it.

Being a tribalist is like being a culturalist. It's a celebration of the unity of a group of people. And yes, they may look a certain way, and you may want to try to classify them by race, but if you take a second look, and classify them by tribe, it all makes sense.

Image above: Pima and Maricopa people in 1899, and a cowboy.

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