After I voted the other day, and after not being able to get into Canada this summer because I didn’t have a passport, I thought, how do I prove what nation I come from? I’ve never had much time for the genealogy of my own family, after all, I already know what I am, I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m American. But what if I had to prove it? As the custom agent pointed out, my NYS driver’s license only meant that I could drive in New York State. Although I had to show all kinds of proof of me-ness to get that license, none of it said I was an American. Since a passport only gives me the right to travel from one country to another, there must be some kind of color-coded card I am missing out on right?
So I decided, well, since the BIA has deemed itself the ultimate authority and judge as to what a Native American tribe is, surly they would know? Since a tribe is an “Indian Nation” with it’s own separate government, the same criteria should work for me as an American from my nation with it’s own separate government. So, I went to the BIA website and saw they had a handy list of seven things you need to prove. Well that sure seemed easy enough. After all, I’m here, I’m a person, I have ties to my community in which I vote, my parents were born here, and their parents were born here so I must be part of my nation the tribe of the United States of America! This shouldn’t be too hard to do. I’m sure my family had something to show that they “demonstrate that they have a membership and know they are on the membership list” like the BIA wanted from the Abenaki. So all I needed for one step was to find my family’s membership in the tribe of the United States of America.
I went to my file cabinet and pulled out my family genealogy files. I pulled out my birth certificate, my mother’s, my dad's, my grandparent's, and nothing, not even a color-coded membership card in my file! Although the certificates said what town they were physically born in, nothing said they were members or citizens of my nation. I next went to the census records to see if I could prove my family’s lineage back to 1900 in my tribe of the United States of America. I started with my father’s side. On his side I found mostly British. Eek! That can’t be good. They had been the enemy! I then tried the other branch of his family and hit a dead end.
Things were not looking good so far. I then tried my mother’s side. Well let me tell you my shock to find that my early ancestors on one side of my mother’s family didn’t have any boxes checked or dates in the citizenship and naturalization column. In fact it said they were born in Ireland or Scotland! So that branch of her family didn’t work. I then tried the other side and lost all hope. Not only were they from Austria, they did not even get here until 1920! So I could not prove a continuous link to my nation back to 1900.
According to Channel 3 News in Burlington, Vermont the Attorney General there said, “a scientific study funded by the state proved the Swanton-based Abenakis have no historical or genealogical history as a tribe -- and the federal authorities have agreed.” Nor could they show, “blood relationship between the group seeking recognition and an historic Indian tribe.” I’ve never heard of genealogy being scientific. Obviously my genealogy wasn’t proving a thing for me either, so maybe I did need to try something scientific. There was only one hope left to prove continuous existence. I went down to my doctor’s office and requested a DNA test.
“Are you pregnant?” the doctor asked.
“Pregnant? At my age? Of course not,” I replied. “Don’t be silly.”
Looking a little confused now she questioned, “Then what do you need a DNA test for if not for paternity?"
I matter-of-factually replied, “To prove I’m American of course."
“You know, I’m trying to prove I’m an American. I’m hoping I have at least a quarter American blood in me.”
Well, I’m sorry,” she said, looking at me like I was nuts as she wrote me up some state controlled prescription, “No DNA test is going to prove you’re an American. If you’re born in America, then you’re an American.”
Hummm.... easy for you to say, I thought as I took my little cup of water and pill from her. You try and prove sometime you got a membership in the nation of the United States of America, especially without any American blood!
As I calmly floated out of the doctor’s office, to now walk home since I couldn't drive with whatever she gave me for my "condition", I thought I would at least look at the other things on the BIA list of criteria to see if I could qualify. I knew certainly that I did not belong to any other nation, so that at least was one down on their list, nor had I applied for citizenship in any other nation. Plus I was pretty sure no one in my family had any thought of opening a casino so that shouldn’t sway any votes unfairly against me, not that it should have anything to do with it. I guess the next thing to look at was my nation’s existence itself per BIA specs.
In looking at the list I couldn’t give my nation’s “present governing document” because I’m not sure what it is any more. I thought it was the Constitution of the United States of America but they don’t seem to follow that much anymore. Then I looked at “maintained political influence or authority over its members”. Yes, OK, that applies. Political influence has definitely played into who has authority over us. Except for when they argue among themselves, then the media usually tells us who must be right and who should be in charge. Then there was “has existed as a community from historical times to the present” being the time immemorial thing. Well if you don’t count when the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch were in charge in different parts of my nation I suppose so. Oh, but wait, there was the Civil War wasn’t there, when we didn’t know who was going to end up in charge because the nation was split. So I guess I can’t include that criteria either can I?
I guess what I have learned from all of this was my "nation" of the United States of America could not pass the ridiculous criteria of the BIA test. It shouldn't be for them to decide. It is absurd after all this time that any Indian Nation has to prove to my infant nation that they still exist.
HISTORY-SLEUTH © 2005 C. Amrhein