There is No Native American Concept of Race

A Native American concept of race never existed as we know the idea of race in the modern world.

The term for a Black man translates from Blackfoot language as “Black White Man” and the thought behind this is completely alien to modern western ideation. The Blackfoot “Black White Man” derives from interaction with the Black cavalry regiment stationed north of Browning during the military occupation of the Blackfeet reservation (into the 1930s.) “Black” is descriptive solely in a superficial sense and when coupled to “White”, points directly to European mentality or state of mind and is not primarily concerned with skin color. This is reinforced with the Cree translation for White Man being essentially identical concept: “Not like us” in a sense of thought process. This again loops back in identical sense in the proper Blackfoot term for a White Man per se: ‘Napi Kwan’ or “White Man” refers to someone who is crazy from a cultural perspective and figures in the Blackfoot proverb “Everyone knows the White Man is crazy.” All of the translations taken with the proverb point to color as superficial or descriptive only, with the emphasis on state of mind or thought process. This is clearly reinforced by the noted action anthropologist Karl Schlesier when he states:

“In the old world of the tribes skin color never mattered; what mattered were the expressions of one’s spirit and the voice of the heart”

Karl has spent most of his life in close association with the Southern Cheyenne, and is honorary son, brother and father to three generations of Cheyenne Holy Arrow Keepers and most certainly would be in a position to know this as well. Karl, like myself, is a White Indian and we are not discriminated against in the culturally intact Native community on account of our skin color. If it were a Black Man had achieved the old, culturally intact thought process, their welcome into the Native community would be no different to our own; complete, warm and integrated.

In the present times, when we see modern academics discuss Race in relation to Native America, particularly when those academics skins are Red, we are witnessing European mentality co-opting original Native thought. Were there to be an original native thought assessment of today’s politically correct arguments over race in stereotype such as team sport mascots, terms such as ‘Indians’,  ‘Redskins’ and ‘Braves’ would be patently meaningless in any sense of insult. Wilma Mankiller, past chief of the Cherokee, drove a Jeep “Cherokee Chief” and I am certain her choice would have been deliberate and taken in a sense of Native American humor. In the more traditional Native communities, you have “Redskins” memorabilia and fans, the politically correct arguments simply do not apply and in fact are never given a second thought.

The modern racial stereotypes are so patently preposterous to the original Native American mindset, the racial ideas are not worthy of consideration beyond Indian humor:

Why don’t Indians marry Blacks? Because we’d have children too lazy to steal!

Of course Native Americans do sometimes marry Blacks. The point of the humor is actually built into world-view where human experience has an aspect that is a cosmic joke, in a mental construct that does not suffer ego in a sense of the western mentality. The preceding joke is actually funny in the original Native context and its only bearing on Race is pointing out the idiocy of racial stereotype and the falseness of any cultural ego behind the very idea. The American Indian deity of many tribes, ‘Old Man’,  serves as an ego buster in a culture where ego as the western personality knows it, is historically considered to be more than undesirable, it is a mental disorder based in self-illusion:

When Old Man knelt to drink, he saw cherries over his head and forgetting he had knelt to drink, he reached for these cherries in the reflection!

Of course Old Man, fooled by the illusion and consequently wet from head to toe, looked like an idiot.

Racial affronts are grounded in the ego of non-indigenous cultures and the essential concept in and of itself, cannot find traction in original Native worldview and thought. The very idea of Race is equivalent to reaching for cherries in the reflection. The alien concept of self-importance is the ultimate underlying cultural principle in the Blackfoot proverb Everyone knows the Whiteman is crazy. Old Man the fool, Napi to the Blackfeet, and the ‘Napi’ in the Blackfoot expression ‘Napi Kwan’ that translate as White Man, are one and the same.

Were original Native thought process applicable to African origins, Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Baboons would be perceived in the community as magnificent creatures. The stupid primates would be those people who were possessed of European mentalities looking down on these sentient beings which, in Native view, possess a greater practical social intelligence than those who would consider these creatures as lesser to humans.

That all life stands on par with humanity is not exclusive to original Native American philosophy it would appear; this author has read of a Black African tribe, living in proximity to Chimpanzees, know the Chimpanzees as “people of the forest”, indicating other ‘non-mainstream’ cultures perceive their living surroundings in a similar, non-egoic light.

A different perception to the modern, for certain.

Note: Authentic Native American philosophy has, for the most part, been boarding schooled, uncle tom-tom’d (stereotyped), and ‘native studied’ out of existence (in precisely that order.) In the present time, relating to any politically correct western anthropology program with the ‘native studies’ euphemism, it is the western ideas are coming to dominate the native perception of themselves. With the loss of language & oral tradition in the original form (‘Native Studies’ in the western university system reflects this loss), these people don’t even know who they were anymore.


Life in Indian Country

Collected stories, folklore and anecdotes concerning my many years life with Blackfeet Indians and traversing Native American territories