My husband's cousin told us to pick up an application for Nugget to be made a member of their tribe, the Makah, when we were visiting last week; she said it as if it were a given that we would submit such an application. I appreciated her confidence and warmth, but I worry about making such an application, and I am pretty sure my husband's feelings about it are even more fraught.
If you aren't born on the Makah reservation, but you have some minimum amount of "blood," you can become a member if the tribe votes to admit you, if I understand it correctly. But my son will almost certainly look white, and he will probably have a privileged urban upbringing far from the reservation. I'm not sure he can gain acceptance from the tribe, and I'm not even sure he should. I want to take him there as often as possible, to spend time with his family and to understand their (his?) culture, but I hate that he's sure to feel the pain of someone who belongs a little but not enough.
My husband, who doesn't really talk about it (or his feelings generally), is the son of a Makah woman and a white man, but he looks white and grew up in suburban L.A. It makes me angry sometimes, especially when he was devoting his legal career to representing tribes, that he is not always accepted in the native community because of the color of his skin or the quantum of his blood. I can understand somewhat that people who grew up with poverty and the other ills that often affect reservations, or who experience discrimination based on their appearance, would resent having to share their hard-earned identity with someone who did not suffer similarly. But shouldn't that identity be defined by positive things, as well? I know these are complicated issues that don't have any easy answers. It's from that emotional morass that I would like to protect my son, if I could. But I can't, and I don't want to, because doing so would rob him of the good things about it. Our son will be even further removed from the Makah identity than his dad; will that make it easier or harder, I wonder?
Of course, I'll want to shield him from "my people," too. At the rehearsal dinner before I married Trent, a--probably somewhat drunk--friend of my parents' told me excitedly, "It's so great that he's Native American! It will help your kids get into college!" Well-meant but definitely wince-worthy. Will my son be subject to whispers that he didn't earn what he received? I've always been a little conflicted on the subject of affirmative action, not least because of the stigma problem. Now I worry that it will affect my son. On the other hand, maybe it will help him get into college. Am I allowed to be pleased by that? Probably not, since another of the problems with affirmative action that I've always stumbled upon is that it benefits those who don't need it as much as it benefits those who do--and my son, the child of two lawyers, would undoubtedly be one of the unintentional beneficiaries.
At the moment, though, the only pain Nugget is feeling is from teething,which seems to have come very early. Poor little man. And poor me, too, as I doubt I'll get much sleep tonight. And poor Trent, because if I don't get to sleep, I'll be damned if he does.
p.s. I ran this post by my husband before publishing it, and he tried to suggest that the part about not talking about his feelings was inaccurate, but he couldn't keep a straight face long enough to get it out.