I live in Oklahoma and am the proud mother of a small town, high school lineman who adores the Sooners and star quarterback Sam Bradford. We live in the second poorest county in Oklahoma and my son’s team just finished a 12-1 season, narrowly being beaten by a private, Oklahoma City prep school. We had just lost our chance to play for the state championship, hence the needed joy at our house for Sam Bradford’s win. Our family members are also each Cherokee Nation tribal members, like our country’s newest Heisman trophy winner. Imagine my anger when one of my close friends (who is not Cherokee) responded to my discussions about how much Sam Bradford was a role model to our Oklahoma kids with his good grades at an Oklahoma university, gracious attitude and national achievement when my friend said “Yeah, and Bradford really looks Cherokee unlike your son who will still get all the benefits of being Cherokee but doesn’t look it.”
How odd that today I am offended when people don’t think we “look Indian”, when many of my ancestors often times denied their heritage in shame. What is an Indian, or Native American, supposed to look like in 2008 in order to claim his or her ancestry? Is my son any less “Indian” because he comes from a tribe that assimilated with the white man in the 1500’s unlike the Western tribes who may have not even meet white people until 300 years later? Our family has a many “greats” grandma in a grave forty miles from our house who has a “Trail of Tears” memorial medallion placed on her grave by the Cherokee Nation a few years ago, but my son sunburns easily. There were no cameras to take pictures of our tribe’s people in “native dress” or doing dances when the white invaders first arrived at our villages in the late 1500’s; so does that mean we aren’t “really Indian”? As I angrily stewed about this for a couple of hours, it occurred to me that my grandfather would have loved all this. He was raised to believe that being Indian was shameful. How funny it is that we are now so proud of our heritage, our tribe’s money from gaming operations, the great educational opportunities it affords our children, its programs and presence in our state, that we think we need to look “more Indian” to claim all this glory. I guess I should be glad that white people are now jealous of us instead of trying to wash away our language from our mouths, cut our hair, and take our children to boarding schools; now they want to sign their kids up for Indian cards!
Once again, I’m proud of Sam Bradford because he is a fine young man from Oklahoma who has worked hard, made good grades, thanks God in public, and hugs his mama first on national T.V. Maybe some day we’ll all stop noticing skin color in our heroes, but for now I guess it’s a step in the right direction that it is starting to be something to be desired and coveted instead of maligned and hidden. My son may not “look Cherokee” but I believe that his future along with his tribe’s looks “bright and beautiful.”
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