by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on February 24, 2005.
As near as I can tell, I'm one-thirty-second Seminole. My great-uncle tells me that my great-great grandmother, Marget Stout, was half Seminole.* She married John Scott Linn. Marget, who remarried, died in 1934 and is buried in Superior, Ariz., as Marget E. Brinkman. I have childhood memories of her son, Glen, my great-grandfather.
Seminole Nation notes, "Among the worst chapters in the history of Indian Removal, the [Great Seminole War] lasted almost seven years and cost thousands of lives. It finally ended in 1842 with the agreement that several hundred members of the tribe could remain in Florida. They stayed in the Florida swamps but never surrendered. Their descendants are the Seminole in Florida today."
Wikipedia states "the Seminole also accepted and protected large numbers of runaway slaves from Georgia who intermarried with the Seminole." Thus, these ancestors of mine were caught up not only in the struggle to preserve land for Indians but the struggle against slavery in the South.
My middle name is Linn. My great-uncle believes John (also called "Pat") came over from Ireland, but whether he or his parents made the trip is ambiguous. The family name used to be O'Linn, but the Irish faced discrimination, and the family was "ashamed" to keep the Irish-sounding name, says my great-uncle.
Relatives of my wife have traced her family line back to William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. So my future children, I anticipate, will be proud to have ancestors who fought for American Independence and against slavery.
I'm proud of my heritage, but how much does it matter? Learning one's heritage is interesting and useful, but so is learning the history of evolution, our deeper roots.
If a person's known ancestry consisted entirely of murderers, Nazis, slave traders and pedophiles, would that somehow reduce the stature of the person or limit his or her potential? Of course not. What matters is the individual.
All of us have in our ancestry saints and sinners, nobility and criminals, the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as the beautiful. Our bloodlines do not determine who we are. As a human, you are a conceptual being of vast potential intelligence, "created equal" to all other people, as the famous document old Whipple signed affirms, and you are the author of your own life.
I therefore sympathize with Russell Means, the famous American Indian activist who defended Ward Churchill at a Feb. 8 event. As the Denver Post reported, Means said, "We are the only ethnic group in the world that has to prove our blood like dogs." (Means's statement is false: Indians are not required to prove their blood, and members of other ethics group must if they want to do certain things.)
I met Means at the Colorado Libertarian convention in 2001. He was invited to that event because a former chair of the state party lived in South Dakota in 1974, where Means was on trial for the Wounded Knee standoff. While I disagree with Means on many issues, I favor his support of "free-market economics and no government interference in people's lives."
The reason I often use the term "American Indian" rather than "Native American" is that Means prefers the former. He says a "Native American" is anyone who was born here. At the convention, Means said, "I still have this feeling that my people are still enslaved. I'm not talking about Indians -- I'm talking about Native Americans, those born in North America."
After reading the document Whipple signed, I'm inclined to think Means was partly correct. While we in America enjoy great liberties, we are also shackled by codes and regulations. My wife and I will have to send every extra dollar from last December through April to the national government -- and that only covers us until July, when we will be forced to pay most of another month's wages. If everyone had to cut a check to the national government for his or her full tax burden, rather than have taxes withheld, people would revolt. And taxes are only part of the government-imposed burdens we face. (Means said he didn't pay the income tax.)
However, Means is wrong to blame Churchill's critics for the debate over his heritage. It is Churchill's pals on the left who set up a system in which people have to prove their blood like dogs.
As the Rocky Mountain News reported, Churchill circumvented the usual tenure process, even though he lacks a Ph.D., and the reasons for this are clear. CU's former Vice Chancellor for Academic Services Kaye Howe wanted to hire Churchill because he was regarded as "a significant Indian scholar and teacher," though Howe recommended only a temporary position, the News related.
David Horowitz complained in a Feb. 14 talk at CU that Churchill was "impersonating an Indian" and that his appointment cost (other?) Indians a chance at the position.
I don't know whether Churchill is part Indian, or how much, nor do I care. A person's ancestry has absolutely nothing to do with the quality -- or, in Churchill's case, the lack thereof -- of that person's scholarship.
Yet the standards imposed by the left give benefits to people who can prove certain ancestry. So now Churchill has to prove that he's part Indian. Leftists who don't like that have only themselves to blame.
* January 24, 2012 Update: Some in the family believe she was one-quarter Seminole. I don't have clear evidence about this.