Great was my joy when I read the headline: “Te-Moak Tribe to vote on descendancy.” According to BIA records, I am 15/64 Western Shoshone -- 1/64 short of being the full quarter required for tribal membership. If the tribe were to amend their constitution to allow enrollment by descendancy, then I would finally be able to become an “official” member; it would mean “official” acceptance from this People to whom, for my entire life, I have claimed to belong.
Now, in the interim between the amendment proposal and the election, I was accepted into Tufts University School of Medicine. My wife and I have spent the past 5 weeks frantically moving our lives to Boston. Our focus has been on trying to establish our lives in Massachusetts. Thus, it was not until mid-July that I learned the amendment proposal failed.
My cousin (who’s a tribal member) posted a video of white people participating in a sham Native ceremony, demonstrating, in my cousin’s view, that which would be the consequent state of the Tribe should the amendment have passed; luckily, my cousin said, it failed.
What crushes me about this attitude toward the amendment’s failure is that I’m sure my cousin isn’t alone in feeling this way; I’ve heard opinions like this expressed by the tribe for as long as I can remember. Them voting “no” and simultaneously expressing this pejorative attitude toward those who would have benefited from the amendment’s passing means this: they do not accept me.
I’ve been to countless pig roasts out to Lee. I’ve laughed endlessly while listening to my aunties’ stories of past times. I spent a summer working with the young people at the After-School Program. Even though I ask my aunties to teach me more of our language every time I see them, even though the Shoshone are my grandmother’s People, and even though my Native family tells me, “I love you, tami (little brother),” every time they see me, that 1/64 is too great a chasm for the Te-Moak Tribe to cross in order to accept me as their own.