In the U.S. the one-drop rule has been around since 1662. Back then, every individual had to be classified as either black or white. Anyone with a black ancestor, regardless of how many generations one had to go back to find that black ancestor, was automatically disqualified from being white.
How this affected the way people were listed in the American census even into the 1940s — including those who were of Native American Indian descent — was that a great many Indigenous peoples found themselves listed as black with complete disregard for any other culture or heritage that were part of who they were.
Many mistakenly believe that the law has long since disappeared into the mist of days gone by, but not that long ago, the one-drop rule was used in a legal proceeding in Louisiana. In 1985, a Louisiana court ruled that a woman could not identify herself as “white” on her passport because her great-great-great-great-grandmother was black.
But surely in the thirty years that have passed, no one subscribes to the one-drop rule anymore. Or do they?
Research has proven that both whites and non-whites perceive biracial individuals as being members of the lower-status group of the two races. In other words, if someone has an African-American parent and a white parent, the child is perceived as being African-American with no acknowledgement of the child’s white heritage.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about white privilege — what it is and what it isn’t. In cases of biracial individuals, it would seem that white privilege is disregarded by those categorizing those of mixed heritage.
And in Canada, among some First Nations peoples, it would seem that not only is the one-drop rule applied to the Métis, but the white heritage is considered to be the lower-status, and there’s nothing the Métis can do about it.
Over on social media, there’s a nasty situation brewing — one that threatens the well-being of a young mother and her children. Some Idle No More supporters are saying that her Hallowe’en costume was racist and that she appropriated Indigenous culture.
She’s Métis. Her children are Treaty. For Hallowe’en, she dressed as a Native.
He’s white. For Hallowe’en, he dressed as a cowboy.
This blog entry doesn’t address what they chose to wear. This blog entry addresses the nasty comments that have been made about her heritage and her right to claim her Indigenous culture.
In Daniels v Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), the Supreme Court of Canada determined that Métis, non-status Indians, and Inuit are equal to Treaty Indians in the eyes of the law.
This means we are considered full status as distinctive rights-bearing peoples, and our integral practices are entitled to constitutional protection under s. 35(1).
In 1705 (50 years after the one-drop rule was established), the U.S. established blood quantum law for Native American Indians. The law wasn’t applied across the U.S. until the Indian Reorganizations Act of 1934 (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) when the U.S. government insisted that only persons with a specific blood quantum could be recognized as Native American Indian so they would be eligible for financial and other benefits under the treaty agreements.
The Dawes Commission Enrollment Records referred to registered Indigenous peoples as “Indians by Blood” and between these two Acts, Native American Indians found themselves forced to abandon their claims to Indigenous heritage.
Native American Indians were registered in the census as black (if they had an African-American ancestor) or white (if they had a white ancestor and no African-American ancestor and were sufficiently light-skinned as to pass), causing them to lose part of their identity due to the Racial Integrity Act. So did all their descendants.
But in Canada, there were no blood quantum laws. There was no Racial Integrity Act. There was no Dawes Commission Enrollment Records. There was no Indian Reorganizations Act.
What we do have in Canada is the Supreme Court of Canada definition of what a Métis is, and whether the Métis are recognized as Indigenous peoples.
But it would seem that the one-drop rule that exists in the U.S. is also alive and well and living in Canada among some of the First Nations peoples. To them, someone who is Métis has no right to claim their Indigenous heritage as the are white by virtue of being half-bloods, half-breeds, mixed bloods, bois brûlés, chicots … Métis.
Thanks to the English and French who ruled what eventually became Canada, the Métis as an identifiable culture sprang up that drew heavily on our First Nations lineage with touches of our European heritage. We were not white then even though we had white blood coursing through our veins. We are still not white even though we have white blood still coursing through our veins. We are Métis.
Yes, there were attempts to eradicate our Indigenous heritage by such legislation as the Dominion Lands Act of 1879. Our ancestors were offered scrip which was then written up on the government rolls as an Indigenous person’s agreement to opt out of Treaties. But those who were lost their status persevered as Métis and raised their children according to their ancestors.
But the Métis existed long before the late 1800s. When the French explorers arrived in the early 1600s, they took First Nations women as their wives and together they had children. Distinct communities with mixed-blood children of Algonquin women and European men were being raised by the late 1600s. These communities relied heavily on their Indigenous heritage, history, and culture while blending in European traditions for flavor.
They were neither solely European nor First Nations. They were Métis, and they were Indigenous peoples.
Heháka Sápa also known as Black Elk (1 December 1863 – 19 August 1950) is oftentimes quoted with regards to what it is to be an Indian. Black Elk was the second cousin to Crazy Horse. He witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, and fought in the Battle at Wounded Knee at 1890. He traveled to Europe with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in 1887, and created his own Indian show held in the Black Hills to teach tourists about the Lakota culture and traditional rituals in 1934.
When asked, Black Elk said, “If you have one drop of Indian blood in your veins, then you are Indian.”
There are some First Nations peoples in 2016 who berate Métis peoples for being who they are. They accuse them of cultural appropriation of Indigenous culture for daring to honor what they have a right to lay claim to by way of their birthright.
They tell them that because they have at least one white ancestor (the one-drop rule), they cannot say they are anything other than white.
And that, is a racist comment.
Perhaps in stretching the rubber band of political correctness so much, we are overlooking the fact that at some point that rubber band will snap. The recoil will smart.
Perhaps it’s time to put an end to comments and beliefs that negate who each of us are as individuals. Perhaps it’s time to be respectful of each other’s beliefs and realities.
It is definitely time to put the one-drop rule to rest, and to be accepting of who we and others are.
AN OPEN LETTER TO NON-NATIVES IN HEADDRESSES
DANIELS v CANADA (INDIAN AFFAIRS AND NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT): SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
MEASURING BLOOD: THE AMERICAN INDIAN BLOOD QUANTUM
PRESERVING POSITIVE IDENTITIES: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE REGARD FOR ONE’S INGROUP AND SUSCEPTIBILITY TO STEREOTYPE THREAT
REGINA v POWLEY: SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
REPORT OF THE MINISTER’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON RECONCILIATION WITH MÉTIS: SECTION 35 MÉTIS RIGHTS AND THE MANITOBA MÉTIS FEDERATION DECISION