A Conversation With Native Americans on Race
What does it mean to be a Native American today? ln our latest installment of The Times’s Conversation on Race project, we set out to include as many perspectives on native identity as possible.
And there are many perspectives indeed. For this film, we spoke to dark-skinned and light-skinned individuals. Those whose ancestry ranges from one-sixteenth to four-fourth. People younger and older. And those who follow their tribe’s religion to those that follow Bible-based beliefs. We heard from people with backgrounds from as far as Arizona Navajo to the northeastern United States, and even interviewed Hawaiian and South American native individuals living in New York City.
While there are naturally nuances to everyone’s personal story, we saw a profound universality in their experiences. No matter who you are, if you are Native American, your opinions and experiences are marginalized to the point of invisibility in American society and culture. This project presents an opportunity to express some of the deeper debates that shape the journey shared by many Native Americans to personal liberation.
One pervasive theme that emerged was the struggle of not feeling “native enough.” There were a number of reasons for this, from imposed ideas of not having enough native blood to not having a stereotypical Indian look. But as one of our interviewees asked, What does being not native enough even mean? We are still contemplating.
It was also inspiring to observe that despite these internalized feelings of oppression, people found their own sense of belonging and ways of being part of their Native nation or community, while at the same time maintaining a sense of individuality. Before filming these interviews, our co-director, Brian Young, had been struggling with his own sense of “nativeness.” (He is a member of the Diné, or Navajo, nation.) By hearing how others negotiated those feelings, he could better understand and explore his own way of expressing his Native identity while living in New York City.
Despite the broad spectrum of indigenous identities who participated in our conversation, they shared the experience of living away from their respective reservations and communities. We hope that this piece helps inspire more online and offline conversations that include an even wider range of Native voices living in, around and beyond reservation communities.
Initially presented by The New York Times.