My dads mother is 100% Cherokee. She was born on and lived her entire life on the res until she married my grandfather. She taught my younger brother and I a lot about our heritage, but when I was younger I didn't really appreciate it. First of all...my father being half American Indian and my baby brother both physically look like American Indians. Me? The Anglo is strong with me; so in part I was picked on by older kids in the hood when I brought it up. Sort of like Louie C.K. I guess with his Mexican heritage. Other than a cheek swab, probably only a forensic anthropologist or a dentist could actually pick out the physical traits that were bestowed upon me from that branch of the family tree
So I hid it and sort of rebelled against it for a long time. As I got older I realized how important it was to be proud of that apsect of my life and where I came from. Both my brother and I are on the Cherokee Documentation Register in N.C., and many years ago when they began to allow gambling on the res we got checks for several years; but I out of guilt always sent mine to the school there. I have never tried to benefit in any fashion from the programs offered by the government. Mine wasn't a life of poverty and unemployment which is often the lot of many American Indians. I've never felt the sting of discrimination that I know exists in certain parts of the country towards American Indians.
About the only thing that I have any real strong feeling or connection with now is an absolute hatred of the term "Native American". My grandmother felt that term was extremely derogatory, and I feel the same. She used to say "Native American sounds like we run around with no clothes on. They might as well call us Savage Americans." AIM (or the American Indian Movement) would agree with her I think. I know the term is used to describe someone who is born in a certain area. In fact we're all native to where we were born; but there was a time when "native" didn't hold the same connotation.
At any rate, its a damn shame in my opinion that we (everyone else) destroyed so much of the history and heritage and people who were here when the Europeans arrived. We destroyed literally thousands of their mounds in order to have more space to grow crops and build homes and farms; and upwards of 95% of those Indians here from 1492 and beyond were wiped out due to influenza, smallpox, typhoid fever, measles, diptheria and God knows what else. Some estimates put the number close to 20 million... Twenty million. Damn. Then we slaughtered and harassed and stole from the rest for a long damn time. Nice. There aren't many left today which is a damn shame. Most people like my grandmother did in the 30's leave the res and marry someone not of Indian descent. It was bound to happen eventually I guess. Someday all of the tribes will be gone. We'll talk about them like we do the Hittites or something I suppose.
I mentioned that "we got checks for several years". Well, part of the deal to allow gambling was that everyone on the registry had to get a split of the majority of profits. When they first started it was like Bingo Slots or whatever. The checks kept getting bigger and bigger. They went initially from about 5 or 6 hundred dollars, to 4 or 5 grand each year. Then Harrah's built a casino there, and the checks stopped. Seems that instead of money to everyone, now the tribe gets a chunk, but Harrah's promises a job to anyone on the registry that wants one. So if all else ever fails, I'll always have a job waiting for me at least in Cherokee, N.C.