Opening salvo from a token indian?

Talk About Race — By Gyasi Ross on December 14, 2009 at 06:00

I feel very fortunate to be given this forum to speak.  I look at my people, Native people, and realize that there are many issues and topics that are very urgent within our communities.  Rest assured, the Native journalistic community (and white folks who like to write about Natives to create a niche market) is just as cliched and reactive as mainstream press.  That is, every single one of those “hot button” issues will be covered ad nauseum by every single member of the Native intelligentsia and we will all give our respective spins on the same piece of information.  Makes sense, right?  That’s the same cycle as with any other insular groups’ media.

Gyasi Ross

Gyasi Ross

Still, as fortunate as I feel to be given this forum, my initial reactions were 1) flattery, 2) interest and 3) suspicion.  This is flattering because the Race Talk blog tracked me down through my own blog, “The Thing About Skins,” in another publication.  All men like to feel important.  Therefore, someone actually tracking me down made me feel like…well, in the words of Jesse Jackson, “I am somebody.”  I dug the proposition that these folks, academia-game on point, took the time to contact me–a big, tall, goofy looking Indian boy with barely any writing chops.  Cool!

I simultaneously had the instinct of interest because as a member of an insular and silenced group, I am always looking for new outlets to ensure that my people are not forgotten.  That’s why our people wear stupid “Native Pride” shirts and chokers and all this nonsense–to signify, represent, show that we aren’t dead.  So this–Race Talk–gave me an opportunity to do that.  Hence, “interest.”

Lastly, I got suspicious when I got the invite to come over here and write.  Why?  Because who cares–in the larger context–what a Native has to say about the larger society?  Look, I love my people, but I’m not stupid.  Most people, I suppose, even white liberals and people of color who are supposed to be our “allies” generally do not care about Natives in the grand scheme of things.  They say they do, but I don’t think they really do.  All those “hot button” issues that I mentioned in the first paragraph,  as much as they are important to us, only Natives care about those issues – Oh and white lawyers who benefit from Natives.  It makes sense: from an external point of view, we’re half of 1 percent of the population–so why all the fuss about us?  Internally, hell, most Natives do not care about another group of Natives other than for rhetorical purposes 90% of the time, otherwise we would have some of the wealthier tribes giving start up capital/low-interest loans to some  of the poorer tribes!  And I cannot say that I blame them.  At some point, it is incumbent upon any group of people–ESPECIALLY one who professes “sovereignty” as a constant talking point–to take control of their own destinies.

I get that.  I think that allies and alliances are still important.  But I understand the resentment and the tendency to look us over.

So when Race-Talk got a hold of me, naturally I was a little suspicious.  “Why would they want a Native’s perspective?  Nobody else does.”  To answer that question–”I still do not know.”  Therefore, my first entry is a question–do you have an interest in “Native topics” and the “Native perspective,” or is this going to be an exercise of a publication that merely wanted to make sure that it was inclusive to ALL ethnic groups, but really saw that some of the ethnic groups would sort of fall by the wayside just because no readers would be interested?

I’m not saying that’s the publication’s fault, by the way.  But I’m curious if there’s any REAL interest in analyzing Indian Country by a non-Native audience.

Talk to me.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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Author: Gyasi Ross (4 Articles)

Gyasi Ross

Gyasi “Fancy Skin” Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is “Oonikoomsika.” He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his newest presentation, “Mother Lovers: Poetic (and Musical) Justice.”


  • TFitz says:

    Hi Gyasi!
    Look, no matter what sort of initial response you get you should just keep writing and posting. For one thing, even given the weight of the institution and the cross posting on Huff Po the traffic will at first be light. A case in point being the poll above. 3 votes? Not much and people LOVE polls. Post anything on Daily Kos with a poll and the poll will get 100 responses by noon. My point is, don’t expect a big response to anything right now, Native American or not. I can envision though that this site will be successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that sites that deal with race tend to be AA oriented and unfortunately filled with fluff. I personally don’t care what Kanye West is doing any more than i care what Britney Spears (I’m a white guy) is doing. This site has the potential to draw that huge AA audience that I know exists that agrees with me on Kanye and Britney. Will that audience care about Native American issues? I have no idea.
    Well, congratulations on you first offering (well done) and I look forward to reading more. I should have some stuff up in a day or two. I have no idea what the vetting or editing process will entail though. My name is Tom Fitzsimmons. My friends call me Fitz.

    (great picture, BTW. Did you do the after stuff?)

  • SoulMate says:

    So, will their response matter? Will it change your response in any way? Will you school them whether they say there is a REAL interest or not?
    Nice reverse questioning. I venture to say that you are not really concerned with the answer. It is simply a question for them. They need to think about themselves, ask themselves… you simply challenged seekers of information to look inside intent and surfaceness. Nice.

  • Hi Gyasi– as the deputy director of the Kirwan Institute, host of Race-Talk, I can tell you this: to the degree that you – or other Natives who otherwise might contribute to this conversation – hesitate or fail to do so altogether because you question our motives, the absence of your voices in this forum becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Personally, I’m very interested in people willing to speak about “Native issues” and/or “from a Native perspective,” tricky as that can be. I think we can learn a lot about the racial order of things by looking at the margins, and Native Americans have been marginalized almost out of existence… so marginalized you’re sometimes not even included in descriptions of the US racial hierarchy.. so marginalized that few Americans have a clue about what goes on in Indian country.

    But issues of race are implicated in a whole lot of things and each of us assumes a range of identities; speak about anything that makes sense for this forum that you think is worth your time and ours. And invite others into the mix. The rules of participation are modest. The floor is yours.

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