“I am, But I’m Not, Yet I am”

“I am, But I’m Not, Yet I am”: An Ethnographic Analysis of Tribal Belonging among a Northern Plains Tribe in the United States

Tosca Dingjan



This article examines the complexities of tribal belonging from the point of view of young adults belonging to a Northern Plains tribe in the United States. The process of defining tribal identity is morally fraught, and moreover, hotly contested among different tribes. Institutional practices, such as tribal enrollment, influence the ways in which young adults reflect upon their tribal identities. In the case of Tribe X, blood quantum—or the quantification of the amount of Native American and tribe-specific blood a person possesses—is used to legally define tribal enrollment. This article highlights the politics of authenticity at work within tribal enrollment, by showing how participants regard identity and alterity as co-existing concepts in the process of identity formation. To make the complexities of defining tribal identity comprehensible, a two-dimensional continuum is suggested, incorporating (emic) notions of race and morality, as well as a historical perspective, opposing Nativeness (identity) to non-Nativeness or Whiteness (alterity).

Keywords: Tribal identity; blood quantum; politics of authenticity

Download Full Text – Dingjan 2014 (temporarily unavailable)

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