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Cathy Robbins Thinking Aloud

Blood and American Indians: Part I


Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, is in the hot seat. In a document she filed some years ago with Harvard, her employer, she said that she had some American Indian ancestry. Warren did not provide proof of tribal membership - such as "blood quantum" - but referred to family conversations. Scott Brown, her Republican opponent, said that Warren wasn't American Indian because she did not "look Indian."

Warren is the not the only American with Indian ancestry but without "papers." Brown is not the only white American to fall into the stereotype of Indians as having dark skin, high cheekbones, etc. Half of the four million American Indians come from mixed ancestry, and a number are as fair and light-skinned as Warren.

An overriding definition of membership in one of the 500-plus  Read More 
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Spain the Global Power

Cabrillo exploration

We think of globalization as a new phenomenon, but 500 years ago, great powers competed for resources across the Americas, in what we call the United States today. In the New World, European nations sought minerals (especially gold), furs, access to trade routes, sea lanes, and land.

Spain had a head start, with its colony in Mexico. In the 1530s, she launched a campaign designed to counter the Russians moving down the from the Pacific Northwest coast, the French from the North (Canada) and the English from the East. Three well-equipped Spanish expeditions headed into what is today the United States. At the eastern end of the continent, Hernando de Soto sailed from Cuba, landing at present-day Tampa in 1539. During the next three years, he used the Panhandle as a base to survey the area from the Carolinas to Texas. Native peoples resisted, and  Read More 
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American Indians Have Strong Voices


Wherever I give presentations about my book, I invite people to contribute their thoughts about American Indians today. I reach into the Native American community wherever I am and ask them to tell their stories as a way of expanding the impact of All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos), which was recently published.

In Portland, OR, the events coordinator of the Barnes and Noble store in Lloyd Center made it easy for me to find those people. From the moment I contacted Steve Chandler and told him about my goal, he had an idea in mind - a Saturday book fair devoted to American Indians with activities throughout the day and my book as the centerpiece at an afternoon author's event. A portion of the proceeds of sales throughout the store that day would go to a Native organization serving family and youth. He would get the word out to the American Indian community.

Working with Steve at long distance in San Francisco, I contacted Karen Kitchen, the head of the Indian program in the Portland Public Schools and asked her to collaborate with me for a program on education for urban Indians, a topic I cover in one of my chapters. She rounded up a Native high schooler in  Read More 
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American Indians Are Your Neighbors


Do you know where American Indians live? Most Americans think that Indians live on reservations, but they live everywhere. American Indians are your neighbors, as you can see on a census map. At the 500 Nations web site or through your favorite search engine you can find tribal web sites. Tribal sites have historical information, calendars of events that are open to the public, and places to visit on the reservation.

Let's look at a few. We can start with the Great Sioux Nation; the word "Sioux" is what Whites used to describe these Native people. Today, the Sioux are actually 20,000 people in seven groups living across five central and north central states. The Black Hills of South Dakota are their most important  Read More 
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The Past Was Looted; Now It’s Saved

The ancestors come home to Pecos. Photo by Cary Herz.

In the early 1900s, Harvard archaeologist Ted Kidder was pulling so many bodies out of ancient Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico that he worried he might run out of money for his "dig." It was one of the biggest and most important archaeological projects in the United States, and he ended up spending more than a decade on it. He shipped the 2000 bodies he found back east, and for 80 years, they sat on shelves, one body per box - at Harvard's Peabody Museum. During that time, the old pueblo became  Read More 
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