In 1920, the Missionaries at the Rocky Boy Reservation were desperately trying to finish their chapel before winter so that they could hold a Christmas celebration at their new church. Unfortunately, they did not finish in time and it was far too cold to hold the celebration there. Even so, they were able to have a successful Christmas with the help of the entire community. Surprisingly, the celebration even included the incorporation of native drums and songs! The retelling of this Christmas story is as follows:
“The goal, all through autumn had been to complete the chapel and celebrate Christmas within its walls; to have the first of the Gospel story told in a building provided by Christian friends and dedicated to sacred use. The goal was in sight, and then all was altered. The heating stoves could not be installed in time, so another plan [had to] be considered. I asked for the use of the Indian Council Hall, which was readily granted. And a fine celebration we had on Christmas eve.”
“We secured a couple of men to get a large fir tree up in the mountains. A number of young Indian men whitewashed the Council Hall, cut up plenty of wood and put things in shape generally. The matron and her sister helped with the baking and lunches. Some of the half-breed girls aided with the lunches and decorated the tree. Mrs. Burroughs and I found plenty to do, not the least being to get the great number of gifts classified and ready for distribution. The storekeeper brought down a second gasoline lamp and helped with the serving of lunch. A half breed readily interpreted for me as I gave the Christmas story, and something of an account of The National Indian Association and its purposes for this people.”
“Mr. Parker, Government Agent, spoke first and told them that The National Indian Association had put up the Mission buildings, provided this celebration with its many presents, and were interested in helping the Indians in every way possible. He urged them to show the interest they ought in the Mission. The Matron, her sister and five half-breed girls sang a number of Christmas hymns very sweetly, as I played on the ‘baby organ’. I knew the Indians would like a part, so had a number of young men beat the drum and sing in Indian. Some started to smoke during the program and I noticed one or two better informed men successfully request them to desist. Everyone gave good attention and showed interest in the story of Jesus’ birth, and applauded the girls who sang.”
“And they did enjoy the lunch! One old woman shouted and shouted when lunch was announced. There were 276 present, and all had a hearty feed. The lunch consisted of chopped beef sandwiches, cake, coffee and oranges. The children all received candy. Two hundred and seventy-six received presents for themselves and took gifts home for children or old people who could not attend.”
Annual Report of the National Indian Association (1920). New York: NIA.
Christmas is a time for traditions and being with family. It is a special time when we express our love of our culture and our love of our family. Below is a short description of how Christmas was celebrated by the Métis at Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.
This description, from 1936, provides a snapshot into the simple, family-oriented celebration of the holiday:
“The old French and Indian [Métis] spirit of Christmas begins at Christmas Eve with midnight mass. After the services are over we all begin to greet our friends. Then we hurry to get home to the little ones and do our part with Santa Claus.”
“We are awakened in the morning very early, by the sounds of little bugles, trumpets, drums and all sorts of merrymaking toys. The little children with their mouths filled with candy and laughter make all happy and we wish the world a Merry Christmas!”
“When supper was over, individual jigging began. This is a special feature of our dances. The fiddler, with the fiddle casually against his ribs, struck up the Red River jig. One of the best jiggers chose his partner and began...”
Indians at work. (1942). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs.
While the debate over who is Métis rages, one thing to remember is that Métis ancestry doesn't rely on some far distant ancestor. Rather, it is tied to an ancestral connection to the historic Métis Nation that arose in the Metis Nation Homeland which includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of Ontario and the Northwest Territories, and portions of northwestern Minnesota and northern North Dakota and Montana in the United States. Just having evidence of an Indian or aboriginal ancestor is not sufficient proof that an applicant is Métis, and without evidence of a connection to a Métis ancestor, a person simply lacks proof that would allow them to qualify for anything beyond self-identification.
For instance, you can find evidence of Métis ancestry and a connection to the homeland by finding your ancestor's "scrip", awarded by the federal government to the Métis inhabitants of Manitoba and the former North-West Territories. Such scrip records are readily available online HERE. I am personally fortunate that several of my ancestors had applied for and had scrip issued.
As an example, here is my great great grandfather's scrip, issued under the Northwest Scrip Commission:
His scrip lists where he was currently living (Walhalla, North Dakota), where he was born (Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan), and outlines his claim to scrip based on where he lived prior to 1870 and established that he was a Métis based on his parents being "half-breeds" living in the homeland.
His father also received scrip under the Northwest Commission, and his scrip document further lists his children:
Other ancestors of mine also received scrip under the Manitoba Scrip Commission (click images to enlarge):
In addition to these Canadian scrip records, which demonstrate provable genealogical connection to the Métis Nation and the Métis Nation Homelands, other forms of information can be used to prove a connection to the Métis Nation. For instance, here are two issuances of Half-Breed Scrip, granted to my 3rd great grandfather and 4th great grandfather, under the 1863 Treaty at the Old Crossing in the United States, whereby Métis members of the band could obtain scrip and land under the treaty:
Both of these individuals also had received Canadian Métis scrip (as shown above) which was not uncommon since the Métis people were quite fluid across the borders and many received scrip under both authorities.
Another source that can be used to prove Métis ancestry are the 1870 Red River Census indexes. These indexes show families who were part of the 1870 census and these indexes list if a family is Métis and usually list all family members. For instance, here is one of my 3rd great grandfather's indexes. It shows my 3rd great grandmother and my great great grandfather as a child:
Other censuses, such as the 1901 census of Canada, show people as Métis in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and various other records can be used as well. However, the main focus of all of these is towards proving Métis ancestry and a connection to the Métis Nation Homeland.
Once your family tree is completed, you can always apply to the St. Boniface Centre du Patrimonie to have a certified "proof of Métis ancestry" completed. This proof will establish and certify that a person truly is associated genealogically as a Métis person. The proof is that the applicant has an ancestor that has been identified as Métis through official documentation such as census records (1870, 1901, 1911), scrip or land grant documents (including the affidavit or the index, etc.), or other official documents such as church records (parish registers or other).
Have you ever noticed that it is increasingly popular for settlers to “locate” or invent a long-lost indigenous ancestor who is rumored to have had “Indian blood”? When they find one, they don’t just smile at the nifty find in their family tree. Instead, they use this finding to claim and mark themselves indigenous and create an entire indigenous identity for themselves regardless of how many years they have lived as non-indigenous people. Like a miracle, that single indigenous ancestor transforms them completely—rendering them blameless for the evils of settler society, or even creating an avenue for claiming themselves as victims of that society.
Settlers claiming Indian blood generally tend to reinforce mythical beliefs about Indigenous people. Not belonging to an actual indigenous community that claims them, and having lived their entire lives (up to this point) as settlers, they create imagined ones, or find ready-made ones on social media where others with similar experiences congregate and validate each other’s newly minted indigenous identities. In these imagined communities they create mythologies about their noble “Indian grandmother” (usually born in the 1600s) and weave tales of how they’re 100% certain that their family’s love of hunting is a survival of their ancient ancestors’ prowess as a mighty huntsman. They talk about their “shovel teeth” as a physical atavistic trait that demonstrates their faint Indian blood arising anew in themselves, or how their grandparents had to elope because one of their parents objected to some “questionable” blood in the bride or groom.
In addition to fabricating historical memory, they often weave fables about their historical amnesia… their indigenous nature was always hidden within them, or “withheld from them to protect them”. Despite this, it survived. Their ancestors had to hide in plain sight to escape persecution; and because it was hidden their claims to being indigenous are somehow greater than actual indigenous people who have always lived as indigenous people, because their identity survived through darkness and wasn’t “coddled” by Indian affairs and cushy federal benefits. And, surprisingly, they always claim their invented communities to be on the verge of extinction, yet—as demonstrated by their magical ability to find an indigenous ancestor on ancestry.com—it can be certain that somewhere, just around the corner, is another person waiting to join their when they “discover” their true identity.
The Indian Census schedules are census rolls usually submitted each year by agents or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations, as required by an act of 4 July 1884 (23 Stat. 98). The data on the rolls varies to some extent. For certain years – including 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1939 – only supplemental rolls of additions and deletions were compiled.
There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed on these census rolls.
This database contains an index to the Indian census rolls from 1885-1940. Information contained in this database includes:
Notes about Searching the Censuses:
When browsing this large collection, it is important to note the following:
Curt B. Witcher and George J. Nixon, "Tracking Native American Family History," in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997).
Publication Details of Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Given the current issues that have arisen from the DNA test by Senator Elizabeth Warren, we are providing some essential definitions that might help clarify the confusion that her claims have caused. These definitions are not legal definitions, but rather are provided to help sort out some misunderstandings that exist surrounding Native American heritage and claims of Native ancestry.
Federally Recognized Tribe
A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. At present, there are 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages.
Here is a button link to a list of Federally Recognized Indian Tribes.
State Recognized Tribe
State-recognized tribes are Native American Indian tribes, Nations, and Heritage Groups that have been recognized by a process established under assorted state laws for varying purposes. State recognition does not confer benefits under federal law unless federal law authorizes such benefits. A state recognized tribe may have a well-defined historical and contemporary existence, but due to a variety of circumstances might have been excluded from federal recognition, or (as in the case of the Lumbee) might have been denied federal recognition by an act of congress.
Below is a button link to a listing of State Recognized tribes.
Unrecognized tribes are organizations of people who claim to be historically, culturally or genetically related to historic Native American Indian tribes, but who are not officially recognized as indigenous nations by the United States government or by individual state governments. While some unrecognized tribes might be legitimate and are fighting for re-recognition of their claims that were denied due to colonialist effects like termination or other historical events, many unrecognized tribes have no valid claim and are considered to be fake by federally and state recognized tribes as they might claim to be associated with these, but lack the documentation of an actual connection.
Enrolled tribal Member
Simply, this means a person who is enrolled on the membership list of a federally recognized American Indian tribe. Tribal enrollment criteria are set forth in tribal constitutions, articles of incorporation or ordinances. The criterion varies from tribe to tribe, so uniform membership requirements do not exist. A variety of federal and tribal benefits set aside for tribes and tribal members are available to enrolled members.
Two common requirements for membership are lineal decent from someone named on the tribe's base roll, or a relationship to a tribal member who descended from someone named on the base roll. Other conditions such as tribal blood quantum, tribal residency, or continued contact with the tribe are other common factors that might be required.
Tribal Lineal Descendant
The term "lineal descendant" means an individual who can trace, directly and without interruption, the ancestry of the individual through the traditional kinship systems of an Indian tribe, or through the common law system of descent, to a known Indian who is an enrolled member. Such an individual may be, or may not be, an enrolled tribal member themselves. Nonetheless, certain federal and tribal benefits may be made available to lineal descendants based on their association to their tribe or to an enrolled tribal member.
Lineal descent is a standard that requires that the earlier person be identified as an individual whose descendants can be traced. Lineal descent of a present-day individual from an earlier individual and cultural affiliation to a present-day Indian tribe must be established by a preponderance of evidence and verified by the tribe in question.
Person of Native Ancestry
Because of intermarriage between Europeans and Natives throughout the past centuries, many people might have some measure of Native ancestry in their family tree.
During genealogical research or by using ancestral DNA testing, a person may find that one (or more) of their ancestors were Native. This connection may have existed many generations ago and is an interesting personal fact. However, having Native ancestry derived from several generations in the past might not qualify a person to become a member of a tribe that is recognized by the federal government, and it doesn’t mean that they are legally a descendant of such a tribe (i.e. lineal descendant).
In such a case where a person does have Native ancestry, but lacks a recent historical or current connection with a tribe, it is often frowned upon for a person to claim to be associated (or representative of) that tribe. Upwards of five million Americans might possess some measure of Native ancestry many generations ago, and it can harm tribes, tribal members and lineal descendants when someone with no actual connection to the tribal community claims to have a connection.
Some people who are of Native ancestry, but who do not qualify as tribal members or lineal descendants may see term Metis – commonly used in Canada – that is often used to designate persons who have both European and Native blood and want to use that term to designate or identify themselves. In most cases this is an incorrect thing to do, since the Metis are an actual recognized, sovereign indigenous group with their own membership and kinship systems governed under the Metis Nation and its provincial affiliates in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
The Metis Nation uses a membership definition that includes such factors as historical Proof (e.g. evidence of ancestral land grant or “scrip” granted under the Manitoba Act or the Dominion Lands Act, census records, or other documents), having ancestors who resided in the Metis homeland of western Canada and the northern US, and holding distinction from other Aboriginal peoples as a Metis.
Below is a button link to the Metis National Council citizenship definition.
Today we found out Elizabeth Warren MIGHT actually have an Indigenous ancestor. Information was revealed that her DNA test showed that she (probably) had an Indigenous ancestor. But what does that really mean? Does it suddenly grant her a pass to call herself “Indian”?
The problem with using genealogy and genetic ancestry testing to find your mysterious Indigenous ancestry that was always part of your family lore is that such new discoveries whitewash the lived experiences of actual Indigenous people. Sure it’s fun to find out you have an ancestral “Indian grandma” who lived back in the 1700s – and it’s great to find out that granddad wasn’t pulling your leg (entirely) when he told you that his great grandma was an Indian princess (of sorts). It seems like harmless fun, and it is in many ways because it helps bring flavor to an otherwise boring existence as a regular white person living in a modern, complicated world.
Ancestry genealogy and genetic ancestry testing is often described as “recreational genetics,” but rather than viewing it as a recreation, or a hobby, many consumers don’t take these things lightly and the problems start when people use the (often tenuous) data to reshape their personal identities. Even worse is when they alter their whole existence and change how they report their race or ethnicity on governmental forms, college or job applications, and medical questionnaires, or in the most extreme cases use their “discovered” Indigenous identity to impose themselves into the discussion of indigeneity while using their white privilege to amplify their newfound “Indigenous voice” above Indigenous people.
By using data – genealogical or genetic DNA – white people have found they have a tool that they can use to assert, imagine, exaggerate, or even completely invent a claim to Indigenous identity for tactical purposes to enhance their own personal voices with the cultural/racial capital of selective indigeneity. By finding that one (or perhaps two) Indigenous ancestors is seen as a way forward to expressing oneself in a whole new identity even though that identity has been effectively erased until it was dredged up from the past using modern-day genealogical and ancestry DNA tools.
For example, if you go back 14 generations (approximately 350 years), each person has a maximum of 16,384 direct ancestors. It is entirely likely that somewhere along the line someone exists in that small city of ancestors who might have been Indigenous. That’s cool. But the consideration that needs to be examined is what happened in the subsequent generations since this Indigenous ancestor? Did your family remain close to their indigenous community? Did they preserve the language; did they maintain the kinship ties to their Indigenous relatives? If the answer is no, and your ancestors assimilated into the great melting pot of European-dominated society, then what right do you really have to claim loudly that you are indeed an indigenous person deserving of a place at the table?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), General Land Office (GLO) Records Automation web site has some great information available. They provide live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1788 and the present.
Some of the Native American and Metis-related records you can search on their database include: Escheatment of Indian Land; Indian Allotments; Indian Homesteads (trust and fee patent); Indian Trust Patents; and more!
Roderick "Awangiizhik" Bruce - Ojibwe/Metis Artist
Roderick "Awangiizhik" Bruce is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of North Dakota and a very talented young artist who tries to channel his culture and heritage into his creations. Working in a variety of media, Roderick has been experimenting with birch bark, quillwork, and basketry, in addition to his efforts in fine arts and crafts.
He received his education at the Turtle Mountain Community College and at the IAIA in Santa Fe.
For more information, or to contact Roderick, visit his Facebook at www.facebook.com/Prometheus70