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.