When race and ethnicity are discussed, the focus groups of those ideals are primarily blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics. I’ve always wondered, “Where are the Native Americans?” Have they disappeared into irrelevancy? According to a PBS clip titled “Are you an Indian?” from the documentary film We Still Live Here – As Nutayunean, the Wampanoag tribe shares one identity regardless of skin color or other racial and ethnic backgrounds. The beginning of the clip illustrates tribal members sharing their personal experiences regarding ascription. Many Wampanoag members were perceived as being white, Hispanic, or black. People outside of the tribe could not fathom how one could identify themselves as Native American (Indian) and look like a certain race.
In my experience, the U.S history classes that I took spent a minimal amount of time discussing Native Americans. If it wasn’t for the clip I would’ve never known about the Wampanoag tribe’s existence or their presence in U.S history. The clip mentions the tribe’s role as a safe haven for refugee slaves and other minorities, their assistance to the Pilgrims during the winter, and the death of one of their own (Crispus Attucks) during the Boston Massacre. What really stood out to me was the tribe’s unconditional acceptance of everyone regardless of how they looked or what differing backgrounds they pertain to.
Based on the clip, the Wampanoag tribe resides in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Whether or not they choose to live in an urban or suburban setting, they are confronted with questions such as the famous, “What are you?” and “How can that be?” Anne Marie Plane, Native American historian, states that their definition of Indianness pertained to being apart of their community, not skin color. Could the lack of news regarding Native Americans relate to their lack of importance on phenotypes? I believe that their sense of community trumps their physical differences and that is what’s lacking outside of the Wampanoag tribe. Furthermore since they are not following society’s knack for categorizing others, Native Americans are excluded.
Although race is invisible within the Wampanoag tribe, that same invisibility can not be applied to those members if they leave their community. If physical traits did not bear history, wealth, power, etc. than maybe race can be diminished. Since that is not the case the visibility of race has the ability to harm and help many while benefiting a few.