What are some stereotypes about Native Americans that many people accept as fact?

Answer by Sam Morningstar:

As a fun exercise that challenges some potential stereotypes, I’d like to ask a few multiple choice and True-False questions.

Let’s see how many people can answer these questions without doing an internet search or looking at the comments or responses.

**Please feel free to post yourresults. I’ll edit my response with the correct answers in a few days. 

How many tribal nations are currently recognized in the US?
A.     200-300
B.     300-400
C.     500-600
D.     600+

How many tribal nations are currently engaged in gaming (i.e. casino, bingo halls)?
A.     About 25%
B.     About 40%
C.     Between 50 and 60%
D.     Over 60%

Tribal nations determine their own tribal membership requirements.


Tribal enrollment requirements often include a variety of standards, such as a minimum blood quantum, lineage from ancestors on an official base roll, residency, etc. What are the most common requirements for enrollment?
A.     ½ minimum blood, lineage from ancestors listed on base roll, DNA test
B.     ¼ minimum blood, lineage from ancestors listed on base roll
C.     1/8 blood, residency, DNA test 
D.     Family lore, lineal descent from ancestors said to be Native Americans

Native Americans were given US citizenship in what year?
A.     1865
B.     1910
C.     1924
D.     1952

Tribal “per capita” payments are most similar to:
A.     Welfare payments (TANF, food stamps, etc.) 
B.     Alaska Permanent Fund (revenue disbursement to AK residents based on business investments)
C.     GI Bill benefits
D.     Medicare/Medicaid

Tribal members do not pay any federal taxes.


What percentage of tribal members live offreservation?
A.     Less than 15%
B.     Between 15-45%
C.     About  50%
D.     Over 70%

Tribal members living off-reservation do not have to pay state taxes.

Frequency of alcohol use among American Indians is generally less than the general (US) population.
Native Americans have the highest per capita rate of military service in the US (compared to all other ethnic groups).

Which example best describes tribal gaming (casinos) in a real-world context:
A.     In 2012, tribal gaming in California created about 52,000 jobs, employing about 80% non-tribal member/state residents, and represented about 2.7 billion dollars in generated income.
B.     Tribal gaming in the US generates billions of dollars with no federal oversight; money is paid out to people based on their “Indian blood.” States receive no revenue, directly or indirectly from tribal gaming.
C.     Gambling is a special right given to Indians. Individuals can form “tribes” in order to open casinos. In tandem with casino money, Indians still get “federal benefits.”

But, to answer the original question –
Over the years, dealing with a wide variety of people, I've come to see how non-Natives tend to view this community. And it seems to be almost the default position to cling to some kind of stereotype. The odd thing is that they are so common that people can often hold in-congruent or conflicting stereotypes at the same time.

For example, you might have the stereotype that Indians are mystical and in touch with nature on one hand, and then they’ll be associated with alcoholism and dysfunction on the other. Or, they are either all poor and living in a trailer on backward reservation, or they are rich, living off of millions in casino money.

There is also the notion that only full-bloods are “real” Indians and Americans have no problem defining this identity, as an outsider.  Ironically, White Americans wouldn’t do this to African Americans – commenting on if someone was “really” Black. But, they have no problem doing this to tribal members. So, there is a stereotype regarding looks and blood. If you are too light, or too dark (mixed with African ancestry), then you aren’t really seen as a true Native American anyway. You could be a member of a tribal nation and be involved with your community and if you don’t look the part, your identity would be questioned.
People also seem to think of Indians as being part of the past, or that modern populations are going to die out eventually, and the surviving tribal members are just vestiges of this old population. You’ll also hear many Americans claim to have distant connections to a supposed Indian ancestor (it is almost always maternal, usually a great-grandmother or gg grandmother). So, there is this mythology about Indian ancestry and heritage that MANY Americans like to take for themselves. Some will reduce Indian identity simply to having some degree of blood.

And you see how this is another incongruent stereotype?

There is one stereotype that views Indian blood in terms of purity and authenticity when it is applied to tribal members and modern tribal communities, and another completely different view of their own family lore when it comes to their supposed “Indian blood.” You might have a person question the legitimacy of a tribe because of some level of admixture within a given community and they’ll scoff at the notion of Indian cards, tribal enrollment, and having some kind of “paper” to prove ancestry or heritage. They’ll have no problem mocking modern tribal national status while at the same time claiming their unproven “Indian blood” represents a heritage that can never be questioned.

However, the biggest stereotype or outright myth is that Native Americans get “benefits.” For example, some people believe Natives get money directly from the government or receive special rights not afforded to other Americans (e.g. that we don’t pay taxes). There is a very persistent myth that Native Americans get free college. This is simply not true.
Finally, the funniest stereotypes pertain to casinos. There are all kinds of misconceptions about tribal gaming.The reality is that the federal government does not prohibit gambling on the federal level. Each state decides if they want to allow it within their borders or not. This is usually based on a vote by the populace or by elected representatives. There is no special license given to tribes that is not also extended to states. It is at their discretion. In fact, the majority of tribes do not have casinos, and most casino tribes do not give out big per capita payments to their citizens anyway. Everyone talking about Indians getting big fat casino checks are focusing on the exception rather than the rule.

And this is not a matter of a “tribe” (in quotation marks) building a casino. Only tribal nations (without quotation marks) can get into gaming, if they so choose. Tribes aren’t arbitrarily established, they are tribal nations that represent intact polities with a defined citizenship base. A scattered group of Indians cannot come together to form a “tribe” simply to open a casino. This involves negotiation with the feds and state leaders…years before a casino project ever breaks ground.

EDIT – Answer key and explanations below:

C – There are 566 recognized tribes (as of 2014) in addition to a handful of tribal groups working on federal recognition, and a few that are not necessarily seeking formal recognition.
B – Just over 40% of tribes have some kind of gaming operation. This includes high-stakes gambling and large casinos and simple bingo halls or a small facility with a few slot machines.
True – Tribal nations have complete discretion to determine their own citizenship requirements. The federal government currently does not impose any mandated criteria for enrollment. This point often surprises Native American people who think the government has a hand in enrollment policies. This is not accurate at all. Minimum blood quantum thresholds are completely at the discretion of tribes themselves.
B – The most common enrollment criteria is ¼ minimum blood quantum and proven lineage from ancestors listed on official base rolls. No tribe uses DNA testing to establish ancestry (although a few use DNA testing to establish paternity if enrollment is through the father). The second most-common enrollment criteria is lineage. This means that descent from recognized ancestors (usually listed on formal base rolls) is documented. This does not represent a minimum blood quantum. 1/2 or more blood degree requirement is only used by a handful of tribes. This threshold not very common at all.
C –  US citizenship was extended to all tribal members in 1924. However, prior to that year some Indians may have received American citizenship on an individual basis. This was usually through the process of allotment and/or specifically forfeiting or losing tribal citizenship (through a number of methods). 
B – Per capita payments might be referred to in a variety of ways: “Indian money,” “casino checks,” per caps, etc. These are disbursements made by tribal nations to tribal citizens and are based on revenue or profit from tribal business ventures (frequently representing casino revenue). It is a form of profit sharing and does not represent any federal dollars. Most tribes do not have per capita payments and those that do are not very large. The handfuls of tribes that dole out large per capita payments to their tribal members represent an exception to the rule. Most per capita payments are made annually or semi-annually and may represent a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Because they represent payments based on tribal business profit and disbursed to tribal citizens, tribal per capita payments are most like the Alaska Permanent Fund payouts. This has nothing to do with government benefits or welfare.
False – Tribal members do pay federal income taxes.
D – 2/3 of tribal members do not reside on a reservation, although some members may have family connections to tribal communities (on reservation). A significant number of tribes do not have a reservation land base, or an extremely limited one – a few acres where tribal administration or tribal businesses might be located.
False – Tribal members pay state tax if they are residing off-reservation. They are exempt from state taxes if residing on reservation.
True –There is obviously a stereotype that says Native Americans “have issues with alcohol.” However, the reality is a larger percentage of Native Americans completely abstain from alcohol, compared to the national average. The problem is that those that do drink tend to consume larger amounts and have the negative associations (health problems, mortality, alcoholism, etc). The statistics are also skewed because some tribal communities have absolutely astounding rates of alcohol use and abuse, while others do not. The latter scenario tends to overshadow the most common statistical reality – which is: Native Americans actually have slightly higher rates of abstinence.
True – Natives Americans have served at the higher per capita rate of any ethnic group in the country. They are also frequently found in combat scenarios and a significant numbers of Native servicemen have received the Medal of Honor. 
A – States received both direct and indirect revenue from tribal gaming. There is federal oversight of gaming operations and compacts require states received a certain percentage of revenue…or “their cut.” Some states receive billions of dollars in revenue from tribal gaming. This goes to prop up state budgets and fill deficits. Tribal casinos pay federal payroll taxes and a majority of employees are non-tribal, state citizens. Tribal nations operate casinos in the same fashion that Nevada and New Jersey run theirs. There is no restriction on gambling at the federal level. Each state and tribe has the right to determine if they want to allow/restrict it within their jurisdictions. Tribal nations operate casinos, “Indians” don’t. Individuals cannot open their own casinos, for example. Those tribes that give out per capita payments are disbursing revenue to their tribal citizens, not to individuals with “Indian blood.” In this regard, per capita payments are exactly like a business dividend check or the Alaska Permanent Fund. Most tribes do not give out large per capita payments.

What are some stereotypes about Native Americans that many people accept as fact?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s