I am not a very public person, but with all this stuff in the news about Warren’s heritage, I felt like I should put something out there on a public forum about my own experiences.
I was told all my life that I had Sioux ancestry through my dad’s side of the family, and it was only in September of 2017 when my family found out that we didn’t according to the genetics test my sister took. Up until that point, I sometimes claimed my Native American heritage and sometimes didn’t on those dumb employment forms. Every time I had to fill one out, I would look for their definitions of what qualified, and sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t according to what I had been told was my genetic heritage. I get that it is not something that exposed me to prejudice and made damned sure there was a statement that the information would not be used as part of hiring decisions because if they didn’t have that statement, I left those things blank.
I thought I had the genetics, though (apparently erroneously), but the real reason I claimed it was because I did consider it part of my identity in terms of my spiritual beliefs. I had done reading on Native American beliefs, have both a Cherokee and a Blackfoot Indian that I view as being extremely influential on my spiritual beliefs, and have participated in Native American rituals. Those rituals were the first time in all the religious experimentations I did since middle school where I felt like everything clicked with the way my brain works. So I was claiming Native American not so much as being a genetic heritage (even though I thought I had some), but more as being a part of my identity due to my religious beliefs. So the wording on those forms was really important to me. Some specified that I could only claim Native American if I was 50% or more and was affiliated with a specific tribe. So I didn’t mark Native American on those. But when asked about my identity on more of a “what is your identity” level, I did feel that I qualified to mark myself Native American and did so.
After finding out that I did not have the genetic heritage that I thought I did, though, I find myself more confused about what to write on those forms, and though I haven’t had to fill out any recently, I think if I did have to, I’d be taking that careful look through their definitions and determining from that what was the appropriate thing to mark on the form, just like I did before.
Technically race refers to biological heritage and ethnicity refers to cultural heritage. I guess I don’t actually have Native American biological heritage after all, but I spent four decades of my life thinking that I did have it based on family stories. However, when it comes to questions of ethnicity and personal identity, when there aren’t clear definitions provided, and when they ask me to identify myself, I still feel like I should be identifying myself to others as I identify myself to myself.