Historically, in order to be considered a member of a Native community, one had to participate in that community. There weren’t many ‘non-practicing’ tribal members—you had to belong. If a person did not serve and/or participate in the community’s activities—whether those activities were hunts, religious ceremonies or observing community values—that person would not be a member of the Native community long. How could they? With very small, very interdependent communities, everyone had to pull their own weight. If you didn’t, someone else had to carry that weight which put a strain on the entire community. The community’s survival required everyone to participate. Participation and service equaled ‘belonging’. That was part of the value of being a member of a community—that you had protection, many hands with which to make light work, and common values. But in exchange, you had to offer protection, hands to help make that work light, and common values. The reciprocal to the ‘belonging’, was the ‘purpose’ piece. Our purpose was to contribute to the community. Everyone had an obligation, a duty. Along with that obligation and duty came purpose—people knew that the community depended on them and that their work was crucial and vital to the community’s survival. Now, as a result of accepting white colonial/legal concepts of tribal membership in the place of Indigenous concepts of community, there are tribal members instead of community members…That’s unfortunate—that tribal members are not required to contribute to their tribes in order to be considered a ‘member’ is a disservice to Native communities (and to the individuals themselves). …When you take away a person’s sense of purpose, those people seek fulfillment in other ways. Drugs, consumerism, alcohol, etc. When that sense of fulfillment that only comes with service cannot be found through external means, that ‘vacuum of nothingness’ rears its ugly head and people search for other ways to scratch that itch—dependency, alcoholism, depression, even suicide. All of which are rampant amongst Native people. The way that we counteract that is by utilizing the tools that sustained our people for thousands of years—immersing them in practical cultural training. Obviously we must contextualize these lessons so they maximize function in 2013. Still, there are very compelling reasons that those lessons were there—service, training, purpose, health. Those lessons, in a modern-day context, are how we return our communities to health.
Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet), Using Tradition to Teach Our Kids Purpose
As a community, we ‘police’ people who claim our identities—and rightly so. And as community leaders, this is part of our role. If you make a claim and we have evidence to the contrary, do not expect us to be silent when you commodify who we are.