Finding love is a complex thing for everyone. For urban Indigenous women, there are some unique pitfalls and issues that come up.
Relationship building in traditional communities looked a lot different than it looks now. This is true for pretty much all ethnicities in the U.S., as marrying for love, dating extensively and interracial relationships have become the norm rather than arranged marriages, dating setups that were crafted to match couples to get engaged quickly and cultural bonds being the assumed gel of a relationship’s staying power. Unfortunately, statistics around interracial relationships tend to ignore Indigenous people, so it is difficult to get a real grasp on the prevalence. We are therefore forced to look only at anecdotal evidence.
It is my contention that there are very few “full blood” Indigenous people left. I certainly don’t think I know any. Despite being “mixed,” many of us look for Indigenous partners. We, like any other marginalized cultural group, seek someone we have common ground with, someone we can be our truest selves with.
My first serious boyfriend was Indigenous. I don’t know what tribe, and I don’t recall if I ever did know. I just remember that it was one of the drawing points between us, a reason that we felt connected in a way we didn’t share with anyone else. That relationship didn’t work out. For years I’ve said that the problem was his freak out when he met my ex-girlfriend whom I had remained friends with and I discovered that he was not only homophobic but also anti-Black. In reality, it was probably complicated by too many expectations of each other to fit into our “ideal Indian” stereotypes.
As I struggled to figure myself out, I was dating people who were struggling to figure themselves out. This is the mark of youth, of course, but for urban Indigenous people with few connections to other Indigenous people or to our tribes of origin, those struggles are magnified. It’s easier sometimes to ignore race and ethnicity and just go out with who is more readily available. That can turn out great too. Other times, it is just an exercise in the futility of assimilation, whether intended or not.
Over decades I realized that one of the hardest parts of dating has been being accepted for who I am and what is important to me. Many people of color are attracted to my light skin and then sorely disappointed when they find out I do not identify as white or fit cultural expectations of whiteness. White people seem most interested in me as someone “exotic” but who they think will “pass” among their colleagues — giving them the best of both worlds. Except that isn’t my natural personality and I’m unable to bring myself to meet those expectations just for a free dinner. Finding women to date is so much harder than men. I’ve tried dating sites, letting friends know I’m looking and hanging out in places where I know I am more likely to meet other queer women. In my 30s I drew the line at the bar scene, however. I haven’t actually met any queer women who weren’t already in relationships anywhere except on dating websites, and the dearth of women of color on those websites has been an issue.
Having dated people of all different backgrounds, I don’t prefer to date white people. That’s not to say I would never, only to say I’d rather not. If I can’t find a fellow Indigenous person, at the very least I need some other commonalities. I don’t like having to explain my experiences and interpretations of microaggressions constantly; I would rather share my life with someone who understands without everything having to be spoken, and who doesn’t feel they have to correct my perspectives. I want to be with someone who understands my longing for the connection of a pow wow instead of insisting that I need to be at a company picnic that weekend.
The best advice I can give others is: know yourself and your priorities. This is true for everyone, but crucial for the urban Indigenous woman because we are so likely to be in an interracial relationship. Even if we find a fellow Indigenous partner, there is a high chance it is still an intercultural relationship because of tribal differences. Know what matters to you, and hold out for it. What that “something” is may change over the course of your life, and it is not the same for all of us. Know your needs, honor them and look for a relationship that honors them.