Interracial and intercultural relationships have always existed but have certainly dramatically increased in the last 50 years, to the point of being common and relatively well-accepted. Like others, Indigenous people are engaging in interracial relationships more and more frequently. There are some differing opinions about whether this is good, bad or just reality. One concern is how we can keep our cultures and traditions alive and continue to pass them down through the generations. Some people probably don’t even think about these issues when dating, but at some point in a serious and long-term relationship the idea of children and how to raise them typically comes up.
Like several other people I’ve known, I didn’t feel especially connected to my cultures or concerned about it until I had a child that I wanted to make sure would know where he comes from. Having been adopted made it more difficult for me to know or connect with my cultures, and also was probably why, as a mother, I didn’t want my son to have the same questions I had.
I think even as a young child I knew my relationships would be interracial. I went to elementary school with two other known Indigenous kids. At the time, I didn’t identify as anything but white because we had been told when adopted that my little brother’s father was Indigenous but my father unknown. For years people would look between my brother and I and say that I was quite certainly the “Indian one.” I was in awe of the two students who were Indigenous. The boy was from a local tribe and, I now realize as an adult, a prominent family; the other was Blackfeet and she only attended with us for two years before moving, but I think she was one of my first crushes. I never saw either of them again after the fifth grade. A few years later when we were given updated information that my brother and I had the same father, I was starting to think about boyfriends and girlfriends but it didn’t occur to me that people “should stay with their own kind.” I just liked who I liked.
I was chatting with my friend Jal White about our experiences as “mixed” Indigenous women dating non-Indigenous people and she shared the following:
“He could never remember the names of my tribes and didn’t really see it as an issue. He would use my Indigenous heritage as a footnote in conversation with others – ‘my girlfriend is Native American…’ but he didn’t really invest in my process of reconnecting with my communities. I think this is partially because he saw it as something that was ‘past tense’ about my family and not something that was really still true. Like, I have Native blood but I’m not really Native… unless he’s trying to prove a point to someone. It made me realize that if he couldn’t support me, his partner, through this process as an adult, I couldn’t trust him to help raise a child who would have even more to sort through.”
This cuts to the heart of it for many of us. It is when we are looking for someone to share a life with, to grow with and with intent or hope of having and raising children together that the struggle becomes very real for us. We want our children to always know who they are and all the amazing traditions and cultures they are a part of, especially if we, as urban and distanced Indigenous people, had to fight to integrate our identities.
This is an ongoing issue with my son. Because his father and I were both adopted, we both struggled to reconnect with our cultures. Both of us had to do that work as Indigenous people. It’s only very recently that I’ve begun to address what it means to also be Black, and that is further complicated by being so light-skinned that even my authenticity as an Indigenous woman has long been debated. My (now deceased) partner turned out to be from the same tribe. However, it has just recently come out that in fact he was not only Indigenous, but also Russian and Puerto Rican. These revelations were shocking to my son, who has grown up believing he was exclusively Indigenous “with a little Scots-Irish” and who now feels his Indigenous identity is somehow diluted.
Figuring out how to build a future together is complex. It is important to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. Start with:
do we have the same definition of “partnership”
do we have the same family goals
how much does this person respect my culture and my journey
how invested are they in their own culture(s)
Building a life with a partner isn’t just about ourselves. It is about the partnership and how it affects future generations.
Aaminah Shakur is an artist and poet whose work is most informed by their First Nations/Indigenous culture and spiritualities. They are queer, crip/disabled, have no formal academic background, and are a self-taught artist. They are also a mother, a healer, and a doula/birth justice worker. Shakur’s work is primarily mixed-media arts combining text/poetry, collage or transferred images, paint, fiber arts, and beadwork, with a use of found and repurposed items. The work explores themes of love, gender, motherhood, spirituality, sexuality, history, borders, culture, privilege and oppression, abuse, freedom and revolution – and how all of these are interconnected.