Sunday, August 2, 2015

Disappearing Indians: Who Decides Who’s In and Who’s Out?

Julia Martinez is a full-blooded Tewa Indian, a citizen of the Santa Clara Pueblo that has bordered the Rio Grande since the 16th century. The Tewa peoples discovered Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s expedition prowling the Rio Grande watershed for gold in 1541. The Spanish came back to collect souls and enslave the population in 1628, only to be ejected in the Pueblo Revolt, which touched off a struggle against Spanish, Mexican and U.S. hegemony that continues to this day.

One front in that struggle fundamental to peoplehood, let alone nationhood, is who defines people as within the tribal community or outside it? Julia Martinez, a resident of Santa Clara, had little reason to think in those terms when she married a Navajo. But then they had two children, and according to the patriarchal citizenship law of the Pueblo, those children could not be enrolled. The children would have no participation in Pueblo governance and, upon their mother’s death, could not inherit her house and would have no right to remain in Santa Clara.

If a male citizen of Santa Clara were to marry outside the Pueblo and have children, his children would be Santa Clara citizens, so Martinez filed suit under the Indian Civil Rights Act, claiming that she and her children were being denied equal protection of the law.


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