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What is a Native American ?

by Timothy A. Johns (Delaware Nation)

Anishna niigee? (How are you my friend?) My name is Timothy A. Johns, Turtle Clan of the Delaware Nation. I was born in the city of Farmington Hills, Michigan. My Mother and Grandparents were born in Canada. I have status with the Delaware First Nation at Moraviantown Ontario, Canada. My wife Dora M. Johns, Crane Clan of the Ojibwa (Anishinabe), was also born in Detroit, Michigan and has status at the Walpole Island First Nation Ontario, Canada. Her Mother and Grandfather were also born in Canada. Her Grandmother was born in the United States, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa. As you may know the Three Fires People (Anishinabe) are scattered all over Turtle Island, as are the Delaware (Lenape). The British and American Governments put a line through our lands. The Delaware Nation was one of the first nations to encounter the Europeans in the 1600's. Delaware (the first state), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and southern parts of New York were the Delaware's Traditional lands. Even Washington, DC was a part of Delaware country. By the late 1700s the Delaware were spread out all over what is now Ohio and Indiana, displaced by American land greed. In the mid 1800's the main body of the Delaware Nation were living at the White River Village in Indiana. Once again, American advancement pushed the Delaware to Kansas for a short time, then to Oklahoma where a large number of Delaware live today.

In 1782 my band in which was predominately Christian called the Moravian Delaware, were living in what is today Ohio with Christian Missionaries. An American Army looking for "hostile Indians" came across their peaceful villages, and massacred 96 (mostly women and children) Christian Delaware at Gnadenhutten. They then fled to the area just north of what is today Detroit, MI. After about 10 years of living along the Clinton River, in today's city of Mount Clemens, MI. My ancestors, upon hearing about an American Force ready to attack Detroit, once again fled. This time crossing the Detroit River and into what would become Canada. In 1792, the Moravian Band of Delaware settled on the Thames River in what is today Southern Ontario, Canada.

Today I'm a respected pipe carrier and have been Powwow dancing ever since I was a kid. I have and use Eagle parts for both my ceremonies and powwow dancing. I heard about the Federal Agents harassing Natives for permits to posses Eagle parts. So doing the right thing I sent in a request for a permit to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Eagle Repository. They turned me down on the grounds that I'm not a "Native American" or "a part of a Federally recognized Tribe." I contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was told the same. I don't know who can help us, but I think there's something wrong here. I'm an American citizen, as is my wife. We were born in the United States of America and can prove we are members of a Federally recognized Tribe. Although our bands are in Canada, our Tribes are on both sides of the imaginary line called "the border." Why are we not "Native American?"

Many people from all over the world have migrated to this country, they are all recognized as "Americans," Mexican Americans, Arab Americans, German Americans, Irish Americans, Polish Americans, African Americans, and so on. Do any other American citizen's have to have a "status card" to prove who they are? My ancestors occupied these lands for thousands of years before they became known as the United States & Canada. I just don't understand how the Federal government can say that we are not "Native American." With all the history my tribe has with this country.

When I was a teenager, back in 1980s, I contacted Haskall Indian Nations University in Kansas, in regard to attending classes. They told me that I wasn't an "Native American," and wasn't eligible to attend their school, because I was from a Canadian Tribe. I let it go at that time although it made me mad. Than recently when requesting eagle feathers and was denied. I started to think, if they don't regard us as a Native Americans, what about other services provided to native people. We were born in the United States of America and we are native to North America.

One day I asked a cousin of mine who lives on the reserve in Canada, and is a lawyer, about our hunting and fishing rights in Ontario. He said "owa that's a touchy subject, because we are originally from the states and don't want to anger the Canadian government." He said that "in the late 1800's they were going to kick us out of Canada, so we don't want to start trouble today." I though that sounded crazy, here in the 2000's, scared to be kicked out of Canada? Huh, just think we are considered refugees in Canada, and not even recognized in our own original home lands. I remember an elder saying "I was not born in America, it was born on my land."

Copyright 2007 Timothy A. Johns (Delaware Nation)

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