CHAMPAIGNE, Ill.—A provocative paper on Jewish and American Indian identities in the 21st century has been published by Common Ground Publishing and The International Journal of Diverse Identities (August 27, 2013, vol. 12, issue 3, pp. 25-36). Presented last June in a colloquium called “Perspectives on Ethnic Identity: Epigenetics, Marketing, DNA and Genealogy” at the 12th International Conference on Diversity in Vancouver, B.C., sponsored by DNA Spectrum, the article is titled “Dying Campfires: Jews, Indians and Descendant Organizations,” by Donald N. Yates and Phyllis E. Starnes.
With the advent of DNA and individuals’ personal discovery of mixed ancestry, ethnic identity categories are becoming blurred. The intersection of Jewishness and American Indian identity is examined here.
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ABSTRACT: Since the 1990s, genetics has transformed many of our notions of race, ethnicity, and identity. In the 2000 U.S. Census, respondents were given the option of checking multiple ancestries or ethnicities for the first time. The similarities of identifying as a descendant of Jews and American Indians are examined in two works of literature—Bernard Malamud’s “The People” and George Tabori’s play “Weisman and Copperface: A Jewish Western.” Three precedents in Hebrew poetry by Benjamin Nahun Silkiner, Israel Efros and Ephraim E. Lisitzky are compared, and the administrative rulings of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Jewish halakhic writing (B. Netanyahu on crypto-Jews) are discussed as they pertain to Indian and Jewish identity.
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We may as well have used the word “provoking” instead of “provocative. ” The subject explored in “Dying Campfires” is a sore point with many, notably with tribal, governmental and religious authorities who presume to regulate identity in U.S. society empowered by public opinion or officialdom. While Yates and Starnes take a purely objective look at the topic, examining images in contemporary literature and famous administrative rulings, their characterization of the dynamics at play is not likely to please either the identity arbiters like the Bureau of Indian Affairs or myriad seekers after official recognition. The authors portray present-day Jewish and Indian identity as an unfathomable boondoggle of illusion and delusion,