A long time ago, Clifford Seymour (“Tree top”) used to visit our family. He was an elderly Comanche, and he knew a lot about the old days. He was highly respected, and his memory still is. One day he was at our house with a young man he introduced as his son. “Clifford, your son? I didn’t know you had a son!” my mother said. “Well, Indian way,” Clifford said. “Indian way.” What did he mean?
Clifford Seymour, center, in the tan sportscoat. My older brother
Fred is on the left, with his son Brant Portillo Yeagley to the left
of Fred. On the far right is my uncle, Raymond Portillo, with my
mother (his sister) next to him. The woman on my mother’s right
is Clifford’s wife, I believe. This is a picture from late 70′s or
He meant that the young man was not his actual, biological son. And he didn’t mean he had legally adopted him. Clifford meant that he had taken responsibility, to some significant extent, for the young man. The young man was obviously an Indian, but apparently without parenting. Without family. Clifford and his wife had taken the lead for him. The young man was on his way to Los Angeles. (This was back in the ’80′s, if I remember correctly.) He wanted to live in California, and find success out there.
“Indian way.” In the old days, it was an expression for different relationships. Indian families looked after one another’s members, if there came to be missing parents. Sometimes, they just took a shine to some kid or person, and would start referring to him as “my son,” or “my brother.” I think some of this may traced to the post-reservation days, when the fragmented families of warrior bands were dragged into the fenced camps. Indians had to take care of each other. In any case, today, there’s still relations that happen “Indian way.” The difference is, some people are using the term “adopted,” and using rather loosely.
These are different times. Today, everything is a legal matter. There’s money involved, entitlements, even movie roles. “Indian way” you don’t hear very often, especially outside Indian country, but it represents something that has become a problem. Indian idenity is intensely legal at this point in history. Land, casinos, politics, etc., all come directly associated with ‘federal recognition’ and “enrollment” on the tribal membership lists. Fraud and Indian identity theft has never been more serious and consequential.
Enter: Rudy Gonzalez “Youngblood.” The continental Indian. The indigenous North American. A member of every major Indian group in the Western Hemphisphere. Right? Wrong. He is black hispanic–according to the categories established by the US census bureau. He is mestiso and “black” (American Negro?). None of the tribes he originally claimed to be part of have any legal documentation on or about him. He has no Indian blood demonstrable.
What he does have is significant association with some Indians. He did establish some kind of relationship with the Comanche family of Preston Tahchawwickah, although the blood kin of Preston all say they never knew of any “Rudy.” There are a couple of Tahchawwickahs, however, who will vouch for the “Indian way.” I have been contacted by a few people. Of course, the fact that Rudy claims “Indian way” relations with the Cree, and used to claim he had ancestors at both at Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee (Sioux and/or Cheyenne), makes this whole identity a fantasy of some kind. The only “Indian way” relation for certain is whatever he established with the Tahchawwickah. Of course, Rudy never claimed that name before pressed to do so, and this is two years after Preston Tahchawwickah’s passing. To day, only one person has actually identified himself to me, and said Rudy was associated with Preston. We can only assume it was in relation to pow-wow circumstances. Beyond that, it is private affair. Rudy is not, however, blood kin to the Tahchawwickahs, in any way. It’s only “Indian way.” This is the truth, so far, as BadEagle.com has been able to varify it.
As far as Rudy’s new web site is concerned, the most reasonable approach to his identity is to simply say Rudy loves Indian culture. Rudy has participated in it for years, and identifies himself with it. This is far different from saying he is actually an Indian. Rudy and apparently his manager Michelle R. (Hall) “Shining Elk” before presented Rudy as Mr. All Indian, All the Time. The new Rudy should comprise the truth. His personal life is apparently fascinating enough. Just the facts, just the truth, is more than sufficient. They should have confidence in the power of the truth. Rudy’s story might make a top-selling biography.
But the initial presentation of Rudy to the world was grossly misleading, false, and insulting to all Indian people in America. It came at a terrible time, when the biggest fake heretofore, Ward Churchill, was just exposed as the most profund fraud in academic history. Completely white, he had made a lucrative career out of being Indian. Under pressure, the University of Colorado fired him. And now Rudy shows up, with a bio that marked him as the next biggest fake in Indian history. Only Rudy had dark brown skin. Ah, well, that should surely convince everyone that Rudy was really Indian. He could combine that with his pow-wow regalia, and easily fool all the dumb whites in Hollywood.
It was all a fantasy, and a fascinating scheme. It worked! He landed a movie part, and was suddenly before the world as a dynamic Indian! (–in spite of the fact that he doesn’t look anything except what he actually his, a mestiso black.)
What he was, actually, is more interesting. He has obviously had a broad experience, sociologically and geographically. He has all kinds of ambitions, and the talents to carve out a worldly success. Voila. It has happened.
But, in cleaning up the mess he left, we have to understand the modern circumstances of being Indian, and the necessity to guard the Indian identity–before it becomes an ethnically meaningless social club, in which anyone can participate and then claim to be “Indian.” Rudy’s example pushed open further a very dangerous door, through which every Mexican and black hispanic in America will seek entrance. (Many blacks have already herded themselves through it.) The racist whites of America welcome it all. They created that door. They love to put all darkies under the same banner, in the same ‘teepee,’ calling them all “American Indians.” Rudy has played into this mind set very successfully. Hawaiian, Filippino, Mexican, Mayan, African-American, what does it matter? They’re all non-white, all “skins,” and therefore, all “American Indians.” That’s the liberal racist goal. Rudy’s in the lead.
But it’s over now. The truth, which in his case is interesting and valid enough on it’s own, will have to be presented unabashedly. The bigger picture of Indian country, the historical perspective, will simply not allow this charade to continue. It has been challenged, and proven false. It is harmful to Indian people. It is threatening beyond anything Columbus did. To say anyone and everyone is “Indian” is completely denying the true American Indian identity. That’s what we face. Political genocide. We don’t exist. We’re something else.
This is what Rudy’s supporters need to understand. What Rudy has done is a threat to Indian identity. If he just presented the truth about himself, his origins, his ethnic identity, all would be well. The situation is bigger than just one kid who got a movie part by claiming to be Indian. The circumstances are more significant that simply his temporary associations with this Indian family here or that Indian family there. The historical and sociological context of this matter has to be considered more important than his personal life.
A few Indian people may be upset that Rudy has been exposed. They may be angry that such a course has been pursued by BadEagle.com. I understand that. I’m saying to these very few people that the bigger picture is more important. Indian people are more important than non-Indian Rudy Gonzalez. A movie role–particularly one obtained by fraud–does not condone, exonerate, or justify misrepresentations, or personal fantasies. Money does not validate a lie. Success does not make everything right. Rudy has his friends, and they all ride the wave of success with him, and they all are angry that anything should be questioned or challenged. But the bigger picture says they should think more of Indian people than their own personal fun. The glamour, the glitz, or the money, is hardly a worthy motive. It hardly encourages anyone to undertake serious behavior modification. It hardly makes any moral difference in character–especially when it was gained through false representation. What’s being encouraged here? What are young Indians supposed to be encouraged to imitate? Since when to Indians value money more than their own blood?
I think these are pretty low expecations, with or without misrepresentations. The bottom line is, Rudy is not an Indian. Rudy simply loves Indian culture. That’s good enough. Away with the false representations. That was a big, big mistake. The quicker he and his managers snap out of that, and present Rudy for the person he really is, the better off everyone will be. Again, look at the bigger picture. Help Rudy see the bigger picture. He used Indians for his personal success. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love Indian culture, and even a few Indian people. But, it does mean that he has some major changes to make in his image.