Native American Identity
The following interview took place with Native American James (Jimi) Marshall
Roberts in the summer of 1999. He was 18 years old at the time. He had just graduated
from high school in Trivoli, Illinois and started at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois in
the fall. Jimi and his family have been greatly involved in pow wows in Illinois for many
years. The pow wow is an event where Native American people come together to dance,
sing, and visit with one another. Read Jimi's interview to find out what life is like for a
Native American teen today.
What is your Native American heritage (tribal affiliation)?
I am 1/8 Cherokee through my father's side. He is 1/4 Cherokee, his mom is
1/2 Cherokee, and her father (my great grandfather) is full Cherokee.
Q: What do you know about your family history?
Not a whole lot. It wasn't something that was really talked about in my family
until my Dad's generation. It was kind of kept secret. He got my great aunt to
finally start talking. I actually don't have a tribal card [a tribal card certifies that you
are a member of a certain tribe]. I know for the Cherokee you can only be on the
rolls from line of descent from the Dawes roll. [In 1906, the Dawes Commission
compiled "rolls" or census rosters of
Indian families accounted for by the U.S.
Government. Today, when people trace their ancestry back to someone who
belonged to one of the Five Civilized Tribes - Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw,
Cherokee, and Seminole - they can receive a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood
- CDIB card - if they had an ancestor listed on the Dawes rolls.] I'm trying to do
some research right now. It's hard.
How did you become interested in your Native American heritage?
I didn't have much choice. I just grew up with it. My father's always been active
in the Indian culture, but just recently, since we've started singing (my father's the
head singer / drum chief of the Eagle Ridge Singers), he's wanted to know more, to
go back to the elders and learn some of the ceremonies, traditional Cherokee
rather than pow wow. Our whole drum [the people who sit around the drum to sing
and make music] tries to do things as traditional as we can because there's a lot of
people out there who either don't care or don't know about the traditions.
Q: What happened to inspire you to become more involved in pow wows?
The Return to Pimiteoui Intertribal Pow Wow [in Peoria, IL] was the first pow wow
I ever went to. I went to the very first one when I was 10 or 11, and I've been to
every one since. We used to set up and sell crafts, then we started dancing, then I
decided I wanted to sing in the Native American Fellowship [of Peoria] with the
drum they were starting.
Q: How do you learn about Native American customs?
From the elders and just about anyone who is willing to share. It's not about
how old you are. One of the best singers I know is only 23 years old. An elder is
someone with knowledge who is really well respected, and wants to share what he
or she knows. One thing that I've learned is if you've got a good heart and you're
doing stuff right, a lot of the people that know stuff will help teach you and that's