I’m working on a story where the main character is half-Polynesian, half-Cherokee. I want to show respect for her culture and was wondering if there are any sites you can recommend for me to look up to do research that aren’t biased?
So here’s a few facts about being mixed for you. This isn’t to discourage you from writing a mixed Native— we exist, in fairly large numbers— but to explain just what you are taking on when you write one.
This is from the perspective of somebody who is, blood-wise, extraordinarily mixed thanks to generations old assimilation. I am not status and have no hope of being status because of just how mixed I am.
First off, some tribes aren’t terribly fond of mixed individuals. It happens. As a result, you’ll have to take it band by band, reserve by reserve— see whether or not they’ll accept somebody mixed whole-heartedly, conditionally, or not at all.
You’re dealing with, potentially, two tribes— depending on who the Polynesian person is from. There are, after all, multiple Polynesian tribes, each with a different culture. So narrowing down in this regard is also important.
Native Americans have a registry. This registry determines who is “allowed” to be Native and not. Thankfully the laws have slacked up a lot since their initial implementation, but fact remains: if a person is “too mixed” (like I am!) then they can’t be put on the registry.
Historically, as well, sometimes people would lose their status on the registry if they married outside of the tribe (Canada made any woman who married outside of the tribe “non Native”, but any woman who married in gained status. This robbed children of their language, because, as an elder put it, “mother tongue” means the language of the mother).
I’m 95% sure this isn’t the case anymore. But! Who knows. I am very unfamiliar with Polynesian peoples, so I have nothing to say on that.
You’ll be dealing with two very strong cultures, here, with their own really strong identities. That isn’t to say they can’t exist in harmony— The Rock is a prime example, being Black and Samoan— but you’re going to have to really characterize the individual as being mixed. You’ll have to see what parts of culture they take, and it could genuinely be “all of both”… unless some parts directly contradict each other, then you’ll have to figure out where the compromises are.
I’d look up “third culture kids” as some base literature on the topic. These are kids who grew up in multiple cultures and as a result have made their own, that’s basically unique to them. It’s likely not going to be identical to what you’re dealing with, but it’s something to start thinking of.
History of Assimilation
Aka, “people could get touchy”.
I’m really trying to not paint any Indigenous group as closed off or hostile towards outsiders. What I am saying is some people hold the scars of assimilation and can be very wary of their culture dying off. So there’s a certain responsibility for kids to carry on the culture, and that might be a weight. It might not be a weight at all, and both families are super accepting and they take an “all” approach to culture.
But it’s something to keep in mind, depending on the reception of whatever peoples you choose.
This is going to be tricky! I’m not sure of any one place I can point you other than The Rock’s relationship with his identities and how he talks about his daughters, because he’s the only mixed Polynesian person I know in mainstream. If followers have any comments, we’d be happy to hear them!