Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I am a well-established member of the underground- an anthropologist, in fact, with an interest in Native American cultures. I have discovered and identified an authentic tribe, related to certain southwest desert Indian families but distinct from each of them as well, and I'm very excited about that.

I do not divulge their location, but I freely observe their habits and customs. They have only recently come to occupy certain unmapped Anasazi cliffdwellings I have known of for some time. To visit them, I do much hiking along great vistas so I can tell if anyone follows me; I can turn and look back clear to the horizon.

Yes, yes, I see elements of the Modoc in their quaint courtship, and the Navajo in their use of beads, and that's Cheyenne pottery, sure enough. I publish in Native Review and present papers to learned societies, even testify in state legislative hearings, once spontaneously leaping up to mime one of their wardances before an astonished room full of indignataries.

Eventually, the Bureau of Indian Affairs grants status to the newly discovered subset, although no outsider but me has ever observed them. I am very pleased. I present the charter to the elders and explain to them what it means. I must use a contrived sign language because I have yet to translate their own speech.

They show no interest at all, shrug, smile, gaze into the campfire.

I go away on other business and am gone for over a year. I make another visit out of curiosity.

There is a huge casino going up! They have telephones now, and they are engaged with BIA over subsidies. They speak Spanglish. Roads are coming in. Their customs now are not so quaint, but comprise drinking and fighting.

I have been had. These "Indians" are all illegal immigrants from Oaxaca. They have discovered a way to sort of sidestep the usual slave labor in LA sweatshops. With recognition as a Sacred Nation, they not only see checks from the federals but they may operate a fantastically profitable gaming license tax-free!

The question is, do I acknowledge my error and sink my professional reputation forever?

Or do I remain quiet and allow all concerned to prosper?

It's a question that occupies me for a full two minutes...

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