Going Native

Kathy Dickerson is fed up with people pretending to be American Indians.

"A few years ago we had to cancel an Indian performing-arts series because we couldn't find enough Illinois-based Native Americans to receive a grant from the state," says Iseminger. "With each generation, those bloodlines continue to get thinner. It's tough to say who is and who isn't an Indian."

Dawn Jordan, a social advocate who helps other Native Americans secure jobs and education in the region, says the finger-pointing between warring Indian groups has grown increasingly hostile since the American Indian Center shuttered its doors last winter. For twenty years the south St. Louis center served as the official voice and watchdog for Indian affairs in and around the city.

Jordan hopes Dickerson's consortium can pick up where the Indian center left off and restore the reputation of the region's Native Americans.

Kathy Dickerson: "Are you dealing with a native or a 
courtesy of kathy dickerson
Kathy Dickerson: "Are you dealing with a native or a wannabe?

"Last year I attended a festival at Cahokia Mounds. It was so terrible," Jordan recalls. "They were selling rubber tomahawks and those headbands that look like you have an arrow shot through your head. I was appalled! If [Dickerson] and her group want to step up to the plate and go after these people, I say more power to her."

But others — including 82-year-old Dolores Santha — think Dickerson has gone too far. For the past 30 years, Santha has made a small income telling Indian stories to schoolchildren and prison inmates under the name Grandma Coyote. Last month, she says, she was shocked to discover that Dickerson and her allies sent letters to Cahokia Mounds and other organizations claiming that Santha altered her 1929 birth certificate by changing her race from "white" to "red."

"Yee gads!" exclaims Santha. "What do they want me to do? Disown my parents? My father was a Comanche who fought in the all-Indian brigade in World War I. My mother was from the Seneca tribe."

Santha says she heard rumors that someone was besmirching her name but didn't know who to blame — until now. That the accusations are coming from other Indians, says Santha, makes the allegations even worse.

"That's probably why we were defeated by the Europeans," she says. "We quarrel among ourselves something terrible."

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