Love Across Difference

Spring-MarshLove between people of difference has often been challenging. When I was growing up, there were numerous taboos about relationships between people of differing races and religions, even folks of differing skin tones. The common wisdom was that love across lines of difference was doomed. Romeo and Juliet resonated across all sorts of divides during my youth. In the American South inter-racial marriages were illegal in some states.

One would hope that such restrictions placed on love would be long gone. Unfortunately, these restrictions remain in the lives of North America’s Native people. “Marrying out” can easily result in the loss of tribal affiliation for oneself and one’s children, creating immense loss and suffering.

It’s springtime, and our thoughts turn to love. The CBC recently focused on love and its challenges for First Nations people in Canada. The precipitating event was a blog post by Lisa Charleyboy. The post created a good deal of comment and generated much sharing of storied experience. CBC wrote:

Last week our most talked about story was a provocative post by blogger Lisa Charleyboy.

Charleyboy wrote candidly about the tough decision she has made regarding her love life and why she is has decided that she’s only interested in dating a status Indian man who is connected with his culture.        Read More

Issues of race can be problematic; issues of blood quantum” even more so. Indeed, love across the arbitrary boundaries of “blood” and religion can be down-right heartbreaking.

The human heart has its own needs and desires, its own logic of love.  Governmental rules, whether tribal or Federal, about love do much harm. My therapy practice is stark evidence of this. So much suffering. Whether the culture at large wishes to acknowledge this or not, love practices based on “blood” or religion are immensely destructive. They are forms of racism and genocide and harm the spirits, souls, and psyches of persons and families and need to end.

Changing the status quo would, of course, create other issues of cultural and tribal identity. We have traditionally been able to solve these. We still can.

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11 thoughts on “Love Across Difference

      • It is a challenge opening peoples hearts and minds though. My grandfather was the bastard half-breed son of the Protestant minister’s daughter in a tiny West Virginia town, his daughter, my aunt, married a Hispanic Catholic, (considered worse than a communist at the time) and she still said that there should not be mixed marriages…

  1. Michael: Provocative post. One of those challenging cases of both/and. We must BOTH honor the unique differences that create identity and community among groups and nations AND embrance the things that universally we hold in common. An interesting ritual/ceremony it my privilege to participate in later this month—My great-niece who lives in Memphis,
    Tenn. is marrying a black man that will open both families to new challenges/gifts that are coming to both families. I will only speak regarding my own family (I do not know enough right now to speak of the challenges/traditions that are part of the young man’s family. Hopefully, all will come later to both families). We are “white” coming from a “middle of the road” previously predominantly conservitive Mid-western family from Kansas. It will be so interesting to create the links/ties that allow both familes to move into a space to embrace both those differences and the growing ties that will unite us!

    • Thanks, Rob. I have no illusions that this task might be easy. We all seem hard wired to focus on difference in destructive ways. Yet in a world that is increasingly merging, our stance towards difference must change. Bateson’s difference that makes a difference seems more important than ever.

  2. It would seem that change comes slowly and with much speaking out, drive and suffering. We solidify our well being by seeing differences. Our difference is better than your difference. This is how humans cope until conscious takes a front seat. Doesn’t make for any happiness.

  3. What an interesting and thought-provoking post about an issue with no simple answers. My Great Uncle Reuben was Jewish, and not exactly disowned for marrying out of his tribe, but certainly not made welcome; I suspect that was why they left the family fold. A generation later, when my Jewish father married out of the faith, the family was more tolerant, although my father died young, and without him there to keep up the family ties, his widow and children were pretty much cut loose from his side of the family.
    I suppose it is by sticking together and marrying within the faith that the Jewish people have managed to maintain their cultural identity for thousands of years, even as they were forced to move from one country to another. I wonder if it would be the same for the First People–easier to maintain cultural connections and traditions if you marry within your tribe. I also wonder if there might be trust and forgiveness issues in play should a tribal member marry a person of European ancestry.
    After two generations, I have reestablished ties with my Great Uncle Reuben’s family and reconnected with my father’s other cousins who I remembered from my childhood. My daughter has taken it upon herself to learn Hebrew and Yiddish, and is reclaiming the Jewish identity that is a part of her heritage, and I am confidant that she will celebrate and nourish her roots no matter who she marries.
    The world continues to change, although not nearly as much or as quickly as it should. In our society there is still discrimination, division, and prejudice, but we are slowly moving toward more tolerance and acceptance. In Washington State bi-racial marriage is not uncommon, and I am proud to say that gay marriage is now legal here. I celebrate all unions based upon mutual love and respect.

    • Naomi, So much suffering! Yes, tribes need some boundaries to keep an identity.Yet, those boundaries can be set to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Here in Vermont we also have marriage for all. It is a good thing, and has brought much joy into the lives of many. I was, a few years ago, the maid of honor at the wedding of two dear women friends! That remains one of my favorite accomplishments, and I looked ravishing. On the other hand, our family’s Native identity was severely interrupted by the combination of intermarriage and passing. I guess that was the intent of those who wanted us gone. Sigh.

      • Hi Michael,
        I love that you were able to be your friends’ Maid of Honor! My daughter Bea has already promised to be her brother’s Best Man when the time comes.
        When we are discouraged at how far we have to go, we must remember to look back at how far we have come, and give thanks for those who blazed the trail of social justice and freedom for us all.

  4. I’m glad we’ve got past the blood quantum (we call it “percentage”) here. Well politically anyway. Socially you are still asked what percentage you are , or what “part Aboriginal are you?”. It makes me wild. An Aboriginal Elder recently told me that she responds to the “what part” question with her answer “the part that never left”.

    And you no longer need a piece of paper from the Lands Council to claim your Indigenous heritage, unless you want to claim for any special benefits.

    These political changes have removed the shame associated with being Indigenous. No other race in Australia has ever been asked to prove what percentage they are or to furnish a piece of paper to prove they belong here (such an odd thing to ask from First Nations peoples). It’s all going in the right direction, creating a pride in having Indigenous heritage. Encouraging more sharing and acceptance.

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