CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolinian of mixed race is trying to combat stereotypes about Native Americans.
Erin Phelps is white and Native American. She’s a member of the Lumbee and Waccamaw Siouan tribes in North Carolina.
The 27-year-old is pursuing a graduate certificate in anti-racism in urban education.
“Being a mixed race person, I find it natural to be a bridge in between a lot of different people and I want to be better trained to help other people become bridges,” Phelps says.
Phelps is also the education coordinator of the International House in Charlotte.
“Just the fact that this is where a lot of people from anywhere can receive services, whether it's legal or educational, is a big draw for me,” Phelps says.
She is proud of her heritage and has fond memories of powwows and enjoys listening to music from them.
“It’s kind of healing because it reminds me of the dancing that is also there to heal,” Phelps says.
However, she says when some people meet her, they inquire about negative stereotypes regarding Native Americans or question her identity.
“I think a lot of people tend to be really skeptical because they see my light skin and they say, ‘Oh, you're just lying to get government benefits', or whatever,” Phelps says.
Sometimes, she is asked questions that don’t sit well with her, including; "What percentage are you?" It may seem innocent on the surface but it reminds her of a concept known as blood quantum.
Phelps explains that blood quantum measures the amount of Native American blood of a person. In 1934, the federal government imposed the system on tribes to determine citizenship and it is still used by some tribes.
That history doesn’t sit well with Phelps.
“I feel like, so rude and so uncalled for. What other race gets asked that question? Usually we quantify horses and dogs as pure breeds, not people, unless someone's talking about Native Americans,” Phelps says.
Phelps says broader questions and inquiries including; "Tell me about your background", are more appropriate. Otherwise, she encourages people to let someone open up on their own time.
"I think the main thing would be to accept me as I say that I am and who I say that I am and not be doubtful,” Phelps says.
Phelps says if you ask the wrong question, it can also be an opportunity to learn and admit you don’t have to always be right to be a listener or an ally.