Cherokee Blood (2019)
A lone customer walks into a neglected corner store looking for cheap deodorant, browsing the miscellaneous products that line the shelves on the way. Products range from the mundane to the essential, like 3 ring binders next to toothpaste and recordable CDs next to 99¢ flipflops. As the man browses the smattering of offerings, he comes across a curious object amongst the clutter of knickknacks and personal care products; a nondescript bottle simply labeled Cherokee Blood.
The bottle, 10 ounces of a viscous red substance, claims to contain the blood of a real Cherokee American Indian. The product offers the opportunity for the user to inject themselves with all 10 ounces via a supplied needle to claim a romanticized Native American heritage. 10 fluid ounces is roughly 1/16 of the average adult’s total blood amount, conveniently supplying the minimum blood quantum needed to register oneself with the Eastern Band of Cherokees. Before wearing headdresses to sporting events or music festivals and offensively appropriating another culture, this product offers everyone the opportunity to claim that heritage beforehand.
With this speculative project, I attempt to illustrate the complex feelings I have about my racial identity (half white and half Navajo), while at the same time contributing to national discourse. The project humorously comments on the false claims of Native American heritage that are so prevalent in today’s culture, such as the past claims by US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Cherokee ancestry. After much skepticism and ridicule, Elizabeth Warren was definitively proved as not a Cherokee by means of a DNA test and was forced to apologize. I ask the viewer to reflect, how much ‘blood’ is required to claim an identity and to question where that blood came from.
I also reflect on my own personal situation. Although I know that I am half Navajo and am currently officially enrolled in the Navajo Nation, I never had much contact with the culture, the people, the reservation. Am I too privileged and naïve to Native American issues and culture to consider myself as an American Indian? To what degree do I tokenize, exploit, and appropriate my own culture? These questions currently guide my art practice as I continue to explore the complexities of cultural identity.