Monday, March 15, 2010

What makes you a citizen?

In my last posting I wrote about how indigenous people were reclaiming rights in some instances and exerting their rights in others. On two of the reservation of the Mohawks, Akwesasne and Kahnawake, non-Natives are being evicted. This is a process that has occurred in the past and is used to ensure tribal/ethnic "status”. Doug George-Kanentio wrote “at Akwesasne, as is true on other Mohawk territories, having "status" is as precious as it is precarious. Precisely who is considered a Mohawk is a four-step process involving blood quantum, family relations, quality of character, and communal standing. At Akwesasne a person might be 100 per cent native genetically but if they do not adhere to the social standards of the community they might be excluded or expelled.”[1]

The need for native communities to maintain a certain “status” among their people is understandable and in some ways no different for identifying membership than other ethno-centered religions or world-views. The point of interest comes in asking what would the implications be if international nation-states used some form of this four-fold test to identify citizenship? Would they look at a person’s genetic markers instead of some form of blood quantum to see if they had the right ‘stuff?’ Could they identify family relations and review their quality of character try to measure your community standing? According to a four-fold test being born in the country would only count 25% toward being kept as a citizen.

The first part of the four-fold test used by the Natives as a test for citizenship is the blood quantum. This requirement concerns the outdated idea that different races had different types of blood. Although no longer used in its ancient sense it is still used in the Native American community as a simple test of pedigree among the members. Different tribes have different requirements, however it’s not that different than being a naturally born citizen of the US. Either the person is born here in the US or one of the parents is a US citizen. This is a blood quantum of sorts, a pedigree. Presently this is the only requirement for US citizenship. Otherwise you are naturalized which takes on other requirements.

If the government were to adopt the other three aspects of the test it could change the dynamics of citizenship immensely. How would we handle further requirements? Look at the second requirement, what are your family relationships? How do you answer the question as to where you are from or where do your relatives live? Who are your friends? The government would have the right to categorize people into different threat levels or acceptable citizenship levels. Do you cavort with the right people or hobnob with the politically correct? Your citizenship could depend on it.

Add to the aforementioned requirements, requirements three and four and you will have a citizenship test that would be nearly all subjective. Along with the requirements of “blood quantum” and family relationships the quality of your character would be analyzed along with your community standing. What aspects of character would be looked into? Do you belong to ‘Save the Whales?’ Is that a good thing or bad? Would a criminal record mean something, would drug use, maybe liking too many cheeseburgers would be a crime. Do you smoke? Shame on you for smoking, but we’ll take the tax money. Maybe you’re to conservative or liberal, a socialist or a hard-nose capitalist. How would this affect the overall equation in the four-fold test?

The fourth requirement talks about community standing. Do you go to church? Atheist? Monotheistic? Owe a lot of money? Pay your mortgage on time? Have you ever gotten behind on your income tax? Are you for the war, against the war? The answers to these questions could determine your fate as a citizen. Under these circumstances anybody could lose their citizenship or gain it. How much would prevalent moral attitudes change interpretation of the standards? Trying to become a citizen during prohibition may make a difference in acceptance.

The four-fold test for membership makes sense and works in ethno-centric cultural circumstances such as in a religion or ethnicity. Natives Americans need some test to determine tribal membership and this method works well. However, a similar test used to test citizenship in relation to a nation-state would be too subjective.

For a country to come up with a set of tests to ensure correct citizenship smells of emperor worship found during the Roman Empire. To stay in the good graces of Rome and to show loyalty you had to worship the Emperor as a God. A little incense in the fire and a simple ‘Hail Caesar’ and you were good to go. This is the same thing that a test for citizenship would bring. It would be based on some preconceived notion of future bio-politics and justifiable morality. Whatever is deemed the best for the country or should I say state, would be the how the answers would be interpreted. If you fell outside some preconceived norms you would be expelled (possibly terminated) from the citizenry.

There is a 1996 movie called “Escape from LA.” In the movie it’s 2013. The United States has gone through a series of catastrophes and LA has been separated from the mainland. The US government has become a theocracy and non-desirables are expelled out of the country to live in LA. War hero Snake Plissken is sent into LA to get a device that can destroy modern society. During the time period of the movie the US tests the citizens by having a code of conduct that is acceptable. If you don’t measure up you’re out or if you like, dead. One can see the natural desire in our own society for there to be a test for patriotism, good character, loyalty, etc. Ultra-conservatives and I am afraid some ultra-liberals would like to see something like this. Everyone is afraid and wants to be sure their neighbor is a good guy, all of our needs cared for in one way or another. Sounds nice to be safe and totally secure as a country but at what price. If you watch “Escape from LA” you’ll see how being a citizen could become skewed and that the freedoms you think you have can leave with a vote. Far fetched? Probably. But a test may be in our futures to see if you are a real patriot. Do you think the right way? Act the right way? Believe the right way? I doubt it will come to that. In any case I don’t think we could find a Snake Plissken to save the day.


[1] George-Kanentio, Doug. Why Mohawks Are Kicking Non-Natives Off the Reserve. The Gazette, 2010. Accessed. Available from http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/todays-paper/Mohawks+kicking+natives+reserve/2558867/story.html.

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