This study addresses the question of American Indian Identity, specifically, what makes an Indian an Indian from a traditional Anishinaabe Indian cultural perspective? Perspectives were gained through life experiences as an active member of Anishinaabe Indian communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, as well as traditional cultural ceremonies. There are two primary reasons for this study: first to provide insight into the traditional cultural perspective of American Indian identity for non-Indians and its relevancy in present day; and second, to start a discussion within tribal nations about utilizing their traditional culture in governance and membership issues. For this Qualitative study, experiential ethnographic research was used. The primary data collection method was observation of Anishinaabe communities, individuals, traditional people, and ceremonies over the course of the researcher's lifetime. The second method was a review of literature related to American Indian Identity. For the purpose of this study, there are five categories used to define an American Indian person: law, blood, culture, self-identification and physical features. The author contends there is a misunderstanding of what the traditional culture is and that it is relevant in current times for Indian people. As both this study and Alfred (1999) show, traditional culture is relevant and can be utilized to transform identity and Native communities. The traditional perspective is necessary to understand who Native Americans are culturally. Once the traditional culture is understood, discussions can be held on the other definitions of "Indianess" and their impact on communities and reservations. American Indian people are different because of WHO they are, culturally and spiritually, which is more important than WHAT they are or look like. The identity of the Anishinaabe lies in their traditions and culture. Concepts of race, blood quantum, and physical appearance are not important within traditional culture. Any American Indian tribe that has assimilated culturally, as a way of surviving, no longer exists as a traditional culture.


Wayne Allen

Committee Member

Paul Prew

Committee Member

Kebba Darboe

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)


Graduate Studies and Research

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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