The Issue with Tribal Heathenry

It was discussed in a space with some other Heathens I know that have been discussing the prospect of the use of the word “tribe” as a self descriptive term amonst other Heathens.  I actually really appreciate the idea of using “Tribal” as a moniker to symbolize the end goal of wanting to immerse yourself in a reconstructed pagan ideal, disregarding and reworking the imperialistic euro-centric Christian frame of perception, IE: the Patriarchy, Late-Stage Capitalism, ect. 

But it just didn’t sit right with me, there was a moralistic twinge in the back of my brain that objected to the idea of using the word tribe, and incorporating it into a Heathen societal framework. So I called my brother, and I absolutely hate the indignity of calling on my big brother’s heritage to use as some sort of…conversational token to prove a point on the internet, but there is the matter that there is in fact, a point to prove. My biological half-brother is also.. half Pima, registered to the Gila River Tribe of Phoenix, AZ (an ethnically convergent culture to the Hopi). We grew up together, and though I myself do not share his cultural heritage, I grew up learning how to appreciate his respectfully. I feel it’s important to mark this distinction to my upbringing based on the reaction of “shove it up your ass” and “Your opinion makes me want to use this term more”, when attempting to calmly declare my stance on the subject. I called and asked my brother his opinion, which I will not repeat, for it was not polite, but the sentiment is explained herewith.

Regardless, I have come to a formulated opinion. There’s some logical inconsistency in not recognizing that Tribe in regards to Native Americans/First Nations is a legal thing too, indicating a sovereignty and agency that includes independent legal citizenship status and rights.

In the United States, the Indian tribe is a fundamental unit, and the constitution grants Congress the right to interact with tribes. More specifically, the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28 (1913), warned, “it is not… that Congress may bring a community or body of people within range of this power by arbitrarily calling them an Indian tribe, but only that in respect of distinctly Indian communities the questions whether, to what extent, and for what time they shall be recognized and dealt with as dependent tribes” 

Like, yea, tribe as a concept has been around awhile. But we can’t ignore what it means in the US/Canada and what led to that point, and start calling ourselves “tribes” and play ignorant to the legitimacy of separation from the overculture that implies, there’s a specific recognotion status at stake for the people who depend on it for economic and social survival. Survival especially, because there are tribes that have gone extinct in living memory, and what we’re doing isn’t about survival. Kinda makes calling a social group such as a group of Heathens, no matter how tight the bonds, a tribe… seem trite in comparison to the disparity ethnic tribes have experienced. The Native tribes as denoted weathered a firestorm of genocide so intensely harmful that Hitler used the Indian Wars as part of his template for the shoah. They are tribes despite prolonged multi-decade efforts to wipe them out. So my ultimate conclusion is this: I am not a member of a tribe, and as a white North American I will never be a member of a tribe, and absolutely will not refer to myself as such. However I also will not hold prejudice against people who use the word tribe in the context of their social groups in reference to familial association, and oppressed status. 

Heathenry has other words that are more accessible, and more appropriate to use: kith, kindred…ect.

Published by Isig Mynae

I am a polytheist and aspiring writer, and self-ascribed Völva.

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