Marginal Personality

A marginal personality, as I recall from Psycho-sociology, is one who identifies or is a member of two different groups. A marginal person is one who for periods of time, may live and/or identify with one group; then for periods of time, may live and/or identify with another group.

Also, a marginal person is one who may not be quite at home in one group or identity, and may not be quite at home in another group or identity. Marginal personalities live in two worlds. Sometimes those worlds clash and collide.

The marginal personality, therefore, is the quintessential definition for a vast, if not the majority, of Potawatomis including myself!

Historically, Potawatomis intermarried with the French and other non-Native Americans. Because of our unique business and trade relationship, our people intermarried to a greater extent than other tribes. This propensity to intermarry continued throughout the centuries. The obvious result of these marriages is a Potawatomi displaying both Indian and “non-Indian” features especially dark and light skin, brown and blue eyes.

There are those who believe the mixture of these two peoples result in a beautiful or pulchritudinous person and personality; others place a premium on the original color of skin and its identity and consider that person beautiful. Pulchritude resides in both people.

Of course, we must admit that there are Potawatomis who believe the lighter the skin, the more “American” superior the person, other Potawatomis believe the darker the skin, the more “natively” superior that person to be. Neither would use the word, “superior” but their views and attitudes reveal their racist character.

From a political perspective, Potawatomis are marginal people in the fact that we are citizens of two different nations, two different cultures. Sometimes these dual nationalities cause friction, other times this blending of two nations, two cultures, can be a celebration of the greatness inherent in both.

In my capacity as an elected representative of two different legislatures—Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the State of Oklahoma, I sometimes have to vote “Constitutional Privilege” in order not to vote “yea” or “nay” on a bill or resolution that may benefit me or be a conflict of interest. This too, is a dilemma of being marginal.

As a child, my paternal grandmother, whom I lovingly called Nanny Ma, told me that when my father was born, “he showed his Indian.” Billy J. Wesselhöft had darker skin and eyes than I. I received my mother’s English, French and Irish features. I am proud of each national and tribal linage, to include Choctaw that makes me the person that I am.
This sentiment is expressed in my poem:

Red Blood

On the outside,
Though my skin be so pale
The midday sun,
It burns and pains;
On the inside,
Indian blood churns
And flows through my veins.

I am not offended when my friends call me a “blue eyed Indian.” They do not wish me ill. However, it is unfortunate that some Potawatomis harbor a degree of resentment or envy if their fellow tribal member is too dark or too light.

Being a marginal personality, I occasionally want to combine the two great cultural identities of my life. Sometimes I want to keep the two cultural identities separate in order to bring out their individual qualities and greatness.

Beauty is displayed in all shades of skin, all tribes and in every ethnic group. As a child, I was taught the words of this song: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Enough said.

Representative Paul Wesselhöft


About Wesselhoft, Paul

Retired U.S. Army (Airborne Ranger) Chaplain; State Representative, Oklahoma House of Representatives; Representative, Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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