Kelsey Breseman
5 min readJun 8, 2024

"I wanted to ask," my mother queries tentatively, "Why you invest so much into your Tlingit heritage, when you also have so many other heritages."

I have an answer, or several, right away, but better answers after I think about it for a couple of days.

I understand what she means. If my identity is a series of fractions that add up to one, I'm more German than anything else. I'm Irish, and Norwegian, and Danish, and Tlingit too. My "full blood" Tlingit ancestry is sufficiently distant that I've been asking around for years to figure out what clan and house I should belong to.

But I could just say I'm mostly American: my mother has been an American citizen her whole life, and my dad was born into a territory that then became a state. I'm not culturally Irish or German based on my blood quantum, and my American identity adds to more than one: immigrant, indigenous, and native-born all layered together. Inseparable.

Meanwhile, citizenship is a political, not a cultural identity. I have two: Tlingit, and American. Now that I've married an Australian, our kids will have all three— me too, maybe, someday.

I take citizenship very seriously— as both rights and responsibilities. As an American, my citizenship is an active process of political participation, from revising bill initiative language, to organizing movement work, to…