*Editor’s note: A pri­or title of this piece includ­ed a play­ful ref­er­ence to African Amer­i­cans erro­neous­ly claim­ing to have ‘Indi­an in their fam­i­ly’. Many of our com­menters right­ful­ly found this title offen­sive and dis­mis­sive of the many African Amer­i­cans who have Native Amer­i­can blood and show rev­er­ence for their Native Amer­i­can cul­ture. We apol­o­gize and have changed the title to be reflec­tive of the piece’s intent — shin­ing a spot­light on a cul­tur­al sub­set that is often over­looked.*

afro native american cherokee girl

Through­out the years many black peo­ple have laid claim to Native Amer­i­can her­itage. Inter­est­ing­ly, Har­vard schol­ar Hen­ry Louis Gates’ research claims that the aver­age African Amer­i­can actu­al­ly has very lit­tle Native Amer­i­can blood — less than 1%. How­ev­er, behind the talk of ‘high cheek­bones’ and ‘red skin tone’ there actu­al­ly is a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of African Amer­i­can and Native cul­tures com­bin­ing.

Although there are over 500 fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized Native Amer­i­can tribes, only 5 were con­sid­ered to be “civ­il” dur­ing the colo­nial peri­od. These 5 tribes which con­sist­ed of  Cheek, Chock­taw, Chero­kee, Chick­a­saw and Semi­nole had adopt­ed colo­nial prac­tices such as Chris­tian­i­ty, writ­ten con­sti­tu­tions and plan­ta­tion slav­ery. Yes, native Amer­i­cans were coerced into own­ing black slaves under the direc­tion of British colonists, in efforts to secure the Transat­lantic Slave trade. The colonists felt native Amer­i­cans who accept­ed slav­ery would not har­bor flee­ing run­away slaves.

Five-Civilized-Tribes-Portraits

Slav­ery with­in the Native Amer­i­can Nations

The only tribe that reject­ed bondage slav­ery was the Semi­nole “in favor of a sys­tem of friend­ship and alliance with their black mem­bers.”

Like Euro­pean slave­own­ers, Native amer­i­cans adopt­ed Slave Codes to con­trol their black pop­u­la­tion by hin­der­ing run­aways and pre­vent­ing them from learn­ing how to read and write. It was required for mem­bers of the nation to catch run­away slaves.

How­ev­er, the con­cept of slav­ery var­ied tremen­dous­ly from what was seen in white-owned plan­ta­tions. Because bondage was seen as a vio­la­tion of the human spir­it and will to be free, many observers noticed the chains were placed loose­ly upon slaves which upset white slave­own­ers. Only the Chick­a­saw upheld the rep­u­ta­tion of treat­ing slaves as poor­ly as white slave­own­ers.

For­mer Chero­kee slaves detailed their expe­ri­ences in inter­views in William Katz’s book, “Black Indi­ans”:

John­son Thomp­son, eighty, and a for­mer Chero­kee slave, said: “The mas­ter nev­er pun­ish any­body, and I nev­er see any­body whipped, and only one slave sold. Lots of slave chil­dren didn’t ever learn to read.”

Some even have sto­ries of slaves who were able to earn mon­ey to pur­chase their free­dom:

Rochelle Ward, nine­ty-one, remem­bere: “Some of the slaves work around and get mon­ey and pay this mon­ey to their mas­ter for free­dom, so there was some freed before the close of the war.

British colonies posed many treaties with the Native Amer­i­can nations for the return of fugi­tive slaves. How­ev­er, because of the adop­tion sys­tem which exist­ed among the nations new mem­bers were wel­comed and offered full pro­tec­tion.

“When whites argued about the right of pri­vate prop­er­ty in own­ing peo­ple and insist­ed Africans were infe­ri­or beings, the Indi­ans shrugged, “no.”

Notable Black Native Amer­i­cans

Picture 215
Wild­fire Edmo­nia Lewis

Edmo­nia Lewis who pre­vi­ous­ly went by her Chippe­wa name of Wild­fire was a promi­nent artist of the 19th cen­tu­ry.

black native americans
Diana Fletch­er

Diana Fletch­er was a mem­ber of the Semi­nole nation but was lat­er adopt­ed into Kiowa. She was said to be a school teacher at the schools built for black native Amer­i­cans.

Black Native Amer­i­cans Today

In 2007, the Chero­kee nation Supreme Court ruled black mem­bers who were brought into the tribe by Native Amer­i­can slave own­ers or freed­men, before were no longer to be con­sid­ered mem­bers of the tribe. This deci­sion means black mem­bers would no longer be eli­gi­ble for free health­care and edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits.

Sim­i­lar­ly in 2000, after receiv­ing $56 mil­lion in repa­ra­tions from the U.S. gov­ern­ment for land tak­en in Flori­da, the Semi­nole nation restrict­ed its mem­ber­ship to those who could only prove their lin­eage via the Dawes Rolls. The Dawes Rolls autho­rized by the U.S. con­gress as a require­ment to nego­ti­ate with the Five Civ­i­lized Tribes to con­vince them to agree to an allot­ment plan and dis­so­lu­tion of the reser­va­tion sys­tem. Cit­i­zens of the tribe fell under sev­er­al cat­e­gories: by blood, mar­riage, freedmen(formerly enslaved by Native Amer­i­cans) and Delaware/Lenape.

Despite the adver­si­ty, black native Amer­i­cans have con­tin­ued to fos­ter a com­mu­ni­ty to pre­serve their cul­ture. These pho­tos were tak­en at the first annu­al Moun­tain Eagle Place Inter-Trib­al Pow Wow in Vir­ginia.

black natve americans mountain eagle place4
Natas­ka Hum­min­bird
black native americans mountain eagle place2
Maimouna Youssef, Navasha Daya, Natas­ka Hum­min­brd
black native americans mountain eagle place3
Maimouna Youssef

black native americans mountain eagle place

What is your knowl­edge behind the Black Native Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion?

Sources: Black Indi­ans by William Loren Katz

Rinny

Tex­an by birth, Los Ange­leno by sit­u­a­tion. Lover of Tame Impala and Shoegaze music. Come­di­an by trade. Mac­a­roni and Cheese con­nois­seur by appetite.

Leave a Reply

103 Comments on "The Real History of Black Native Americans"

Notify of
avatar
ThatsRight
I wish peo­ple did not believe hype like this! Africa was not the only place in the entire world that had melanin rich peo­ple with wooly hair. Amer­i­ca is the birth place of our ances­tors. The peo­ple that runs the 5 nations today are not Indige­nous to Amer­i­ca. The so called Native Amer­i­cans that owned slaves were basi­cal­ly white. It’s a lot of con­fu­sion. When they say that NA went through geno­cide, it was through paper­work, and renam­ing us some­thing else to cut us off on our lin­eage. For you to be native to a coun­try, all you have to… Read more »
DLB

Very true. Very true. On RT TV, they are run­ning a doc­u­men­tary of the freed­men of the chero­kee nation. They stat­ed the chero­kees own­ing slaves were the white ones & it is these same ones that pushed to get the Black freed­men from being mem­bers of the nation. It’s fun­ny, they say the freed­men aren’t chero­kees by blood, but if these white ones were to be dna test­ed, they would fail. Actu­al­ly, the Black freed­men were put on the freed­men rolls because they looked Black…at least that is what the doc­u­men­tary stat­ed.

GumboGodess

Very true. My fam is from Natchi­toches, LA, and that is a spe­cial city that keeps up with facts. I’m Cad do Indi­an, French, Afric an, and a lit­tle porteguese. But to the world I’m just anoth­er lit­tle blaqq girl.

GumboGodess

Very true. My fam is from Natchi­toches, LA, and that is a spe­cial city that keeps up with facts. I’m Cad­do Indi­an, French, African, and a lit­tle porteguese. But to the world I’m just anoth­er lit­tle blaqq girl.

GumboGodess

Very true. My fam is from Natchi­toches, LA, and that is a spe­cial city that keeps up with facts. I’m Cad­do Indi­an, French, African, and a lit­tle porteguese. But to the world I’m just anoth­er lit­tle black girl.

FreeTea

And what of those of us that DO have doc­u­men­ta­tion and genet­ic tests to show NA ances­try? How much do we have to have to claim it? What if we don’t know what tribe it’s from and/or we weren’t raised in the cul­ture?

I just don’t under­stand why any White per­son can say “Oh yes, I’m part Irish,” with­out any one ques­tion­ing the claim, but any time a Black per­son lays claim to a non-Black line of her­itage, we need papers, cer­tifi­cates, and pho­tos to show that it’s real. Why can’t we be Black but also know that we’re Oth­er?

shantel

White peo­ple go through the same prob­lem when they claim their native blood in this day and age …get mocked and made to look like fools. The hypoc­ra­cy com­ing from all sides is ridicu­lous there are plen­ty euro natives and afro natives. Peo­ple do have the paper work to prove it to. My best friends father is 100% native lin­eage on both sides and she is half and has a peo­ple giv­ing her hell all the time about it. …her moth­er is white and Chi­nese.

euda

I real­ize this is an old com­ment but it is inter­est­ing to me…perhaps the white per­son claim­ing to be “part Irish” is not ask­ing for any­thing — is it pos­si­ble that the doc­u­men­ta­tion required is because the USA give mon­e­tary “apolo­gies” to NA?

Kupkake

This is so true. My Grand­moth­er (my mother’s mom) is a Full bred Chero­kee, and so was her moth­er. Her Father was a Black Amer­i­can. My Grand­fa­ther ( Mother’s dad) was a Black/NATIVE Amer­i­can.

MY FATHER(mom) was Native.. not sure what tribe but his father was a Black Eng­lish­man. So what am I then Amer­i­ca.

Like it was men­tioned White peo­ple say they have Mul­ti­ple races and it’s no question..Not fair. They hate for us to be proud of our Her­itage. I love me some me!! I’m very proud of my Cul­tur­al Back­ground!
Be Bless

Eddie Kopitzke

It comes down to mon­ey. First Nation peo­ples get a mul­ti­tude of ben­e­fits for basi­cal­ly giv­ing up their right to sue the gov­ern­ment. It’s more or less a way of mak­ing sure that the so-called unde­serv­ing don’t get said ben­e­fits. That’s real­ly the long and short of it.

Cosita
I appre­ci­ate the his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion and the pho­tos. How­ev­er, I think the title of ‘you prob­a­bly don’t have indi­an in your fam­i­ly’ to sug­gests that we black peo­ple are all either igno­rant of or just guess­ing at our native ances­try. I think you should have not­ed that the type of DNA test Dr. Gates uses will only look at your direct mater­nal or pater­nal line depend­ing on if you are male or female. In one episode I watched he couldn’t tell his black woman guest what African tribe she was con­nect­ed to because she had a direct link to a… Read more »
Valk

I total­ly agree with you . I ceased from watch­ing Dr. Gates many moons ago.

GumboGodess

Cad­do Indi­an here.

Cosita

Thanks BGLH. Oth­er than that one issue I thought it was a good arti­cle.

Camille

I have won­dered how they test for blood from tribes who are sup­pos­ed­ly extinct. Do they even both­er hav­ing it on file?

Cosita
They don’t have DNA on all groups of peo­ple. For one thing not all groups will agree to sub­mit it and sec­ond­ly places like the US which is a melt­ing pot it would be hard to find peo­ple who are not so genet­i­cal­ly mixed that they can iso­late what that NA gene is. For exam­ple if they want­ed to trace your African DNA they would com­pare it to peo­ple liv­ing in dif areas of Africa now.They can’t com­pare to dead peo­ple. If they don’t know what gene they are look­ing at I think they make it up. Every­one freak­ing knows… Read more »
Dee wat

I have to com­plete­ly agree! I do not under­stand this move­ment to try and dis­cred­it those who have Native ances­try. The sto­ry is much more com­pli­cat­ed then pre­sent­ed here. Lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of Natives were labeled Black by the stroke of a pen. Some as a sur­vival tech­nique, an oth­ers by state decree. But claim­ing Native her­itage should not be cause for ridicule. The his­to­ry of Africans and Natives actu­al­ly show more alliances against Euros then not. But Mr. Gates seems to have over­looked that his­to­ry com­plete­ly.

Dee Hines
It’s sad how much his­to­ry we’ve been denied. If peo­ple read usurps from some of the first jour­nals of ”the new world” they would know that there were black inhab­i­tants along with natives that inter­mar­ried. But it’s odd that most peo­ple aren’t taught that most Native tribes also had slaves and also raped or had black slaves as mis­tress­es. I read an old let­ter to one native man, demand­ing that he stop pro­duc­ing chil­dren with his black slave and that if any more were born he would be fined and all of his cur­rent chil­dren would loose their sta­tus as… Read more »
GumboGodess

That’s how it goes.

LBell

Not only do most black Amer­i­cans claim­ing Native ances­try not have it, most white Amer­i­cans claim­ing Native ances­try don’t have it either. Still wait­ing for Skip Gates to do a show on THAT…

firegirl05

This is so true. As a mat­ter of fact there was a doc­u­men­tary dis­cussing how whites paid …yes paid their way on the Dawes to have land. So they basi­cal­ly paid their way to be wrote down in the book as a native amer­i­can. I hon­est­ly think that native amer­i­can were cop­per toned(red skin).…not what we see today.

Tiffany Williams

The whites are called five dol­lar Indi­ans because Native Amer­i­cans had a lot of ben­e­fits whites want­ed so they paid a white per­son in charge of han­dling Native Amer­i­can ben­e­fits five dol­lars and they were sud­den­ly Native Amer­i­cans.

Spirit

White peo­ple are the absolute worst about claim­ing “my grand­ma was half chero­kee” and nobody ques­tion­ing it. Prime exam­ple: the cur­rent chief of the Chero­kee nation. He’s white. 1/32 Chero­kee only. How­ev­er they kick out black ppl with way more chero­kee blood. This is what irks me about the issue. I have DNA, I have fam­i­ly records- even ances­tors on the Dawes but I don’t claim it because quite frankly they have shown an open hos­til­i­ty to black while embrac­ing and cel­e­brat­ing whites with even a drool on NDN blood.

Sharon Simmons

Was raised think­ing I had Native Amer­i­can ances­try, so I did DNA test­ing and I learned I was 67% Sub-saha­ran African and 33% Euro­pean- no Native Amer­i­can.

My fam­i­ly mem­bers have high-cheek bones…but so do many African tribes.

Gates has writ­ten an arti­cle about peo­ple claim­ing Native Amer­i­can ances­try. Most peo­ple do not and the ones who do have about 12%.

LBell

Like a lot of folks on my father’s side, I have dark skin, kinky hair, high cheek­bones, and a rel­a­tive­ly small and straight nose. For years I’ve heard strangers say about the last two “that’s the Indi­an in you.” Late­ly I’ve respond­ed with, “How do you know that’s not the AFRICAN in me?” There’s more DNA diver­si­ty in Africa alone than there is in all the oth­er con­ti­nents combined…which makes sense when you con­sid­er where humans came from.

Camille

I also think a lot of white peo­ple claim native ances­try to cover/explain small amounts of black blood and the fea­tures that go with it. I think there was a LOT more pass­ing than peo­ple think.

Lolalao

Total­ly!!!

Alexious Johnson

Was think­ing the very same thing!!!

cnucmecnu

Most blacks claim­ing native Amer­i­can ances­to­ry are ashamed to admit their white ances­to­ry. Most whites claim­ing native Amer­i­can ances­to­ry are look­ing to cash in on affir­ma­tive action and minor­i­ty sta­tus for gov­ern­ment loans to start a busi­ness.

Kupkake

True

Camille
I don’t like the tone of this arti­cle and oth­ers like it either (and there are a LOT of them). There is ALREADY enough out there try­ing to dis­cour­age black/native mix­es from acknowl­edg­ing all their ances­tors, and a lot of it is for mon­e­tary rea­sons. I find it sad that when peo­ple google Black Native Amer­i­can or Black Indi­an, they are just as like­ly to find this type of arti­cle as an infor­ma­tive one. It almost seems like some sort of cam­paign! Say­ing that you per­son­al­ly don’t have Native blood is MUCH dif­fer­ent than try­ing to tell oth­er peo­ple what… Read more »
B. Lee

True, but I don’t think all of the black natives were “mixed”.

GumboGodess

Cad­do here.

Cosita
ITA We shouldn’t be telling peo­ple what they are as if they can’t know their her­itage. I also self iden­ti­fy as black so no dis­tanc­ing here. 9 times out of 10 if the sub­ject of me being part native amer­i­can comes up it’s because some­one asked me about it based on my fea­tures. Or it’s because they see a pho­to of my great grand­moth­er who looks straight native. My great grand­moth­er said out of her mouth her father was half white half native. Her mom had white father and had a mom who was black and native. Btw I have… Read more »
Alexious Johnson

I have seen your pro­file pic on var­i­ous oth­er arti­cles and I knew pre­cise­ly who_what you were!!! Not some­thing I con­scious­ly look for but my mind subconsiously(sp) reg­is­ters famil­iar faces!! Every­one has the right to he proud of who the are…it does­nt mean dis­tanc­ing your­self from African roots, to me it means dis­tanc­ing your­self from the one drop rule meant to enslave those with even the slight­est African ances­try and deny­ing us the recog­ni­tion of our entire being…

Camille
I know what you mean. My par­ents are both from mixed fam­i­lies (my dad’s side is Louisiana cre­ole) and I’m very famil­iar with the look of both those groups and sim­i­lar ones. I’m thank­ful that I nev­er had any con­flict about what I am because my moth­er always told us that we were black and indi­an. I tend to go by black the most because I live in Texas and most peo­ple who aren’t from North Car­oli­na don’t know what a Lum­bee Indi­an is. The com­mon prac­tice of Indi­an men pur­chas­ing the free­dom of their black wives and chil­dren goes against… Read more »
Chelsz

I agree.

EM

Exact­ly!

LittleBabyBug Jones
i gath­ered that the arti­cle is in ref­er­ence to black peo­ple who claim that they have native some­where back up in their fam­i­ly tree. these are usu­al­ly peo­ple who are ref­er­enc­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber from slav­ery, whose name they don’t know; they usu­al­ly don’t know the tribe or have pic­tures of the per­son- it’s sim­ply from hearsay. when the vast major­i­ty of black peo­ple believe they have native amer­i­can in their ances­try from about 4–6 gen­er­a­tions ago, that’s when i become skep­ti­cal. but that’s what this arti­cle is about, not about peo­ple like your­self who are liv­ing with and sur­round­ed… Read more »
Ty-Rhoanda
I see what you are say­ing, but I have to dis­agree. BOTH of my great-grand par­ents (pater­nal) are Sik­si­ka natives born in Mon­tana. They moved to Ohio and had my grand­moth­er, whom had my father and his sib­lings. I was born and raised in Michi­gan. You see? A lot of us “east coast­ers” claim our ances­try by right of blood­lines. Not by sim­ply wish­ing to be some­thing that we are not. I am black, but I am also Sik­si­ka or what some would call “BLACKFOOT”! Just like my grand­moth­er, I nev­er cared for trib­al ben­e­fits. We only cared to keep… Read more »
Alexious Johnson

I under­stand what you are say­ing, and you are right…but part of my issue is the fact that in a gen­er­a­tion or so, I am going g to be some­one grand­ma and pos­si­bly great grand­ma, and in claim­ing g their ances­try they may be faced with sim­i­lar atti­tudes…

bri
bglh, and most pub­lic His­to­ri­ans, when are y’all going to learn that five civ­i­lized tribes=/= all the tribes that peo­ple claim ances­try from. Also, you do real­ize that very FEW Native tribes have ever giv­en their DNA for these tests right? So just because a test says no, doesn’t mean their fam­i­ly lied about native ances­try, it could sim­ply mean they do not have any DNA sam­ples avail­able for the native tribe they do descend from. I don’t under­stand why peo­ple like gates will make such a state­ment when he can only base it on those that have been test­ed… Read more »
jazzythoughts
It seems to me in my research that the truth is yet to be rec­og­nized although it’s not due to lack of pub­lic record doc­u­ments and pho­tos-many draw­ings have been white washed and plen­ty of pic­tures show black natives in north and south of the Amer­i­c­as. These peo­ple were killed or enslaved so that his­to­ry would not asso­ciate it seems any new incom­ing “cargo/stock” with the lands in ques­tion. Mar­ry­ing into as well as the breed­ing out much like what was used in Brazil was used for the remain­ing natives with deeds to their land. This “land” issue was the most… Read more »
jazzythoughts
It seems to me in my research that the truth is yet to be rec­og­nized although it’s not due to lack of pub­lic record doc­u­ments and pho­tos-many draw­ings have been white washed and plen­ty of pic­tures show black natives in north and south of the Amer­i­c­as. These peo­ple were killed or enslaved so that his­to­ry would not asso­ciate it seems any new incom­ing “cargo/stock” with the lands in ques­tion. Mar­ry­ing into as well as the breed­ing out much like what was used in Brazil was used for the remain­ing natives with deeds to their land. This “land” issue was the most… Read more »
TWA4now

As a child, we use to “brag” about hav­ing Chero­kee in our fam­i­lies. As time went on, I actu­al­ly knew very lit­tle about it. I did know in 2007 they did “some­thing” to elim­i­nate blacks from the trib­al ros­ter. Thank you for a very enlight­en­ing arti­cle!

sanjidude

Accord­ing to my old­er south­ern rel­a­tives, many wavy haired, light skinned blacks claimed they were part Native Amer­i­can rather than admit their fam­i­ly mem­bers were tak­en advan­tage of by white males in their com­mu­ni­ties in the ear­ly pre Civ­il Rights era. I believe them.

water7apple

Great (and need­ed) arti­cle!

Lullaby___Interrupted
Lullaby___Interrupted
This reminds me of being in ele­men­tary school in the south and hav­ing a teacher say that native Amer­i­cans were extinct. Even though one had got­tene ready for school that morn­ing.… She also came to school withe the next day to have a con­ver­sa­tion with said teacher.…this arti­cle seems to be writ­ten from the same mind set, as if native Amer­i­cans no longer exist…they do just more so west of the Rock­ies, which leads me to my next ques­tion; what is a “typ­i­cal African-Amer­i­can??? Does that mean indi­vid­u­als who reside along the east coast and south­ern states and have been… Read more »
wpDiscuz