Published on December 3, 2012 by Amy
Black Indians is a term generally used to describe people who have significant traces of both African and Native American ancestry and/or African Americans who have lived for a long time with Native Americans.
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African slaves brought to the United States, and their descendants, have had a history of cultural exchange, and notably intermarriage, with the Native peoples they encountered and their descendants (largely in the American South). This cultural mixing is also believed to be the reason why certain phenotypes common within Native peoples also occur in the African American population.
Native American groups have had both positive and strained relationships with the Africans and African Americans they encountered. Some groups were more accepting of Africans than others and welcomed them as full members of their respective cultures and communities. Some Native Americans, especially as they became more assimilated into the dominant American culture (aided in large part by White intermarriage with Natives), came to treat African Americans with contempt, as did much of the White population. There were disagreements among Native peoples concerning the role of African people in their communities; some tribal factions (notably the Keetoowah Society of the Cherokee) were opposed to slavery while others were in support of it; this was part of a wider split among Native people who were either for or against assimilation into the increasingly dominant White American culture of the early-to-mid 19th century.
Some African Americans participated in warfare against Native Americans, especially in the Western frontier states as members of military units such as the Buffalo Soldiers. Also, many Native Americans and African-descended people fought alongside one another in armed struggles of resistance against U.S. expansion into Native territories, as well as resistance against slavery and racism.
There are efforts currently underway to promote greater cooperation and understanding among both modern African American and Native American tribal groups. Some intermarriage still occurs between these groups; some African Americans who descend from or who identify as Black Indians identify strongly with the Native cultural traditions that they were raised with.
The earliest recorded example of African slaves escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by American Indians occurred as far back as 1526. In June of that year, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in what is now eastern South Carolina. The Spanish settlement was named San Miquel de Guadalupe. Amongst the settlement were 100 enslaved Africans. In 1526, the first African slaves fled the colony and were taken in by the local IndiansMuslims in American History : A Forgotten Legacy by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks.
In 1622 the European colony of Jamestown was overrun by Native Americans. The African slaves did not share the same fate as the Europeans who were killed, but where instead taken and integrated into the Native American communities.
Several colonial advertisements made direct reference to the integration of African Americans into the Native American communities. For example …ran off with his Indian wife… had kin among the Indians…part Indian and speaks their language good. Black Indians: a Hidden Heritage. by William Loren Katz, New York, N.Y. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997.
In South Carolina, colonists became so concerned about the possible threat posed by the mixed African and Indian population that was arising as runaway Africans escapted to the Indians that they passed a new law in 1725. This law stipulated a fine of 200 pounds on anyone who even brought a slave to the frontier regions of the colony. In 1751 the colony of South Carolina found it necessary to issue another law, warning that having Africans in proximity to Indians was deemed detrimental to the security of the colony.
In 1726 the British governor of colonial New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois Indians to return all runaway slaves who had joined up with them. This same promise was extracted from the Huron Indians in 1764 and from the Delaware Indians in 1765. Despite their promises, no esacaped slaves were ever returned by these tribes, who continued to provide a safe and secure home for escaped slaves.
An 1835 census of the Cherokee showed that fully 10% were of African descent.
Slavery existed among Native Americans before it was introduced by the Europeans, although unlike the cattle slavery that was introduced. As the US Constitution and the laws of several states permitted slavery, Native Americans were legally allowed to continue owning slaves, including those brought from Africa by Europeans. The Cherokee tribe had the most members who held black slaves more than any Native American tribe. Template:Fact Records from the time period show several cases of brutal treatment of black slaves by mixed-blood assimilated Native American and intermarried white masters. Many African-descended people were held as slaves by members of Native groups, and some later recounted their lives for a WPA oral history project in the 1930s.
The Cherokee Nation, in a tribal Supreme Court ruling, reinstated about 1,000 African American members into their community in March 2006 after denying them membership in the mid-1970s. In response, there was a movement among many in the Cherokee Nation to force a referendum requiring Cherokee blood for citizenship in the tribe, which would effectively reverse the decision; the decision was indeed revoked in March 2007 amid much controversy. The argument is that the African American descendants hold no Native blood and therefore should not qualify for membership, and voting rights, in the Cherokee Nation.
An advocacy group representing the African American members claims that they are entitled to membership as they are indeed part Cherokee by blood, even though this is not immediately evident from the existing historical records (most notably the highly controversial Dawes Commission enrollment records, which tended to exclude those of African descent from being officially considered “Indian” for the purposes of tribal enrollment, even if they also clearly possessed Native ancestry and testified as such).
Before the Dawes Commission was established, “(t)he majority of the people with African blood living in the Cherokee nation prior to the Civil war lived there as slaves of Cherokee citizens or as free black non citizens, usually the descendants of Cherokee men and women with African blood…In 1863, the Cherokee government outlawed slavery through acts of the tribal council. In 1866, a treaty was signed with the US government in which the Cherokee government agreed to give citizenship to those people with African blood living in the Cherokee nations who were not already citizens. African Cherokee people participated as full citizens of that nation, holding office, voting, running businesses, etc.
After the Dawes Commission, those African American “freedmen” of the Cherokee and the other Five Civilized Tribes were often treated as harshly as any other African American. Degrees of continued acceptance into tribal structures were very low throughout the ensuing decades, with some tribes restricting membership to those with a documented Native ancestor on the Dawes Commission listings. Because of the apparent deliberate exclusion of most people with African blood on these “blood rolls”, it was difficult for Black Indians to establish official ties with those Native groups they genetically belonged to. Many of the freedmen feel that their continued exclusion from tribal membership, and the continued resistance to their efforts to gain recognition, is racially motivated.
Many modern African Americans have taken an interest in genealogy, and learning about the Native heritage within their individual families. Some African Americans have knowledge of Native ancestry through oral history resident in the family for generations, and try to confirm these anecdotal stories of Native ancestry through genealogical research and DNA testing. Some have petitioned to be members of Native American tribes and have met with some resistance.