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BIPOC History 101 Africans and Natives

PT 1 of a 10 part Blog series

Historical Alliances between Africans and Native Americans and the dichotomy therein.

Historically European enslavers in America feared an Indian/African alliance. The first slave rebellion occurred in Hispaniola in 1522, while the first on future United States soil (North Carolina) occurred in 1526. Both rebellions were organized and executed by coalitions of Africans and Indians.Europeans feared communities of escaped Africans, known as Maroons or quilombos in frontier areas. The largest of these communities, the "Republic of Palmares," originated in the 1600s, and at its peak had a population of approximately 11,000. This community, composed primarily of Africans but including Indians, contained three villages, spiritual gather places, shops, and operated under its own legal system. Its army repelled European military attacks until 1694.

White reaction to such communities was extreme despite their limited numbers. Europeans sought to keep the two peoples separated and, if possible, mutually hostile. They taught Africans to fight Natives and bribed Indians to hunt escaped Africans, promising lucrative rewards. Natives who captured escaped Africans received 35 deerskins in Virginia or three blankets and a musket in the Carolina's. Further sowing division, Whites introduced African slavery into the Five Civilized Nations in the United States. The Intersectionality between Africans and Natives is further born out in Joseph Louis Cook, who fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.

The U. S. government ended slavery among Indians by 1776. From pre-Revolutionary times to the American Civil War, the government negotiated treaties with Indian tribes that included promises by the Indians to return escaped slaves. However, while harboring many slaves, they returned none. The most powerful African-Native alliance linked escaped Blacks who had settled in Florida, and Seminoles (a word that means "runaway"), who were fleeing the Creek federation. They fought whites for years to preserve their heritage, Fort Okeechobee is an example. The Africans taught the Natives rice cultivation, and the groups formed an agricultural and military alliance.

In 1816, a U. S. soldier reported that prosperous plantations existed for fifty miles along the banks of the Apalachicola River. The African-Seminole forces repeatedly repelled U. S. slaveholders' posses and the U. S. Army. The Second Seminole War resulted in 1,600 dead and cost over $40 million. The purchase of Florida from Spain was the U. S. government's attempt to eliminate it as a refuge for runaways. Before the American Civil War, many Native American nations on the eastern seaboard of the United States became biracial communities.

Blacks were victims in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. By 1860, the Five Civilized Nations in the Indian Territory consisted of 18 percent Africans. The Seminoles appointed six Black Seminoles members of its governing council. After the American Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers, six regiments of Black U. S. Army troops, helped to end Native resistance to U. S. control after the War. The most significant African-Native American was John Horse, a Black Seminole Chief who was a master marksman and diplomat in Florida and Oklahoma and by the time of the American Civil War, the Black Seminole Chief in Mexico and Texas.

Horse negotiated a treaty with the U. S. government in 1870. On July 4th of that year, when his Seminole nation crossed into Texas, it was a historic moment: an African people had arrived together as a nation on this soil, under the command of their ruling monarch, Chief John Horse.

Today, many African Americans can trace their ancestry in part to an Native American tribe but sadly there is still division as many natives hoping for the opportunity for acceptance by the dominant society even after all the history of betrayal are quick to deny black tribe members their legacy by blood and more likely to take direction from the offspring of 5 dollar Indians, (Whites whose ancestors paid the Dawes commission $5 dollars to be listed as natives in order to get social welfare benefits).The Cherokee Nation recently stripped citizenship from a majority of African-Americans who descended from slaves of wealthy Cherokee Indians before the Civil War almost all of whom were Cherokee by blood not paperwork! While it is well-known history that slavery was a common practice in the Deep South before the Civil War, less well known is the fact that it wasn't just white families that were slave owners.

Some well-to-do Native Americans also owned slaves. In fact, the late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller wrote in her autobiography that, quote, "The truth is that the practice of slavery will forever cast a shadow on the great Cherokee Nation," unquote. It was these Black people who walked side by side for hundreds of miles silently with the Five so-called civilized tribes on the “Trail of Tears” They ate out of the same pot, hunted and fought tribal wars side by side. So black natives see this as a spiritual betrayal.


n April 2000, Dartmouth College hosted the "Eating Out of the Same Pot" Black Indian Conference devoted to the subject of Indian/Black relations.' During the conference, a eumelanin dominant Black skinned woman who identified herself as Indian became involved in a verbal altercation with a so-called “Indian” man over the presence of slaves within the Cherokee Nation.' In the heat of the argument, the woman asked why she, a "nappy-headed" Indian, and others similarly situated were often mistreated by other Native Americans.' The answer is clear to any natives whose complexions are darker than a paper bag those who can still want to assimilate into the dominant society! Not fully understanding how that plan decimated the tribes in the first place! There are two groups of women in the United States who when attacked, raped and murdered are blamed for their own deaths; Black women and Native women.

The cost of seeking assimilation simply put is to learn to hate that within you that makes you different! Whether it be the genetics, the men as progenitors or those who carry the next generation e.g the women. Males show their self hatred by lack of empathy for their women and lack of desire to protect them from abuse or harm even becoming the abuser themselves. The Michigan Journal of Race and Law reported that even…”Seminole Freedmen nearly lost the privileges they have always enjoyed.(Note: the term "Freedmen" has historically been used to refer to any non-slave Blacks) In 2000, the Seminole Nation government decided to change the Tribe's constitution so that Freedmen would no longer be recognized by the Seminole General Council." The new requirement that tribal members have at least one-eighth Seminole Indian blood effectively expelled most Freedmen from the Nation, as many were unable to show that they possessed the requisite amount of Indian blood. Although this procedure was deemed invalid in Seminole Nation v. Norton, it exemplifies the lengths to which some Indian tribes have gone to divest Freedmen of tribal citizenship


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