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“In 1812 it was argued that: ‘the place is now inhabited by as many black men as Indians… the Indian women have many of them married black men, and a majority probably, of the inhabitants are blacks or have black-blood in them… the real Indians [are few].’ The reserve was divided (allotted) in 1813 and by 1832 whites had acquired most of it.”

Africans and Native Americans: The language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples

It’s become a fatigued joke, one that brings attention to the mass miscegenation on which this country was founded. Or it could just be one of those sayings that people mindlessly repeat because it’s fashionable. You know, because the herd mentality doesn’t exist at all.

“Girl, that’s just Indian in my family.”

The “Indian in my family” is a running gag that tends to expose not only a need for people to know more about their past, but another example of the legacy of European colonialization. Many African-American women love to toss this term around without awareness of any actual Cherokee or Macushi legacy in their family bloodline.

But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Actually, Black and Native Americans have a quite complex history. Procreative activities existed between these two races in the 17th and 18th centuries. These activities also were duplicated among Blacks and Whites. Of course, you rarely hear a Black person credit her mane to her Irish roots with the same excitement of one crediting her Seneca sisters.

Digging into the family tree to explain a current phenotype is all good. It should be encouraged. Long before new European settlers brought African slaves to the Americas, African and Native American copulation was firmly established. Before the Europeans arrived, the Moors had reached the shores of the American continent as traders and businessmen.

This was exacerbated by the Middle Passage. According to Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples, by Jack Forbes, indigenous peoples of America shared quarters with African slaves, which led to inter-mating.

Before the U.S. gained independence from Great Britain, British colonies in the South requested that the Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, and other tribes, own slaves. These tribes took in many escaped slaves and remained tight-lipped when slave owners came calling.

South Carolina law in the 18th century stated that the “carrying of Negroes among the Indians has all along been thought detrimental, as in intimacy ought to be avoided.” Despite these threats and any associated stigmas, Native Americans formed bonds with not only escaped slaves, but free Africans.

Native American women married African men when the number of men in their own communities was decimated by war or natural disaster. Some Native Americans listed themselves as “Negro” or “mixed” in order to retain ownership of their land because of the land ownership laws created by European settlers.

There’s a delicate connection between Native American and African ancestry. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to see any awareness being drummed up by American Blacks about the plight of the Native Americans. Is this an accepted fate or neglect?

Either way, “I got that Indian in my blood” is no longer a sufficient explanation of any variation in the physical appearance. A certain point comes when etymology has to supplant simple clichés to get to the heart of the matter. If indigenous families that we claim wholeheartedly comprise one percent of the U.S. population, then at what point do we begin to critically examine the plight of these families?

A cursory glance through world history annals reveals a habit of colonizers wiping out and displacing native cultures. American history is no exception, and the Trail of Tears has been chronicled as a sore spot in Andrew Jackson’s tenure. Today, movies and television have depicted “Indians” as having certain facial features of high cheekbones and weathered skin, but in reality their features exist in many forms.

When the Census report came in 1790, some Native Americans refused to sign and register with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Some refused to allow themselves to be “removed” to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma during the 1800s. As a result, many of their descendants grew up in urban environments instead of on reservations.

Think Jimi Hendrix. Tina Turner. Andre 3000. James Brown. And on and on.

Remnants of Blackfoots, Choctaws, Lenapes, Matinecocks, Mohawks and Munsees are in our metropolitan areas under the classification of being African-American. Claiming Indian in the blood is not incorrect, but to just do so without vetting the intricate nature of the relationship is a disservice. There’s a richness of historical stock and unity that gets lost under such banalities.

Claim it. Love it. Embrace it. Just know it’s more than physical features. It’s an essential aspect of American culture.

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  • We have always had a romantic impression about NAs, considering that many of them owned slaves just like the European-Americans did.

    In any case, our propensity to claim NA blood stems from a desire to think of ourselves as less black. In many cases, it is an expression of self hatred

    • Alexandra

      “In any case, our propensity to claim NA blood stems from a desire to think of ourselves as less black. In many cases, it is an expression of self hatred”

      I thought the author would address that; it would’ve made the article more complete. But it was great anyway.
      I hardly ever hear of stories about relations of Africans and Indigenous people in the US. Lots of mixing went on and the Europeans didnt care, as long as non-whites didnt ‘pollute’ their race.

    • Kam

      To tie in to both of your comments, the only slave owning tribes (out of 550 North American Indian Nations) were the nations of the the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. However their practice of slavery ranged from being less brutal than whites all the way to where “slaves” were actually treated as equal members of society and were allowed to hold high positions. Other tribes just simply had a high rate of intermarriage. Most of this happened in the South and the South east and many people can in fact trace their heritage like the Freedmen.

      However there is another twist, in that many Blacks in the Civilized Tribes did NOT mix, however they were still considered members of that nation. Thus a person could have no Indian ancestry at all and still be considered Choctaw or Creek for example. That changed when the federal government started tying in Indian “blood” to membership. So if someone is saying my g-g-g grandmother was Cherokee, he/she could be right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she was Indian. A DNA test can only tell you if a person was a biological descendant of an Indian tribe, but can’t tell you if that person was a member of the tribe in a political/citizenship sense.

      So perhaps it is less self hatred and just family stories that are passed down that are manipulated toward certain objectives at times. If it was pure self hatred I would expect to see more of these people denying their blackness and trying to assimilate into their respective Indian nations.

    • S.

      You know what?

      I am sick and tired of people rolling their eyes at Black Americans who acknowledge their Indian heritage!

      Being African Americans sucks in that your too ‘mixed’ to embrace your African-ness and your ‘too African’ to consider yourself “Mixed race”! FRUSTRATING!

      “In any case, our propensity to claim NA blood stems from a desire to think of ourselves as less black. In many cases, it is an expression of self hatred”


      “claim NA blood”?

      Are you serious? How can you get mad a group of people for pointing out something that is true about themselves? Many African Americans DO have Native American bloodlines and we have a tendency to point it out because it comes as a *shock*, even to us! Why would someone lie about that? Is one suppose to call their elders, who told them about their ancestry, liars???

      “We have always had a romantic impression about NAs”

      And by “we” I hope your referring to White and Black Americans alike. Whites have a tendency to portray Indians a benevolent and magical–the ones who helped the White men tame the land– while Blacks have a tendency to think of Indians as our ‘great distant ancestors and allies’ while not even knowing that NAs still exist!

      I swear, some Black people are SO sensitive as to how other Blacks identify themselves. We need to get over that! We all don’t have the same blood line–hell, it could turn out that some of us aren’t even mixed with the same African, European and/or NA ethnicities.

      SO WHAT if a Black person wants to embrace all of their ethnic origins and not just being African. Getting mad that a Black person knows exactly what Indian tribe they come from and not what African tribe is just plain retarded!

      And in regards to hair, sometimes it IS the Indian in the family!

    • Pamela Kennedy

      I wish I could “like” this more than once!! “Is one supposed to call their elders….liars???” When I get to that point in the conversation, I usually just threaten to scalp the person and remove all doubt. Then they sometimes shut up…at least temporarily.

    • Pamela Kennedy

      I have to remember that you people are talking about “black” looking people whom the Black community wants to claim as “theirs,” insisting that we are Choctaw and Eskimo and not Black because our parents TOLD US THAT. So this whole thing is to justify that people are basically calling darkskinned Choctaws, LIARS. This article came up when I googled “why does everyone hate Choctaws.” Because when I tell people I’m Choctaw, they either CORRECT me (complete strangers, mind you) tell me I’m lying, or tell me I should take a DNA test to, get this, imply that my parents were liars. Yeah, right. As they say around here, “them’s fightin’ words.” It was small consolation to see that the admissions counselor at Dartmouth, a dark-skinned Narangasset, got treated like this too. Not just Choctaws. All Indian tribes who hail from parts of the world where the climate is hotter like Central and South America, where people’s skin is naturally darker, being treated like “African American” who “must be lying if they say they’re not and they’re American Indian instead.”

  • EmpressDivine

    Cool article. I think Black Bot had a point tho. Also, I don’t think European men minded mixing as much as long as you didn’t ask them to be responsible for the offspring.

    Here’s a site that talks about Black Indians and non-white racial cooperation and mixing:

  • ******************************************************************************************************************
    Article: “Girl, that’s just Indian in my family. …Many African-American women love to toss this term around without awareness of any actual Cherokee or Macushi legacy in their family bloodline.”

    Closer to the truth is a lot of AAs that claim to have Native American blood are mainly members of the Moneg tribe…mo’ negro than anything else!

    Several credible (and independent) DNA studies have shown very few African Americans have Native American DNA. For the few that do, the amount is small to negligible and an example of this was revealed on Skip Gates’ African American Lives with Quincy Jones. Jones’ family had also peddled the line about having “Indian” ancestors yet his DNA was tested and found to have no native blood at all.

    “Our results are not inconsistent with previous studies, such as those of Parra et al. (1998) and Smith et al. (2004), who estimated the Native American ancestry of African American populations at 1%–2%. …Our results also are in agreement with other studies showing ~20% European admixture among African Americans, with somewhat higher contributions of European ancestry in northern or western U.S. populations (Chakraborty et al. 1986; Parra et al. 1998; McKeigue et al. 2000; Pfaff et al. 2001; Hoggart et al.” American Society of Human Genetics

    Article: “A cursory glance through world history annals reveals a habit of colonizers wiping out and displacing native cultures.”

    About 10 years ago my mother and grandmother participated in a study analyzing mitochondria (passed along to all future generations of female offspring and remains intact forever) DNA at the University of PR in Mayagüez. Though erroneous Euro-centric history had long forwarded the lie that all AmerInds had been killed off or “wiped out” back in the day, islanders never believed this and my maternal great-grandmother and her family always knew they were (and looked visibly) Taíno. Eventually, the study revealed the overwhelming majority on the island (70%) to have AmerInd blood, so the history books have to be rewritten on this one!

    Article: “…one would be hard-pressed to see any awareness being drummed up by American Blacks about the plight of the Native Americans. ..If indigenous families that we claim wholeheartedly comprise one percent of the U.S. population, then at what point do we begin to critically examine the plight of these families?

    “The plight” of Native Americans in the US is not all that great (poverty, suicide, unemployment, alcoholism etc.). A couple of times on this very website I’ve attempted to highlight their “plight” throughout Latin America and the fact that, in various places, it is the indígena that are suffering badly, discriminated against etc. However, these things and their struggles are hardly ever acknowledged and rarely get a voice in certain venues because *some* are pathologically self-centered and heavily invested in (as if they’ve no identity without it), and determined to hold on to, the title of ‘Most Oppressed and Biggest Victim In The World and Of All Times’.

    @The Black Bot: There were also blacks that owned slaves.

    • S.

      I knew someone would bring up Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s African American Lives segment…

      “Critics suggested the program did not fully acknowledge or inform guests that not all ancestry may show up in the tests. The genetic tests done on direct paternal or maternal line evaluate only a few ancestors among many, which can result in distortion. Ancestral information markers (AIM) must also be done. In other words, the person tested may show a maternal ancestry in MtDNA. Unless other ancestry is evaluated, they may miss a paternal line’s connection to Europe. This gives a false impression that the person has little heritage of another ethnic group. In addition AIM markers are not as clearly defined as suggested, and depend on data still being accumulated. In addition, not all Native Americans have been tested, so they do not know for sure that Native Americans only have the genetic markers they have identified, even when their maternal or paternal bloodline does not include a non-Native American”

      Whether or not AAs truly have NA ancestry is beside the whole point. Many have been told by elders (whom they respect and trust greatly) about our ancestry. Lets not pretend that we’ve always DNA tests available to us ready to set the record straight

      Stating that our heritage includes NA is not (always) done out of self-hatred is my main point. I wish Black people would stop jumping to that conclusion and getting angry with every Black person who acknowledges it as if it’s the 8th deadly sin!

    • My quote was not from Gates’ program; it was from the American Society of Human Genetics and referenced several credible and independent DNA studies that have shown very few African Americans have Native American DNA and, for the few that do, the amount is small to negligible.

      Like it, or don’t like it, but it is what it is…

    • S.

      I never made any to your “American Society…” quote. I was referring to your African American Lives reference. Either way, statistics is not what’s being debated here

  • For years, my uncle (dad’s brother) continued to stress that my family had a large amount of Native American ancestry because of the one known NA man that may have had ties to our family history. Finally after watching Henry Louis Gate’s documentary on discovering your family history and genealogy, African American Lives Part I and II, my father decided to get a test to see what ethnicities are included in his matriarchal bloodline. He discovered that his makeup was 74% African, 24% European, and less than 1% NA. African Americans and Native Americans didn’t mix as much as certain people automatically assume and as much as “I got Indian in my family” gets tossed around, it’s important that individuals learn as much about their REAL family history and genealogy as possible. Even within the documentary, actor Don Cheadle discovered that his family were slaves of the Chickasaw Nation following the end of slavery and within the film, they explain that his family did not have any Native American ancestry, which I found extremely interesting.

    • Very insightful post! And Erin I agree, it is up to the individual to take interest and investigate what their background is. Educating ourselves is the first step as the writer pointed out!

  • Brit

    I like, I like. There is, as previously pointed out, a mindless fascination with Native Americans among Black quarters. I say mindless because almost no one who I’ve heard utter that term (“Indian in my family”) can tell me much more outside of that. I didn’t know much about the mating rituals among Blacks-NAs either before this article.

    Bottom line, the extent of our knowledge about our genealogy is post-slavery. We know we have European blood, but little else. Skip Gates’ DNA research has piqued the common interest in a few to explore our history, but still not enough IMO. We need to know more about our past before we go around claiming certain aspects of it. To improve our lot, a consciousness about these things has to be raised.

    Great read.