MacArthur ‘Genius’ Tiya Miles does pioneering research on the relationship between Cherokee Indians and African-Americans. She speaks with host Michel Martin about shedding light on the unexplored history of Native American and African-American slavery in Michigan.
Download the free podcast or read the text transcript here.
“If I did not see light in the story, I could not tell it.”—
Our interview with the public historian who is unearthing the “complex interrelationships between African American and Cherokee people in pre-colonial America” is in the final stages of production. Look for our interview next week.
A groundbreaking exhibition exploring the shared history between African and Native Americans will open at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art on Feb. 12, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“Red/Black: Related Through History” includes an object-based exhibition on the subject, created by the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Smithsonian’s traveling panel show, “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.” When Africans were hunted, captured and removed from their villages, they were shackeled and forced to endure deplorable conditions on slave ships. When they arrived in North America, the interactions between people of African and Native American heritage created a combined story of conflict, cooperation, cultural growth, destruction and survival.
Since 2001, the Eiteljorg Museum has pioneered research on this subject and has drawn together important art and artifacts that demonstrate shared traditions found in history, genealogy, food, dress, music and occupation. Some American Indians held black slaves and others helped them escape. Sometimes there was intermarriage and a blending of traditions. Red/Black also explores issues of race and personal identity and the question: “Who am I and who gets to say so?”
James Nottage, chief curator at the Eiteljorg Museum will be our guest. Also joining our Indigenous circle is Radmilla Cody, traditional Navajo recording artist, Indie Award Winner, multiple Native American Award Nominee and international performer. She continues to maintain Navajo culture by recording music that children sing with pride and lyrics the Dine elders can be proud of. Radmilla is a biracial woman who continues to touch the lives and heal the hearts of her supporters. Miss Cody is of the Tla’a’schi’i’(Red-Orche-on-Cheek) clan. Her father is an African-Americans. Radmilla is the 46th Miss Navajo Nation from 1997-98. [Thu, February 10, 2011]
Explore the interwoven histories of African Americans and Native Americans with Red/Black: Related Through History. This groundbreaking exhibition is the result of a partnership between the Eiteljorg Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Red/Black includes the NMAI panel exhibit IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas and portrays the shared experiences of African and Native Americans as allies and adversaries, through images, artifacts, film and more. The exhibition also explores issues of race and identity and the question: “Who am I and who gets to say so?” Red/Black will be supported by performances, genealogy workshops, lectures and other dynamic programming.
The story of this largely ignored subject is told through personal narratives, paintings, baskets, pottery, photographs and other rare items gathered from private collections and museums across the country. See a basket made by a Cherokee-owned slave and hear drum music with shared African and Native rhythms. Learn how the exhibit narrative relates to you, what we know about the past and how people judge one another.
IndiVisible was produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition was made possible, in part, thanks to the generous support of the Akaloa Resource Foundation and the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Teachers! We have created a curriculum for third and fifth grade Indiana classrooms. to download the curriculum and to check out the other classroom resources created by the Eiteljorg Museum click here. Additionally, there will be a workshop just for you on Feb. 19. Click here for more info on the workshop.
Radmilla Cody knows the way home. It’s not an easy journey. The dirt roads are canoe-shaped and gouged by rain. They curl around hills and plunge into deep draws, finally bringing us to the family homestead near Grand Falls, on the Navajo Reservation.
Cody grew up on these lonesome sage flats. Her Navajo mother, Margaret, took off to Georgia shortly after giving birth to Cody at age 18. Her father, Troy Davis, was a 43-year-old black man who worked as a driver for a Ford dealer in Flagstaff. Her grandmother, Dorothy, raised her the Navajo way.
Out here, without running water or electricity, Cody learned rug-weaving and sheepherding, and began to sing – first to the sheep in the corrals, then, at the age of 7, in her grandmother’s Christian church. In junior high, at Leupp Boarding School, she decided to make a career of it, influenced by her Uncle Herman, a musician, and her grandfather, Archie Cody, a medicine man.
She needed all her Navajo skills to win the title of Miss Navajo in 1997, at age 22 – the reservation’s first bi-racial beauty queen. Then her life took a sharp downward turn. She became entangled in an abusive relationship with a drug dealer and ended up in federal prison.
Radmilla Cody’s crowning as Miss Navajo Nation in 1997 triggered an outcry and a conversation about what it means to be Native American. Now she’s featured in a museum exhibit showing the rarely told history of African-Native Americans.
Cynthia Gordy | February 22, 2011
Radmilla Cody’s crowning as Miss Navajo Nation in 1997 triggered an outcry and a conversation about what it means to be Native American. Now she’s featured in a museum exhibit showing the rarely told history of African-Native Americans.
In a 1920 edition of the Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson observed, “One of the longest unwritten chapters in the history of the United States is that treating of the relations of the Negroes and the Indians.”
"Red/Black: Related Through History," a new exhibit at Indianapolis’ Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, illuminates this rarely told story. Since the first arrival of enslaved Africans in North America, the relationships between African Americans and Native Americans have encompassed alliances and adversaries, as well as the indivisible blending of customs and culture.
"It’s not received a lot of attention because it’s not the dominant culture’s story, although it’s very important to the dominant culture’s bigger view of the past," says James Nottage, curator of the exhibit, which includes narratives of enslaved blacks who traveled the Trail of Tears with their Native owners; slaves who intermarried into Native tribes as an escape from bondage; and the largely African-featured members of the Shinnecock tribe of New York, as well as shared traditions in food, dress and music.
Radmilla Cody, 35, a Native American Music Award-winning singer and anti-do
mestic violence activist, is also featured in the exhibit. The daughter of a Navajo mother and an African-American father, Cody was raised by her grandmother in the Arizona Navajo community, initially speaking only the Navajo language. In 1997 she was crowned Miss Navajo Nation, sparking controversy from some members who refused to accept her.
As one disapproving letter to the editor of the Navajo Times put it, “Miss Cody’s appearance and physical characteristics are clearly black, and thus are representative of another race of people. It appears that those judges who selected Miss Cody have problems with their own sense of identity.”
1876: The Year When Things Went from Bad to Worse for Indians and Blacks
William Loren Katz | 1/23/12
As 2011 ended the U.S. Senate voted 92 to 6 for the McCain-Levin amendments [S 1867] to the National Defense Authorization Act. In the name of fighting terrorism, an astounding majority of Democratic and Republican leaders granted unlimited authority to the president [and future presidents] and the Army to arrest anyone, citizen or foreigner, here or abroad, and imprison them in Poland, Pennsylvania, or Guantanamo or anywhere else—indefinitely. Ninety-two of our Senators agreed the detained could be denied access to attorneys and loved ones, and “enhanced interrogation” rather than legal procedures would determine if they are guilty of terrorist plots. True, some rigid constitutionalists and libertarians from Senator Rand Paul on the right to the ACLU on the left have condemned S 1867 as a threat to our core beliefs and democratic system. But S 167 swept through on the 235th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.
Actually, we celebrated our founding document while undermining its principles in the centennial year of 1876, too. That year, what might be called a federal-state task force, which included a majority of members of Congress and the Supreme Court, and the president chose to override the Declaration’s bold assertion of liberty, the Constitution’s “more perfect Union” and Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” They did so to serve an unholy alliance of northern railroad builders and land speculators, unrepentant former slaveholders and assorted white supremacists—and their obedient lobbyists and media. What followed was a severe and simultaneous assault on the basic rights of Native Americans and African Americans that sent the country careening in a new direction.
Garifuna is an Arawakan language spoken in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua by the Garifuna people. Their language is primarily derived from Arawak and Carib, with English, French and Spanish to a lesser degree. One interesting feature of Garifuna is a vocabulary split between terms used only by men and terms used only by women. This does not however affect the entire vocabulary but when it does, the terms used by men generally come from Carib and those used by women come from Arawak.
New Orleans, with its extraordinarily complex cultural history, is the most important city in early jazz history. The Mardi Gras Indians are part of a large cultural phenomenon that - viewed in the historical crosscurrents of indigenous and African cultures in the Caribbean, the Atlantic Islands, and Latin America (and mumming traditions of Ireland and Europe)- bears a significant though controversial counter to surface presumptions about stereotyping Indians. During the pre-Lenten carnivals and other holidays, blacks and Creoles (which came to dignify Indian, French, or Spanish mixtures) in and around New Orleans gathered at the famous Congo Square, where Houmas, Chitimachas, and other tribes traditionally gathered for festivities. When New Orleans hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1884 and 1885, local blacks, Creoles, and Indians socialized with the Plains Indians in Buffalo Bill’s extravaganzas and observed their parades. This led to the first acknowledged Mardi Gras Indian group, the Creole Wild West of the late 1880s, organized by Becate Batiste who was part Choctaw.
Segregation laws preventing non-white revelers from participating in Mardi Gras compelled them to make their own festivities. According to Michael P. Smith, historically (and to a lesser degree today), local Indians were among these Mardi Gras Indians. With their tremendous headdresses, elaborate costumes consisting of painstakingly beaded and sequined patterns, parades, and names such as the Yellow Pocahantas and the Golden Star Hunters, members of today’s Mardi Gras “tribes” continue to take seriously identities that are steeped in the history of New Orleans secret societies. Each Mardi Gras tribe has its “big chief”, its “wild man” (a medicine-man figure), and scouts called “spy boys” (one of whom was Jelly Roll Morton as a youth), and all members feign and gesticulate in an “Indian” way. The Mardi Gras Indian subculture, unlike ordinary Indian mascot performers, is a handed-down survival strategy against colonialism and slavery. As in Trinidad during Carnival, to “masque”, or “mask”, in New Orleans means to dress up for a festive occasion, and by masking as Indians, the Mardi Gras revelers acknowledge Indians for their assistance during tough times. One Mardi Gras utterance, “kogma-feena”, has been traced by linguist Emanuel J. Drechsel to the Choctaw-based Mobilian trade jargon that developed among Gulf-region Natives as a form of language interchange. “To-way-pa-la-way,” a common refrain in their call and responses, is in the rhythm-and-blues song “Don’t You Know Yockomo,” recorded in 1958 by the New Orleans group Huey Smith & the Clowns. Drechsel and Joseph Roach believe this phrase may have filtered through Mobilian from African and Creole sources.
Island Smith was a celebrated African Creek native healer (or root doctor) who practiced his art in the hinterlands southwest of Okmulgee in the years after Oklahoma statehood. Smith was born outside of Taft, Oklahoma in 1877 to Hannah (later Robinson) and Isaac Smith. His father died when Smith was a small boy and his mother remarried and the family moved to the area southwest of Okmulgee where they operated a small subsistence ranch/farm in the years before allotment. Smith recalled that the family cultivated about an acre of corn for home use and raised cattle, hogs, and horses. They also gathered wild foods and hunted deer, rabbit, squirrel, possum, and raccoon. With this lifestyle, Smith recalled that they “seldom had use for money in the early days [the 1880s and 1890s] and spent it as soon as we got it.” When the family needed flour, coffee, sugar, or other household items, they simply rounded up some hogs and sold them in Okmulgee.
Smith learned to identify and prepare roots and herbs and to administer them as medicines in the traditional Creek way, and after he was older he became known for his abilities as a native healer. Smith attributed his abilities to his mixed African-Indian heritage saying: “Cross blood means extra knowledge. I can take my cane (a hollow reed that channels a native healer’s energy and is used to administer herbal medicines) and blow it twice and do the same as a full-blood Creek doctor does in four times. Two bloods means two talents. Two bloods has more swifter solid good sense and I is one of them.”
Text Sources: Gary Zellar, African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007); Sigmund Sameth, “Creek Negroes: A Study in Race Relations,” Master’s Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1941.
Accumulated by the federally appointed Dawes Commission between 1898 and 1914, the Dawes Rolls are the largest Indian record set and contain hundreds for entries for individual with mixed black and Indian heritage. Documents known as Rolls by Blood and Freedmen Rolls, as well as a subcategory of documents known as the Minors and the New Born Rolls, are useful in genealogical research. Freedmen, the slaves held by the southeastern Indian communities known as the Five Civilized Tribes, sometimes had blood and cultural ties to individuals listed on the blood rolls. In some case, siblings appear on both the Rolls by Blood and the Freedmen Rolls. These families were blended.
In addition to the Dawes Rolls, many other rolls record mixed-heritage families and individuals, including:
• Tompkin Roll, Cherokee Nation (1867)
• Dunn Roll, Creek Nation (1869)
• Cherokee Census of 1872
• Wallace Roll, Cherokee Nation (1880)
• 1880 Authenticated Cherokee Roll, Cherokee Nation
• Hester Roll, Cherokee Nation (1883)
• Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedmen Census (1885)
• Cherokee Census (1890)
• Kern Clifton Roll, Cherokee Nation (1896)
• Authenticated Roll, Cherokee Freedmen (1896)
Other records that can be of use to the genealogist and that document many blended families are the rejected files of the Mississippi Choctaws and the Eastern Band of Cherokees. The rejected files represent data provided by the applicants who had ties to Indian tribes based on family histories but were not approved by government authorities. As a result, the descendants of many of the mixed heritage families who submitted applications were later identified as being only black or white.
To an extent not revealed in Hollywood frontier movies, slave labor built the earliest European communities in the south. From 1690 to 1720, Africans cleared land, introduced African rice culture, navigated river vessels, and delivered mail in the Carolinas. Only the most trustworthy slaves were…
In 1774 patriot James Madison wrote about a slave revolt: “It is prudent such attempts should be concealed as well as suppressed.” The Black Indian story has been treated as though it were a massive slave rebellion. Its final burial came at the hands of a later white generation who shaped a…
… Since labor was in short supply in British America, the earliest colonist enslaved first Indians and then Africans. Since unending bondage did no exist in English law, the first form was called “indenture” and lasted for about seven years. “Indentured servants” of any color could be mistreated while in service, have theri personal life regulated, and their time extended by scheming masters.
Since all three races were abused under this system, they often rebelled and escaped. Reward notices of the time tell of red*, black, and white men and women fleeting their masters- sometimes together.
The first Africans introduced into Jamestown’s economy in 1619 became indentured servants, not slaves. Upon their release, they became part of the Virginia colony. Some became landowners, and one, Anthony Johnson, ruled an African community of twelve homesteads and two hundred acres in Virginia’s Northhampton County.
In the 1630s the rules of indenture began to change. It became legal to hold Africans and Indians for more than the usual seven years, even for life. The change began on he English-ruled island of Barbados when the governor announced “that Negroes and Indians… should sever for life, unless a contract was made to the contrary.” And beginning in 1636, only whites received contracts of indenture.
British America had taken a large step in dividing labor by race and reserving the worse for dark people. More and more white laborers were pouring into the thirteen British colonies, and masters did not want them making common cause with African or Native Americans. Masters had probably concluded their profitable labor system would work only as long as whites did not see their condition and fate as identical with nonwhites.
In 1636 a Massachusetts Indian became the first North American to be legally enslaved, sentenced to work until he died. A decade later Governor John Winthrop though of the idea of seizing Narragansett Indians to exchange for Africans. Around the same time British commissioners meeting in New Haven also decided that it was fair to make slaves of Indians and exchange them for Africans.
By 1661 slavery had become legal in the British colonies. Africans were preferred because of being thousands of miles from home. Indian slaves were able to flee to their armed brothers and sisters- and then come roaring back seeking revenge.
This idea of keeping slaves distant from their homes and families was crucial to having them under strict control. British merchants took Indians enslaved on the mainland and shipped them out to the West Indies. This was the only safe way to enslave Native Americans, for bondage was only secure when its victims felt they had no one to turn to, no friends nearby.
Reward notices in colonial newspapers now told of African slaves who “ran off with his Indian wife” or “had kin among the Indians” or is “part-Indian and speaks their language good.”
In slave huts and beyond the British settlements along the coast, African and Native American women and men shared their sorrows and hopes, their luck and courage. They did not always know where to run to, bu they knew where to run from.
Judging reward notices, Africans picked up Indian languages soon as they reached a frontier region. Runaways in the woods always needed outside help.
The first full-scale battle between Native Americans and British colonist took place in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1622. Africans fared a lot better than their owners. According to historian James H. Johnstone “the Indians murdered every white but saved the Negroes.” This, noted Johnstone, became a common pattern during wars between colonist and Indians.
British colonial law not only lumped Native American and African people together, but handed both worse punishments than whites. A Virginia law set twenty-five lashes if he accused were a red* or black person. Virginia soon declared “Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves… to be real estate.”
Beginning slowly in 1670, rules of bondage began to change to permit Native Americans to leave. Virginia began matters that year by stating that Indians were enslaved for only twelve years, Africans for life.
This decision was based on a peculiar legal point that Africans were “imported into this colony by shipping” and Indians came “by land.” No mention was made of the fact that Indians did not come by land, but lived there before English settlers arrived, or that most Africans had been living in Virginia much longer than most British citizens.
Before Indians were erased out of the slave system, they had lived and married with African slaves, and produced in their offspring a new class of Americans held in chains. When the slave codes talked of “Indian slaves,” it probably meant those Black Indians. For example, although New York’s Assembly banned Indian bondage in 1679, in 1682 it forbad “Negro or Indian Slaves” from leaving their masters’ home or plantations without permission. The next year the Assembly denied “Negro or Indian Slaves” from meeting anywhere together in groups of four or more or being armed “with guns, Swords, Clubs, Staves or Any Other kind of weapon.”
Between 1619 and 1700 labor in North America had become divided by skin color. Liberty itself would remain divisible by sin color through the American Revolution and up to the Civil War and emancipation [and beyond].
This division kept working people in America from uniting against an unjust labor system. Masters deported Indian slaves to the West Indies so they could not flee to their homes and loved ones. They enlisted whites and local Indians to help them hunt their runaway African slaves. When local Native Americans refused this work, they reached out to Indians on distant islands who needed money or trade. Through this cleverness, slaveowners hoped to sleep soundly each night and awake each day to greater profits.
Join your host, J Kēhaulani Kauanui, for an episode that features Ramona Peters (Nosapocket) and Rae Gould speaking about their historical and contemporary community relationships with African American communities, and contemporary Native identity in New England. Peters and Gould each gave at an event held at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in conjunction with a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Insitution called “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.” Rae Gould, Ph.D. is a member of the Nipmuc Nation. She has worked for her tribe as tribal historic preservation officer, NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) representative and in the service of their federal acknowledgement efforts. She currently holds the position of repatriation coordinator at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and teaches Anthropology courses in their Native Studies program. Ramona Peters (Nosapocket) is from the family of the Bear Clan—she’s a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and lives in Mashpee on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Peters is currently the NAGPRA Director for her tribe. She is a Board member of the NGO Cultural Survival, an international organization devoted to the promotion and protection of indigenous people’s human rights.
This show airs on WESU on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Tuesday of each month, and is syndicated on these select stations: WRFN, Nashville, TN; WAZU, Peoria, IL; KUCR, Riverside, CA; WPKN in Bridgeport, CT and Montauk, NY; WNJR, in Washington, PA, WETX-LP, “The independent Voice of Appalachia,” which broadcasts throughout the Tri-Cities region of East Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and northwest North Carolina; WBCR-lp in Great Barrington, MA and WORT in Madison, WI.
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The producer and host, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Duke University Press, 2008). Kauanui served on the founding steering committee for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and is currently serving on its inaugural council.