Follow by Email

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is There A Place For Afro-Natives?

Liminality has always fascinated me.  It's an anthropological term for the state of being caught betwixt and between.  See What is Liminality?  Liminal individuals are perpetual outsiders. Yet it's also possible for a group to be liminal if they are not accepted by others outside the group.

I have recently encountered an anthology of essays called Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds published by Duke University Press that relates to the theme of liminality.  It deals with intersections between Native Americans and African Americans.


A number of  these essays focus on the history of  how various Native American peoples treated those of mixed African and Native descent.

 I learned from David Chang's "Where Will The Nation Be At Home?" that after the American Civil War, the Creeks decided to give the Blacks among them the same status as emancipated slaves even if they were born free.  This is a way of legally defining them as not Creek, and therefore not entitled to land or Federal benefits.  Yet at the same time African Americans moved to Oklahoma in the post Civil War era to establish independent communities. They considered the Creek Freedmen to be Indians.  This means that they are tragically liminal.  They have no status among Creeks or African Americans.  Some Creek freedmen chose to identify as Africans and moved to Liberia.  This is a very current issue.  Creek Freedmen are still fighting for recognition as members of the Creek nation in court.  See messages about the  Creek Freedmen Lawsuit on the African-Native American Genealogy Forum.

Barbara Krauthamer revealed in her essay, "In Their Native Country", that the Choctaw and Chicasaws forced their former slaves that had been freed by law after the Civil War, to work as sharecroppers or be arrested for vagrancy.  This is a shameful replication of slavery.  It only ceased after the Choctaw and Chicasaws officially lost their sovereignty in 1897.

It's also disillusioning to discover that the Seminoles took away the voting rights of  Seminole Freedmen in 2000 which is discussed in "Blood and Money" by Melinda Micco. I had been taught in school that the Seminoles were an abolitionist people who helped runaway slaves to become free.  The U.S. District Court ruled in 2001 that elections which did not include the Seminole Freedmen would be considered invalid.  So the Seminoles restored their citizenship status, but not until 2003. Micco blames the Bureau of Indian Affairs for restricting official membership of all native peoples after the Civil War. Only those who could prove that they been members in 1823 would be entitled to benefits.  In the case of the Seminole Freedmen, there is a very well sourced Wikipedia article called Black Seminoles which states that there were independent villages of freed African slaves on Seminole territory seventy years before the American Revolution.  Unfortunately, they had no paperwork.  There was no way to prove that there had been Seminole Freedmen before the United States existed.

Racial conflict over mixed blood members has not been confined to slaveholding peoples or to those whose lands are located in the Southeastern U.S.  In "Playing Indian" Celia E. Naylor discusses the controversy over Radmilla Cody being crowned as Miss Navajo in 1997.  Ms. Cody had been brought up on the Navajo reservation, but her father is African American. Some Navajo objected in the Navajo Times that she could not truly represent the Navajo people.  They believed that the Miss Navajo title should be for full blooded Navajos alone. Actually, Radmilla Cody's only culture was Navajo. She had originally lived with her Navajo grandmother. She never even met an African American until she went to stay with her mother in Flagstaff , Arizona when she was a junior in high school. There is a documentary film about Radmilla Cody's life experiences called Hearing Radmilla.  Go to to watch the trailer and find out more about the film. Today she is known as a professional singer.  She has recorded five albums for Canyon Records.  Many of the songs she sings are in Navajo. See Radmilla Cody's Music.  I have spent a pleasant time watching her music videos on You Tube.  Links to her videos can be found at
Radmilla Cody on You Tube.  I think she is quite an ambassador for her people.  What about the African  side of  her heritage? You can read about her trip to Kenya at Radmilla Cody's Trip to Kenya.

Another mixed blood artist represented in this anthology is the painter Tamara Buffalo who wrote "Knowing All My Names". This essay deals with how she was kept from knowing about her Afro-Ojibwe heritage by her Caucasian adoptive parents.  Tamara Buffalo has no website.  I couldn't locate any information about her online, but I did find a web page about 19th century Afro-Ojibwe sculptor Edmonia Lewis at The Life of Edmonia Lewis.  I note that she was subjected to charges of theft and murder without any basis except racism.

This book's window into the experience of mixed blood Natives is very thought provoking.  I was also grateful to find a book on the bibliography that will allow me to pursue the topic further, When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote.  It's a collection about Afro-Native literature edited by Jonathan Brennan.  Cool!


No comments:

Post a Comment