November 22, 2009

IndiVisible responds to Freedmen issue

Maybe Your Great-Grandmother Really Was Cherokee

A new exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian traces black-Native American relations from the 1500s to the present.

By Kenneth J. Cooper
Overall, African-Native American relations are cast in positive terms, a perspective that feels right. It’s certainly the view of most black folks, based on all those family stories, true or not. The Cherokees of today are out of step with the tolerant, humanist traditions of Native Americans who historically “adopted” people of other races and treated them as equals.

The exhibit traces the contacts between African Americans and Native Americans from the 1500s to the present, leading to the interracial unions that produced “Black Indians.” Some big-name people with that mixed heritage pop up: Crispus Attucks, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jimi Hendrix and John Hope Franklin.

On a broader scale, so much mixing of red and black occurred that the bloodlines of some tribes became racially “indivisible.” They include the Lumbee of North Carolina, the casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot of Connecticut, the Mashpee Wampanoag of Massachusetts, the Seminole of Florida and then Oklahoma. “Most Native peoples on the Atlantic seaboard,” the curators conclude, “have African-American and white ancestry.”

A visitor gets a clear sense that the leaders of the National Museum of the American Indian, which collaborated with the Museum of African American History and Culture, wanted to put the conflict over the tribal rights of Cherokee Freedmen into a broader perspective.
Comment:  For recent news on the Freedmen issue, see Glover Supports Freedmen, Cherokee PR or Propaganda, and Obama Opposes Punishing Cherokees. For more on the IndiVisible exhibit, see Preview of IndiVisible and IndiVisible at the NMAI.

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