May 11, 2012

Indians suffer prejudice against blacks

Racist tendencies common in too many tribes

By Cedric SunrayProfessor Don Rankin from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama has recounted by letter a disturbing incident occurring during a June 1995 genealogy seminar conducted by Sharon Scholars Brown at Samford University. His letter states,

“Someone brought up the MOWA Choctaw and their attempt at federal recognition. At this stage, several people had gathered around as we were talking. Ms. Brown responded in an even professional tone of voice that she felt that they would not be successful. When asked why, she responded that they had black ancestors and in her opinion were not Indian. Mr. Lee Fleming, who was at the time the Tribal Registrar for the Western Band of Cherokees and one of the lecturers, agreed with her. I was shocked at their statements.”

Lee Fleming, a Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma citizen, is now the Director of the Office of Federal Acknowledgment and was the responsible party for the denial of the MOWA Choctaw petition.

Another CNO tribal member, Darrin Buzzard, remarked in an email in referencing the Cherokee Freedmen, “..they will suck you dry. Their children will suck you dry…protect Cherokee culture for our children. For our daughter, for the American people as a whole. Fight against the infiltration.”

Some tribal members attempt to disassociate their own ancestry from any Black connection. At a conference a few years back I was speaking with a member of a federally recognized Northeastern tribe who told me he had no Black ancestry, his afro hairstyle not withstanding I assumed.

In 2005, my wife was invited as a judge overseeing the annual Mississippi Choctaw princess pageant. The only entrant of mixed Indian and Black heritage amongst the 20 competitors was crowned, much to the dismay of many in attendance. Radmilla Cody, the first Miss Navajo Nation of mixed Indian and Black ancestry has relayed the reality of the racial prejudice she experienced from her own people as well.

Aside from perceived gaming competition is the primary reason why historic “non-federal” tribes such as the Lumbee, Chickahominy, MOWA Choctaw, Nanticoke, Houma, Haliwa-Saponi, Unkechaug, and others in the eastern and southern US regions remain without recognition. They all share the “burden” of being either of some or presumed to be of some Black ancestry. On the contrary, many federal tribes who are of predominantly white ancestry are never questioned as to their racial reality.

Black ancestry within Indian communities does not nullify or lessen Indian social, cultural, and familial fabrics. Black people, Indian people, poor whites, and others have endured great atrocities throughout history.
Comment:  As the article notes, "Cedric Sunray is one of four generations of enrolled family members of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama." That makes his stance on the recognition of the MOWA Choctaw a little suspect.

After all, the largely black Mashpee Wampanoag got recognized. The MOWA Choctaw may have other problems besides prejudice against its black members.

For more on black Indians, see "Queen Chief Warhorse" and Indian Blood = Black Myth?


Anonymous said...

Seems to be more common in the Southeast. On the plains, darker tends to be seen as "better". At least among the Lakota. Though it might also be because so many Ojibwe are lighter.

Anonymous said...

Skin color should never be the sole focus and at sometimes blood quantum also, but before you have a seizure, let me explain why. Indigenous peoples cannot soley be defined in terms of blood and color, but cultural and historical ties to the area(s) that particular group lived for hundreds if not thousands of years. They maintain their heritage through language, songs, dances, ceremonies, social and political entities.

As an western Oklahoma tribal member myself, I am ashamed, but not surprised, that what happened, happened to this person, yet, we must acknowledge that some Oklahoma tribes historically, especially what historians ironically penned, the Five Civilized Tribes, were, and are socially, politically and religiously Oklahoman first, and native second. Many of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws had inter-married with immigrant Scottish, Irish, German and other "Sooners" that took lands originally Wichita, Caddo, Osage, plains Apaches and Kiowa.

In other words, What are deemed as the "five civilized" tribes" in Oklahoma are in fact, relocatees from the very African American Choctaws in Mississippi, Florida Seminoles and Cherokees from the deep south, therefore, the racism and ignorance coming from these "civilized" tribes from Oklahoma remains today against other central and western Oklahoma tribes and unfortunately, much of it is by skin color and blood quantum.

Also keep in mind that some of these tribes were slaveowners themselves. African Americans have in general, historical ties with indigenous peoples of the Americas and native people have traditionally harbored inclusiveness rather than divisive or exclusive acceptance from all races, but after the Tea Party Movement and conservative power, I think most Indians today don't trust anyone anymore. Maybe just Gary Busey or Johnny Depp?

Anonymous said...

I am part Choctaw and part Micmac and everyone who lays eyes on me automatically assumes "black" and everything that goes with that. I have indeed found that out West, darker skin does seem to be considered more "Indian" than anything else. So far in New Mexico the occurrence of people meeting me and assuming "black" even after I tell them I'm Choctaw (which is racist and obnoxious - back East I would simply get called a "liar" to my face) seems to be limited to a few in Albuquerque, as when I get out into the more-Native areas of the state that tends to dissipate. I know that among Choctaws ON the "rez" I'm actually lighter-skinned than about HALF of them, so I just try to ignore it and refrain from throwing derogatory four-letter names at them in return because I am a Math teacher and I am better than that - or at least I was raised better than that by my Micmac father.