November 03, 2009

Afro-Aboriginal in chief's headdress

Black American Indians reach for untold story

Afro-Aboriginals reclaiming rich multi-ethnic roots

By Judy Masterson
A group of black Americans interested in exploring their American Indian roots has formed a group called the Northern Illinois Afro-Aboriginals.

"The African Native American is a story that's not told," said Ali Albakri, a founding member and managing editor of Lake County Arts magazine, who heard from a cousin that his family tree includes members of the Blackfoot tribe.

The idea for the group came from Joe Russell, 54, of Waukegan, a substitute teacher. Russell's birth mother, Tienna Evans, was a full-blooded Arapaho, he said, and his birth father was black. Russell, who was adopted, has struggled to learn the facts of his heritage, and he has struggled for acceptance as a bi-racial, multi-ethnic person in a culture that is just beginning to embrace multiculturalism.

"Being racially mixed means, to some groups, that I'm diluting blood lines," he said. "But I'm equal parts both.

The Afro-Aboriginals sponsored a booth during a downtown Waukegan Juneteenth celebration last summer, and members have attended the annual end-of summer powwow in Zion organized by a committee of Potawatomi.

In celebration of his Arapaho heritage, Russell has taken the tribal name Angshe B'neshe Tienna, or Lone Hawk Touched by the Sun. Elders from the Northern Arapaho band recently presented him a warrior's bonnet, and he has been declared a Winkta, a "two-spirited" tribal "mediatrix between the voice of the people and the ear of the divine."
Comment:  If the Northern Arapaho gave Russell the name and the warbonnet, I guess he has the right to use them. But this use smacks of insecurity to me. If you're sure of yourself, what does it matter if you're named "Joe Russell" or "Lone Hawk Touched by the Sun"? Unless you're receiving an award or meeting the president, why do you need to wear a headdress?

Regardless of the external trappings, you either are or aren't an Indian. If you aren't one, the impressive name and headdress won't make you one. Therefore, don't emulate someone's (stereotypical) idea of what it means to be an Indian. Just be yourself.

For more on the subject, see Preview of IndiVisible and "Actual Indian" Defined.

Below:  "Joe Russell of Waukegan, wearing a war bonnet, is a member of the Northern Illinois Afro-Aboriginals, which promotes black-American Indian identity reclamation." (Thomas Delany Jr./News-Sun)


Unknown said...

Sometimes those who believe they know who they are but have been questioned or challenged their whole lives as to what that is need some sort of validation when they begin to explore and claim the sides of themselves in "question".

Let's hope with acknowledgment comes an acceptance that can shed the stereotypes of Pan Native Americanism and just be. Or that they find the threads of their history and customs that connect the back to the people they come from.

Shonie said...

When I hear or read things like this, the first thing that pops into my head is, "They must want land, benefits and a casino." Especially when they start thier own band and are looking for federal recognition.

Rip me a new one, drag me through the thorns, what ever you like. IMO ... It may or may not be the right one, but it's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add my support to the 2 previous posts. Indigenous identity is not a convenient fashion statement or simply a matter of biology. It’s also about the struggle to keep our identity as a collective alive, our cultures strong. Others have a right to explore their heritage but identity as an indigenous person is not as simple as declaring you are suddenly someone that you were once not. The journey has only begun, not completed.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out at as well that those feathers in the individual's headdress are fake. look closely, you can see they're painted plastic feathers. I've seen many of them before at questionable "powwows".

On a side note, more power to them for reclaiming their identity. Just hope they do it the right way instead of becoming Indian because it's cool.

m. said...

Yeah...playing dress-up usually = wannabe. Sorry, but this is also the case here. People who weren't "born into it" (save for adoptees, and I am not believing this dude's story and am wary of the fact that he is so obsessed with "reconnecting" with his "identity" rather than his FAMILY) really ought to not be so aggressive, learn to accept that it's not their culture/s (or their idea of their supposed culture) and let it be.

Also, "Afro-Aboriginals"? "American Indian identity reclamation"? "Two-spirited tribal mediatrix between the voice of the people and the ear of the divine"? This whole thing just smacks of pretendianism, and is actually quite cheesy and pathetic. Someone's grasping...