Exploring African-Native American Lives


All my life, people have looked at me with confusion, their eyes filled with questions, Who are your people? What’s your background? When I travel to the Caribbean or Latin America, I am often taken for one of the locals. Though I identify as African American and have features that signify I am definitively “non-white,” even Black folk sometimes give me questioning stares. When I recently visited IndiVisible, the traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of African American History and Culture, currently on view at SUNY Rockland through March 9th, I found myself staring into the faces of many people just like me…of mixed African-Native American heritage.

Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were one-quarter Native American – Cherokee and Blackfoot – and my paternal grandfather was also one-quarter Cherokee. In complexion and facial features, I mostly favor my Native American ancestry. It’s something that I have always been aware of, but haven’t really begun to explore until recently. This exhibit, produced in cooperation with the African American Historical Society of Rockland County (AAHS), the CEJJES Institute and SUNY Rockland’s African American History Month Committee, helps to shed light on the little known, oft-repressed history of our African-Native American ancestors and their struggles to find a place for themselves between two traditions and within a cultural context that first enslaved then discriminated against both.

Thrice shunned, by Native Americans, by African Americans and by white society, the lives of African-Native Americans have indeed been largely invisible. But not any longer. Thanks to the Smithsonian, and AAHS, for making it possible to see “my” people once more in all their humanity.To quote from the exhibit brochure:

“For those of dual African American and Native American heritage, this powerful sense of finding a place of beginning, a true sense of home, has been difficult. Because they have not fit into society’s established racial categories, they’ve been denied a true sense of belonging. Faced with centuries of government policies and laws that systematically oppressed and excluded them, they came together to find creative and effective ways to fight back. They established new blended communities that drew strength from sharing traditions and philosophies. And, for more than 500 years, with their music, dance, craft and food, African-Native Americans developed deeply rich cultural expressions that made an indelible mark on American life.”

6 Responses to Exploring African-Native American Lives

  1. Estelusti February 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    I would like to know more about your research involving the Cherokee ancestry you speak. If true, there are thousands of records that will support your statement but I tend to be a non-believer (and it hurts me to say that) because you included the proverbial “Blackfoot” native ancestry in conjunction with the Cherokee ancestry.

    Just a little research would reveal that the Blackfoot nation resided in the Montana area of the country and you would be the rarest of rare exceptions to those who have declared their “Blackfoot” ancestry. However, if there is Cherokee ancestry and your ancestors originate or have a connection to “Indian Territory” which is present day Oklahoma, I might buy this story.

    In fact the surname PERRY is quite a familiar name to me and it is one that is associated with mixed African-Native's in the Chickasaw Nation with a very compelling story that affected over two thousand similar African-Native people.

    If you are truly interested in the real story of documented African-Native people you are encouraged to subscribe to my blog at:



    Terry Ligon

  2. Angela Y.Walton-Raji February 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Hello, I see that you have incorporated the images from the book, IndiVisible, the book that accompanies the African-Native ties in the Americas.

    As the author of the chapter on genealogy in that same book, I strongly urge you to document your family history. When you have your personal documentation your own story becomes enriched and no one will dispute it. If you need suggestions on how to document this history, you are welcomed to visit the African-Native genealogy community that can found in several places. African-Native American.com is one site and from there, you can find a vibrant message board, two rich blogs, and much more. The documents reflecting African-Native families are in abundance—and many thousand families can reflect this rich history. I urge you to begin to explore your own genealogy and to connect it to the community in which your ancestors lived.

    Of course many people have the “Indian-in-the-family” story—and many of which can be documented, and of course some cannot, because the family history has not been explored.

    All stories are valuable, and it is wise to document the history. You will find the proverbial “Blackfoot” references in many families, which sometimes covers up the more interesting history with ties to the people who lived where the ancestors lived.

    If your family was from the south, or southeast there are many ties to many tribes that lived there, and I strongly support your venturing into this rich and wonderful history. There are no Blackfoot records in the south or southeast, but there are many who can document their family ties to many tribes, once they begin the process. It is important to tell the story, and to support it with the documents that will reflect, I am sure a very rich history. As we say, “tell the story, but get the story right.” Best wishes on your fascinating website.
    -Angela Y. Walton-Raji

  3. Estelusti February 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Greetings Don,

    I failed to draw your attention to some videos that might also be helpful for you to understand the history of African and African-Native people who were held as chattel slaves among the so called Five Civilized Tribes which include the Cherokee Nation.





  4. Warren_carol June 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Hello Don,
    Just coming across your WONDERFUL site. THANK YOU!!!
    I have been researching my WEEDEN,WHILDEN,WEELDON/BROWN tri-racial line for 13yrs w/o
    making ANY connections, nor does ANYONE acknowledge kinship——–folks at USFAFRICANA as well
    as AFRIGENEAS have been most gracious and tried to help, to no avail.
    Find many clues of connecting surnames including PERRY, AND have now confirmed that there is an
    RI connection thru my SC ancestors but still, LONG to hear from kin.
    Would LOVE to hear your thoughts.
    Most sincerely,
    carol wheeldin warren.

  5. Happyfeet Ib April 17, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    To mrs. Angela im sorry but your so wrong because no blacks from south carolina mixed with no indians, never happen, thats a facted, blacks that are going around claiming indian blood from south carolina is lying, the blacks from the south carolinas were mixing with the whites thats a fact, to all you blacks people claiming indian blood from south carolina stop it its a lie, you was the product of black and white relations sorry but not one black person from the south carolina area that they have indian blood, if the blacks was from north carolina then that would be true thats a facted, lol not everybody has indian blood i seriously doubt the indians did all that having sex, lol not at all, alot of blacks then and now was ashame and hated being half white so they passed them selves of as indians and that is why today when blacks get dna they find out it is was white, some blacks have indian blood but most dont, these days you got to show proof about indian blood, because most familys claim this, but all i can say im proud the people who want to know theyre family history it is so important for future generations to come, im black and proud with white blood, in my family to indian lies, oh my god i here this claim all the time, yes ive seen photos old ones in the family on dads side and mothers side, the light to brown skin colors, long hook noses rhin lips, asian like eyes, long,wavy,curly,thin,thick,brown to dark hair, tall and skinny from short and thick, long hair thats comes from shoulder length to hip length to knee legth,, but thats the longest hair length on my fatherers side, but guess what people guess what all of my family is white and black people no indian, but old family member swear it so whatever have a blessed day,

  6. Aram July 19, 2017 at 4:31 am #

    Happyfoot that’s 100% not true. I am an African-Native American from Florence, SC and I have family history and dna test proving I do have native american ancestry. And there’s are many other’s like me. Almost ALL African Americans have Native blood. This is nothing new, and has been cited empirically. 23andme shows when it entered my line, which is before the 1700’s. There were/are many native tribes in the carolina’s e.g lumbee, cheraw, cherokee, algonquins etc.

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