Black, Native American and the struggle for recognition in Indian country


The legacy of anti-black racism in tribal nations can be a heavy and uncomfortable subject, forcing communities that have suffered centuries of land theft, colonialism and genocide to confront the darkest corners of their own past. . Several tribal officials declined interview requests to discuss the issue.

“When we have to deal with this difficult story, we don’t talk about it,” said Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation. About 7,000 descendants of Freedoms were incorporated into the Cherokee Nation after a federal judge ruled in 2017 that they had tribal citizenship rights. This story is “a stain on the Cherokee nation that we must remove,” the chief said.

Spanish and English colonizers enslaved indigenous peoples across the Americas. But tribes in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have also adopted the practice themselves, enslaving African Americans to work on cotton plantations and in homes. When the United States government forcibly evicted the Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee to Oklahoma, their slaves also made the murderous march or were transported west in boats, according to historians.

The Civil War and the issue of slavery divided the tribes, with some fighting for the Union and other members of the tribe declaring their loyalty to the Confederacy. Some slavers retreated to Arkansas or Texas to escape skirmishes and raids. Black Indians joined the Union or Confederate armies and then escaped for freedom in Kansas.

“It’s a story that further divides our citizens over what rights the descendants of these freedmen should have, as well as the larger conversation regarding who is’ legitimately ‘Cherokee,’ ‘Rebecca Nagle, a Cherokee writer and host of the’ This podcast Land, “wrote this summer after the Cherokee Nation removed two Confederate war memorials in eastern Oklahoma.” We need to do more to confront this story within our tribe. “

The Freedmen were granted tribal citizenship – and in some cases “equal interest in the land and national funds” of the tribe – in treaties that the Oklahoma tribes signed with the federal government after the Civil War, in which the tribes were forced to cede. huge portions of their land in government.

In the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, there were once three “colored” tribal towns that formed their own small governments. Despite segregation and racist legal structures, the Freedmen have served as council members, ministers, judges. Jesse Franklin, who was born a slave in Alabama in 1817, was appointed to the Creek Supreme Court in 1874 – some 93 years before Thurgood Marshall acceded to the United States Supreme Court.


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