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History, page 7

Unlike the government, I recognize the possibility of more than 'either/or,' 'Black' or 'White,' 'Native' or 'non-Native.' I proclaim again that I am who I say I am, and hereby declare that who I am is a Red-Black person, a 'mixed-blood,' a fortunate inheritor of two cultures, and a strong descendant of survivors, some of whom were Cherokee and Shoshone.

I've never talked to any African Americans who could say for sure that they did not have Native American ancestry. I've read that perhaps as many as 95% could have Indian ancestry. But no matter what your grandmothers told you, nobody believed you because they didn't want to believe you. The Red and White combination was acceptable, but Red and Black was most definitely not, so it didn't happen. It couldn't happen. If you believed the history books available when I was in school, the only relationship that ever developed was between Natives and Europeans.


There were, therefore, in the African American community, no Cherokee grandmothers, no Choctaw grandfathers, and no fathers or mothers from Virginia tribes. The resentment felt by some Blacks towards Indian tribes who deny them entry, despite a demonstrated blood connection, predates considerably the recent concerted effort of Virginia tribes to gain federal recognition. That this denial has been brought to the attention of the federal government and the general public at this time is likely not due to any spiteful, politically motivated attempt to put a monkey wrench into the works. It is more probably due to the belief that this may well be the final opportunity to correct the situation before the tribes become sovereign nations, leaving the federal government with no leverage with which to influence admission policies. Of course, if there is no truth to the allegation, it can easily be proven false and there need be no further discussion.

We call ourselves the Weyanoke Association and Legacy of Weyanoke, but our history as Red-Black people did not start at Jamestown. Think about the Olmec heads in Mexico, those finely detailed sculptures, eight to eleven feet tall, of clearly African individuals of importance. Keep in mind that the Olmec, who called themselves the Xi, formed the basis of the civilizations of the Aztec and the Maya, 3,500 years ago. And don't forget West Africa's King Abubakari II in the early 15th century, who led an expedition of many ships across the Atlantic, following the currents south and west from Mali. Remember that the British referred to the first Indians they saw as having a "black, swarte complexion." Remember also that the colonists cleared land of inhabitants by capturing Indians and selling them into slavery. In the early 1700s there were as many slave coffles of Indians heading east out of Charleston for sale in Europe and North Africa, as there were of Africans heading west. So, the existence of Red-Black peoples is not even limited to this continent, although I am not yet aware of any research into the descendants of Indians in Africa, or of the descendants of African and Indian slaves in Europe.

'That which has been dispersed and shattered within us' is a direct result of the pressures put on our Red and Black ancestors by the racism this country and this state inherited from the British. The Virginia Council on Indians requires that a group of people be recognizably "tribal" for recognition by them as an Indian tribe. However, the institution of slavery, the broken treaties, the 'Trail of Tears,' the Dawes Act, Virginia's Racial Integrity Act, the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, and many other such indicators of attitude are the reason so many of us are no longer a 'tribal' people. Thus by the deeds and then by the definition of those who benefit we have become "detribalized," shattered as a people as our communities have been split apart, in body as well as in spirit.

We, as Red-Black people, are living proof of a relationship of long standing. It is up to us to know the truth about our history and culture, and to share it with others, especially our children. That's why we of the Weyanoke Association do what we do. 

©2005 Anita Harrell

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