Seminoles, Native Americans and African Bloodlines by Bakari Akil II
Often as a child my parents told me things they thought I should know. Some of the views altered my outlook on life and others would not become important to me until I reached adulthood. Telling me that my grandmother descended from Seminoles was an item that only in the past few years has become increasingly significant to me.
Growing up in a household that took pride in our African heritage and history, I didn't run around trying to claim Native American Ancestry out of false pride, it was just a fact that I learned about myself. However, as I learned more about the connections between Africans and Native Americans and kept witnessing the increasing problems that currently exist between the groups, especially the Seminoles, it has become necessary to speak out.
Every since Europeans have been documenting the contact between Africans and Native Americans there has been a history of cooperation among the two groups. They fought against slavery, imprisonment, removal from land and the ever encroaching European assault on Western land. Africans and Native Americans, for the most part have usually existed peaceably because they shared similar problems and aspects of culture.
However, there has also been disputes, past and present, between the two groups that have arisen as a result of the fight for entitlements and resources from the federal government to their impoverished nations and from institutionalized racism gaining a foothold into Native American culture, straining amicable relationships between Africans and Native Americans. This was the case in the 1800's when Europeans were concerned with the possible increase in status gained by Africans living amongst Native Americans and the threat it could pose to the institution of slavery. It is still a problem in the 21st century as relatively poor Native American nations receive reparations and are able to profit handsomely from casinos and other gambling establishments, but now wish to exclude their brethren.
As a result of these problems Africans with Native American ancestry receive a double dose of racism, one from the society in general and the other from their brethren who exclude them from their proper entitlements because of their skin color. In this current conflict between the Seminole Indians, one group of strong African descent (the other not) the issue has evolved into armed conflict, with a debate over who is entitled to benefit from the $56 million payout by the US government for lands stolen from the Seminoles and for the forcible extraction from their land. Seminoles of (visible) African descent have been excluded from this "windfall" through sanctions such as losing the right to vote in governing councils and determining that one-eighth "Seminole" blood is required to be considered a Seminole all the while, those who do not reflect African ancestry are not as visibly scrutinized. In other words, those who were once brothers and sisters or at least citizens of the nation are no longer "Seminole"
I must admit that I have been aware of benefits, awarded to Native Americans who can prove Native American heritage, to try to correct past ill deeds by the US government and its citizens. However, it is not something I have ascribed to even though I have had ample opportunities to research my history and show that there is some paperwork that "proves" my Seminole heritage. But to me, a piece of paper proves nothing and furthermore I have nothing to prove.
But for African Americans with Native American heritage who are struggling for their rights and privileges within these nations, especially the Seminoles in this recent conflict, this is not enough. It is easy to see what is happening in these types of conflicts because both Native Americans and African Americans know that the "blood" of the Apache, Cherokee, Choctaw, Navajo, etc. runs deep in African American veins. Many African Americans can attest to this fact.
In addition to this, there is growing public awareness, that Africans (Olmecs) established civilizations predating the Maya and Aztecs in South America, other Africans (Africans of Mali, Abu Buhkari) who visited North America and others who left there mark through the Caribbean, South, Central and North America which raises serious questions such as, "When you say Native American, who are you really talking about?" Evidence of this material can be found in the books and writings of several prominent scholars such as Clyde Winters and Dr. Ivan Van Sertima. In the case of African and Native American intermarrying and cohabiting, works by William L. Katz are an excellent starting point.
Put simply, "Native" American groups and the US government can not decide for those of African descent if they are Native American or not. It is up to those of African descent to study their history, listen to their oral traditions and decide if they choose to accept or reject that history. This does not solve or will ever solve the current conflict but it does settle the issue of who is in charge of determining what people of African descent say is or is not their heritage.
The issue of the "mixing of blood" between Africans and Native Americans and the history of Africans on the American continent is one that needs deep study and reflection. By studying these connections and relationships it is easy to see that there are broad ranging implications. Not only between Native and African Americans with Native American descent but also in respect to the history of African Americans and the American continent. It is time for those who have knowledge of their background and history not to be ashamed of wanting to learn more about it or of struggling for their entitlements. This is true because Africans, especially Seminoles with African heritages, worked, fought, played, loved, died and lost just as much as their not so African looking brethren.
To deny what's right is an abomination, especially when history dictates you should know better!
Bakari Akil is an editor for Global Black News.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, May 20, 2002