A Reflection on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

This blog was originally posted in July 2020. I thought it merited a repost today, Indigenous Peoples’ Day …

I am my brother’s keeper. Part 3. Black and Native.

In all my Daughters of the Dream posts, I comment through my African American lens. That is who I am. That is how I identify. In truth, however, my maternal side of the family is primarily Native; members of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia. I have known this all my life, but it mostly went unacknowledged. The federal government did not recognize the tribe until 2018. But more importantly, in many ways, it was also unrecognized by my family.

Big Mama and Papa Joe. separate pics side by side
The author’s maternal grandparents, Dora Adkins Charity and Joseph P. Charity.

Using Ancestry.com, I watched the evolution of the racial identity of my maternal grandparents. On early census documents, my grandmother was noted as Indian, full-blooded as the saying goes. My maternal grandfather was noted as Mulatto, which he was by the definition of that term, mixed Indian and white. Then they both become Mulatto, along with their children, of course. Subsequent census documents list them as colored, then Negro, then black.

My mother and her siblings were raised as African American. Perhaps my grandparents had internalized the negativity the white, dominant population associated with being Native. The only time I can remember my mother celebrating her Native heritage was when she casually commented one Thanksgiving that there was no need to observe this holiday (even though she did). “It was just the beginning of white people taking Indians’ land,” she said.

Now, I have started the journey of celebrating all of me.

Chief Stephen Adkins
The author with Stephen Adkins, Chief of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia

Just as I would not overlook a racist image of an African American or a racist comment about one, I am becoming more attuned to my Native roots and culture.  For years, I have recognized the racism in the names of some sports teams. But when conversations turned to looting following the murder of George Floyd, how many of us thought about the original looters — those who took the land of the Native peoples in this country?

Native and black, they are both a part of who I am.

But what about those identities that are not a part of you or me? Just because it is not our identity, racism cannot be ignored. Racism hurts all of us. As Martin Luther King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” The racial mosaic of those who continue to march and speak out against police brutality and racism, six weeks after the murder of George Floyd, gives me hope. An increasing number of Americans seem to believe — truly believe — we are our brother’s keeper.


7 Replies to “A Reflection on Indigenous Peoples’ Day”

  1. Bravo Tamara! What a wonderful discovery. In my part of the country there was more intermarriage between Native Americans and the Scots/Irish men who came to Oklahoma and Texas after the civil war. However, southeast
    Texas and Louisiana Native people helped slaves escaped, which led to intermarriage there.

    Interestingly,, now that Cleveland has changed the name of its baseball team it is enjoying a win, after decades of mediocre performance at best. I wonder if there is a connection…

  2. thanks Tamara. Your grandparents’ identities were likely affected by Va’s Racial Integrity Act passed in the 1920s which eliminated “indian” as a racial category and “made” everyone white or colored.
    paul Lombardo’s book while it focuses on sterilization gives good information on this topic.

  3. Excellent time to repeat this post. I don’t think I have any native American blood, although I have often wondered. I know that many of my early (mainly Dutch) American ancestors struck out from New Jersey, and moved West into Ohio, Kentucky, and other areas that were part of the “frontier”. They mixed their mostly Dutch bloodlines by marrying French Huguenots, English, and German fellow European settlers. Did any of these people also have Native American blood? I don’t know. I do have two daughters who are part Mexican American through my late husband. I and my daughters are proud of their Mexican heritage. I also know that we are long overdue in apologizing for the invasions, killings, rapes, and “resettlements” of those original Americans. So today, I am also celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and letting Columbus serve as a reminder of the beginning of the devastation of the Native Peoples.

  4. Well said cuz. Thank you for this post. We should definitely recognize and give homage to all sides of who we are.

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