To Be or Not To Be-Indian/Native American

My grandmother was an Indian.

My mother told me this years ago, while I was growing up. I never doubted her and the thought that there was this alternate bloodline coursing through my veins, made me curious as anything. You can imagine how frustrating it was to learn that the very thing  supposedly unique about my ancestry, happened and still happens to be a joke of sorts amongst the black community.

Aw, everybody says that they have Indian in the family, mock the disdainful. Even worse is the thought of some that being inclusive of admixture in our gene pool, means excluding blackness. To be African-American or black in this country is to be a myriad of colors and bloodlines. I didn’t realize this fact as a child; I sincerely thought that having an Indian or Native American grandparent was a rare trait, indeed.

 The things we think we know as children…

The fact is that only recently have we been able to make great strides in verifying or dismissing oral traditions via Internet goldmines such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Cyndi’s List, etc.  This leads me to my point.  Even after concrete evidence of Indian or Native American ancestry has been found, does that make us over?

Overwhelming appreciation is extended to cousin Lisa H., who placed me on the right path of finding my forebears. She had been looking for particular descendants, and I fit the bill. Lisa gifted me with the gift of knowing my ancestry. So many of us have benefitted as a result and the words- thank you- seem far too trife to convey our foremost gratitude.

About two years ago, I posted a query on the Afrigeneas African-Native American Forum asking about tribal enrollment practices. There may have been one response, and that was pretty vague. Yesterday, I received notification that someone replied to my query. Just to let you know, when I first discovered my actual connection to the Coharie Tribe, I merely wanted to learn about them. Several different factors caused me to pursue enrollment with the Tribe. Perhaps not surprising, my attempts at enrollment were ignored. At that time, I believed that I had to be validated by this Tribal Council, receive a Tribal card, then and only then would I be considered Coharie.

The things we think we know as adults…

I haven’t given up on enrollment, but these days I certainly do not feel the need to have any organization, Tribe, or anyone define me.

My blood is my birthright.

Back to the reply I received on Afrigeneas. Gale replied that she’s fully aware of her direct descendancy from the Coharie also. She passionately exclaimed that it’s not right that those with more European admixture are allowed enrollment into the Tribe, while applicants with  more African are not. She further stated that tax-funded programs should not be discriminatory. (The Coharie Tribe are recognized by the state of North Carolina and are actively seeking federal recognition.)

As I read Gale’s reply, I remembered that we’d exchanged e-mails previously and that also we’d spoken on the phone. This was when I’d first learned of my Coharie ancestry. Since then, I’ve been able to temper my temper, if you will-and think about the bigger picture. My response to Gale’s recent reply was as follows:

Hi Gale!

Thanks for responding.

Well, it’s 2010 and unfortunately with respect to this issue, not much has changed.

While to an extent I’d agree on what your stating, I think that we need to weigh the issues:

Does having Coharie Tribe enrollment make us more Indian/Native American?

Does official enrollment equal social acceptance?

How do your immediate family members identify racially? Do they share your interest to become enrolled?

Does the Great Spirit of Indian/Native American culture, line up with your professed Faith?

These are just a few things that I’ve taken into consideration since I’ve first learned of my descendancy.

Honestly, I can say that being accepted by the Coharie Tribe does not rank as important to me as it did a couple of years ago.

My blood is my birthright.

There’s not one thing in this world that can add or subtract from that, not even our beloved Coharie Intra-Tribal Council.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t decline an offer of enrollment. I just will not live in hopes of it.

Blessings!

Even still, I remain in the belief that not only I, but my mother, aunt and uncles, siblings, and cousins are entitled to this recognition. Until it’s received, if it’s never received, even after it’s received, we live.

We live and we’re thankful for ALL who came before us.

Respectfully-this is Jones, My Opinion

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1 Comment

Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Op-Ed, Philosophy

One response to “To Be or Not To Be-Indian/Native American

  1. Gale Torregrossa

    North Carolina
    The descendants of Nicholas and Bungey Manuel, “negro slaves” freed by the 1718 will of Edward Myhill of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, were in the Edgecombe County, North Carolina, militia in the 1750s.
    The family histories of over 80 percent of the heads of families counted as “all other free persons” in the 1790-1810 federal censuses for North Carolina indicate that they were descendants of African Americans who were free in Virginia during the colonial period.
    Free African American immigrants were of sufficient number in 1723 that the North Carolina general assembly received complaints “of great Numbers of Free Negroes, Mulattoes, and other persons of mixted BBy 1790 free African Americans represented 1.7 percent of the free population of North Carolina, concentrated in the counties of Northampton, Halifax, Bertie, Craven, Granville, Robeson, and Hertford where they were about 5 percent of the free population. In these counties most African American families were landowners, and several did exceptionally well. The Bunch, Chavis, and Gibson families owned slaves and acquired over a thousand acres of land on both sides of the Roanoke River in present-day Northampton and Halifax counties, and the Chavis and Gowen families acquired over a thousand acres in Granville County. William Chavis, a “Negro” listed in the 1754 muster roll of Colonel William Eaton’s Granville County Regiment, owned over a thousand acres of land, a lodging house frequented by whites, and eight taxable slaves. His son Philip Chavis also owned over a thousand acres of land. Edward Carter was the fourth largest Dobbs County landowner with 23,292 acres in 1780. He was head of a Dobbs County household of eight “other free,” one white woman, and twenty slaves in 1790. In a most extraordinary move, in 1773 the Dobbs County court recommended to the general assembly that Edward Carter’s daughters be exempted from the discriminatory tax against female children of African Americans.
    In mid-eighteenth century North Carolina tax assessors counted wealthy mixed-race families in some years as “mulatto” and in other years as white. Jeremiah and Henry Bunch, Bertie County slave owners, were taxed in Jonathan Standley’s 1764 Bertie County list as “free male Molattors” in 1764, but as whites in Standley’s 1765 Bertie list, and again as “free Molatoes” in 1766. Michael Going/Gowen was taxed in Granville County as white in 1754 and was called “Michael Goin, Mulattoe” in 1759.
    Some of the lighter-skinned descendants of these families formed their own distinct isolated communities that have been the subject of anthropological research. Those in Robeson County, North Carolina, are called “Lumbee Indians”; in Halifax and Warren counties: “Haliwa-Saponi”; in South Carolina: “Brass Ankles” and “Turks”; in Tennessee and Kentucky: “Melungeons” and “Portuguese”; and in Ohio: “Carmel Indians.” Several fantastic theories on their origin have been suggested. One is that they were from Raleigh’s lost colony at Roanoke and another that they were an amalgamation of the Siouan-speaking tribes in North and South Carolina. However, the “people of color” in these areas were distinguished from nearby white communities because of a single, common characteristic: their African American ancestry. Indians, both slave and free, who lived among the English, blended into the African American population. They did not form their own communities. Even so, 38 percent of the population of Robeson County had an American Indian identity in the 2000 federal census.

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