Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Newest Indians, DNA, the Black Cherokee, and the Trail of Tears

It's becoming popular to be an Indian. There are substantial numbers of people in our country who have at least partial Native American ancestry who have never acknowledged this part of their heritage as it was of no benefit to them. The historical record shows how badly this country has treated Indians, so for many it was easier to hide their Indian-ness and identify with an ethnic group that would insure them better treatment.

But this ethnic switching approach has been breaking down as the country as a whole becomes more multi-racial and people are more comfortable identifying with a minority group. Also, with the advent of Indian gaming and casinos, there are all sorts of benefits to being an Indian. In an article entitled "The Newest Indians" in last week's New York Times Magazine, Jack Hitt discusses this trend, especially as seen in the eastern part of the US.

I've seen this myself. Recently I was making small talk with an elderly lady as I was leaving and she was coming in to meet with a local anthropologist. She said, "Three weeks ago, I didn't even know I was an Indian. Dr. _______ checked my genealogy and showed me how I was. It's so exciting!" It's great that people are interested in and comfortable with their ancestry.

One point that Hitt curiously missed in his essay is the use of DNA testing to verify claims of Indian ancestry. That is turning into a business niche for some companies, I have found out. In fact this google ad for a DNA testing service dropped into our blog a couple of weeks ago. These tests are proof positive, but unfortunately for some people, the Indian tribes (Federally recognized tribes) themselves are the arbiters of who is and is not a member. Most tribes do not recognize DNA testing and usually use genealogy to trace to ancestors who were "certified" as Indians by government officials in the past. This has led to some bitter fights here in California, where some of the gaming tribes have reviewed the geneaology of all of their members and dropped people from the rolls based on the results. The outcome was larger slices of the casino money pie for the remaining members. Many tribal members do not like DNA testing for just this reason - they may not like the results they get.

This leads us to this LA Times piece about a woman in Oklahoma who has been trying to prove membership to one of the Cherokee bands in that state. DNA testing supports her claim, but she does not have the right paperwork in the genealogical record and the Cherokee will not recognize her. Her story was especially interesting to me in that her background was as a Black Cherokee.

The history of the Black Cherokee is not commonly known. The Cherokee as well as other tribes in the Southeast had black slaves in the early part of the 19th Century. When they were moved to Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act in the 1830s, their slaves accompanied them on the well-known Trail of Tears. Approximately 15,000 black slaves came with the Indians to Oklahoma. There were held as slaves until freed by the Federal government in 1866 and were a reason that the Cherokee fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War - another fact not commonly known. These freedmen were usually accepted onto tribal rolls and there was intermarriage between Indians and Blacks. The woman in the LA Times story has this mixed heritage and can prove it with her DNA tests. But one of her freedman ancestors didn't have the right certificate.

The story of the Black Cherokee also takes us to the reasons why the Indian Removal Act was passed and the Southeastern Indians exiled to Oklahoma. Most school history books will tell you that it was a desire to take their traditional tribal lands, and that's true as far as it goes. But there is much more to the story.

By the turn of the 19th Century, the Cherokee (and other tribes to a lesser extent) had taken on a course of partial acculturation to White ways. They kept their unparalleled knowledge of their environment and added to it the benefits of modern technology and European crops and domesticated animals. And they were phenomenally successful! Many had large farms and plantations. Ten percent of the Cherokee owned slaves - roughly the same percentage as in the White population at that time. Some Cherokee lived in houses like this:

This was the home of Chief Vann of the Cherokee located in Northern Georgia. At the time of his death in 1809, he was one of the richest men in the US. This is not what we typically think of as a Native American dwelling. Many lived in European style houses, if not all as grand as this. They sent their children to mission schools and in addition to their farms and plantations operated stores, inns, ferries, and other businesses.

By the 1820s they had organized a republican style government with a written constitution, courts and procedures for law enforcement. Also at this time, the Cherokee Sequoyah

had invented a syllabary or "alphabet" for his language so that it could be written. A newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix was printed as were the Bible and other books.

So yes, the Whites wanted the Indian lands in the Southeast. But the deeper truth is that the Cherokee were just too successful in White terms. They were too much competition and Whites used their political and military power to get them out of the way.


The Editors said...

Intensly interesting. In general, yeah, but especially the Cherokee slaveowners and how this brought on thier persecution. I was never aware of this before. Not to sound too coarse, but whatever else it is, there's definitely some aesthetic appeal there.

Georgia Genealogy said...

A thorough reading of the applications of The Dawes Rolls helps researchers determine whether the applicants (and their relatives) were white, black, or Indian. In other words, the mixture is provided. All they had to do was to be 1/32nd Indian to receive Oklahoma lands. So, people provided as much information as they could in their applications. I have traced some Georgia Cherokees through these applications and this information is on my website

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Anonymous said...

I am African American and have known about my Native American ancestory for some time now and openly acknowledge it with pride. My great-grandmother on my mother's side was the result of a relationship between a French Louisiana plantation owner and his Cherokee slave. My grandfather's mother was full blooded Cherokee and his father was a free black man from West Africa. Two of my great-grandparents were 1/2 Native American and 1/2 black on my father's side. I even have "colored" cousins who have spent a good part of their lives living on reservations.
What intrigues me about the decision made by the Cherokee Nation is the parallel I can see between that and the Arian Nations' need to maintain a division in the bloodline. Does this mean that my cousins will no longer be accepted on the reservations?
In spite of our knowledge, neither I nor any of my relatives have felt the need to take advantage of any financial benefits that come with our bloodline. We would prefer to reserve that for those who are in more need than ourselves. I can't believe that my Cherokee ancestors would agree with this change in policy since it seems to be precipitated by greed. How does that make the tribal counsel any different the US government that forced them off of their lands? I can honestly feel my Native American ancestors' spirit turning over in thier graves.

jacky said...

I have known about my Cherokee heritage since a small child,my mother is partCherokee, African,
Irish. I have darkskin but I respect my blood line,my entire family have always stated that they
were mixed w/Cherokee in conversations as well as on job applications. My Great Grandmother
told us how The Trail of Tears affected our family. I'm proud to be who I am and will stand proudly . Thank-you, Jacklyn G. Juras

Robert said...

I hate that fact that iam more cherokee than some of the real oness. Well let me remind you all i hate the fact tha my so called cherokee people raped,murder,my black cherokee, the white man sold who black-cherokee's, our own african people sold us into slavery. My own blood cheokee sold us. Iam Cheif Deep Watrz.. Deep with every detail i witness from the cheokee nation with there rich casio'sfancy schools i pray your spirt burns just like all my black cherokee i wish i was livin back than cuz i wold had rebeled against my cherokee people who raped my mmother. My father has cherokee hair eyes neck you name it as while as his silbing. From across the oean there was a king who sold there own people or sugar, gun, gun powere from the chia man who take women in childern into slavery just like the white man, the icing on da cake cherokee nation hates the black mixed cherokee. they raped us you shame us black cherokee shall live cherokee nation into the dust.. I read many nation who are mixed with my black skin.. you just use and abused us.. now turn on basket ball track boxing no damn cherokee buy its self only one nation black-cherokee. aka Cheif All in one. My crazy grand father cherokee people raped his daugthers, then his sons did the same you see how cherokee nation is. them mutherfukaz dont like want no part of the black man this is god's land my people did not ask to be here. my father father mother was full blooded cherokee now... am i happy no why where's my land and hotels casios, man black people build this nation with our hands body n eet all you did was follow the white man once again anther iam sorry or give to black colleges, fuck that we wnt the same rights as my cherokee grandfather... Thanx u cherokee nation for rapin me nad wanting to cast us out just like the african man, arab man, white man, cherokee man, china man, spanish man, stole our spirit i hate you all for tha i pray my god will let your asses suffer just like man..... Watrz is for the man element H20 you need me to drink i pray for rain to flood your hotels casios any thig that makes you all money in run just like yall do n stay wit ya own kind you us.. why cuz yall did us dirty.. black-cherokee do not get respected from their cherokee kinfolk fuck paper work you see people wit pretty cheokee hair 99.9% of them grandparnets are full blooded cherokee.. so b 4 u strt wrting back b sure to know that you guys treated us like shit now we still wont get no casios from the stae u damn r we want what yall stole from da BLACK_CHEROKEE our spirt

Robert said...

No sorry in the world will accpect from you greeting ass cherokee my blood is the same as yours oh do not tell Cheif Omha or Ceif Unlce ZTom or Cheif greddy like white man with all the casios and schools and land reservation, you guys burn please do not say you like us cuz you are scared of us every nation is thats why you inbreeded us than inself us.. Philly

Anonymous said...

Well I have heard it all and myself am half cherokee and of moorish descent.. My Grand Mother's father was full blooded cherokee and my grandmother is still alive and has all the birth facts on paper of her father and mother's names listed on this document. She was born in South Carolina and then they moved to Georgia and she lives presently in Knoxville Tennesse where I was born and reared. The thing that truly gets me is that the {UNITED STATES OF GOOD OLE AMERCIA } will not tell you is that you were born into slavery by giving you your social security number and birth certificate-you are no longer sovereign at that point! Thus, removing all your political status , leaving you disenfranchised! -The Moor/Cherokee

Carl said...

We have a black president, be happy!I believe its time for those who were last to be first. Black is beautiful and so are the rest of the hues. Never allow anyone to put you down, black people stand tall as royal priesthood, Look around you who are many people trying to be like- black people. Wouldn't it be a trip if the ancient Americans were actually black (I'm not a moor)as people claim. Compare cultural practices of Africans and Native Americans very similar. People of all colors need to stand up against the evil of racism.

Carl said...

This Indian busines is sort of complicated, there must be some stipulalations or else there would be too many to benefit from the funds, I am of indian descent but I'm not interested in taking from the reservation especially from those who are suffering. I want to celebrate my heritage, make and wear some regalia and be allowed to dance at powwows, I am not looking to be taken care of, I want to live independent, and a prosporous life. Benefiting from US citizenship (schlarship Awards, grant that I've applied/tested for) but also contributing to the building of others also. I believe that the nations would be better off if there is a plan for self empowerment. At some point the people need to be self sufficient as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to trace my indian heritage. My grandmother was born a Barber around 1898 in Apalachicola, Fla. I was told she was Cherokee. I have always been interested in my heritage. How do I go about researching this information?
Edwina Nalchawee

Dorothy McConico said...

Hi I also been trying to trace my Indian heritage. I have been trying for about 20 years. I was also told that My Greatgrand Mother was cherokee.I have a picture of her in Indian clothes, she looks like Indians, and a lot of people siad that i look like her. I have her death record,but that all. please help.

Anonymous said...

I know my Cherokee/Black heritage and I don't care! I have my family's genealogy report. Granddad was full Eastern Band Cherokee! They don't want to claim their Black ancestors, simple as that! I have been told I look like them but who cares! Many Blacks with White blood were still slaves even if they were just as White as the slave owner! No big deal!

Mary Young said...

there are many of us who were displaced due to adoption If we could pass as white the states listed us as white No one realized our children could look native american nor that there were medical conditions that would be related to our genetic history It is a shame some bureaucrat could wipe out our genetic heritage with the swipe of a pen We are caught in the midst of this as the tribes do not want to recognize us (even more so now that there is money possibly though I am not interested in that aspect) and yet we have the medical issues that are directly related to our heritage plus some of us would like to connect with our ancestry.

Anonymous said...

It has always been known in my family that we had jewish and cherokee blood on my mom's side. After doing some digging however, I have found that the grandfather of the cherokee woman who married the jewish man in my family was in fact african. It wasn't what I was expecting to find, as my family identifies as white, however the knowledge clarified the reason why I don't feel comfortable around white people. I have always felt like i understood the black and cherokee cultures, whereas among whites, i feel like an outsider. and this from a brown-haired blue-eyed light-complected woman. the lesson is, never judge a book by its color. we are all beautiful, no matter what we happen to look like. and i am very proud of the blood of four races that runs in my veins.

Anonymous said...

Well, cherokee blood is my veins strong and mothers grandmother belonged to the cherokee nation/tribe...she was from the tribe in North Carolina...yes, cherokees were originally a black nation, very wealthy and powerful

Anonymous said...

Well I have traced my ancestry and my great grandmother was Native American from Americus Ga, (Which seemed to be a common thing) I want to learn more...I am in the process of doing so. My grandmother told me about her "ways" as she called. making ash bread, she did not speak English, she did not wear shoes and wore headdress. I had always took those stories and tucked them away but after a death in the family I decided to do the research.

Anonymous said...

Very well stated A'ho!

Shannia Crawford said...

My father was Chereokee Blackfoot but I don't know how to find out about our history or family tree who do I speak to how do I go about getting my genealogy? My father passed away when I was young and my grandmother doesn't like to talk about it but I want to know I need to know there's a piece to my puzzle that's been missing. If anyone can help me my email is I currently reside in Knoxville TN any information will gladly be appreciated thank you

Anonymous said...

You just have to love you. And now write your history William young/black/chereolee.and loveing it

Cherokee Nation of Mexico said...

The Cherokee Nation of Mexico accepts enrollment from ALL Cherokee descendants regardless or color or religious preference.

The Cherokee Nation of Mexico is officially recognized by the Republic of Mexico, one of three countries - Canada, the United States and Mexico, which make up all of North America. The Cherokee Nation of Mexico and the Spanish Dominion was first recognized in the 1700s and was spiritually mandated in 1842 by one of the most influential of Native Americans, the great Cherokee intellect, educator and freedom activist - Sequoyah.

Osiyo, welcome to every person of a good heart.

It is with pleasure we welcome you and your families and friends to our tribe. We want to thank you for your interest in the Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah. We are a growing celebration of Cherokee heritage and look forward with great happiness to you becoming a member of our tribe and joining in the fun.

Over the past 10 years, we have been a source for those who feel the need of wanting to enjoy the Cherokee culture and to take pride in its history, and the many wonderful stories about the Cherokee ancestors have come from people and families just like yours.

All of every person's stories are priceless among all Cherokees, as we respect all of those persons who came before us; their stories activate a commonality in the sense of belonging to a tribe and a bond of friendship through the experience of family historys. For this is the spirit which binds us all together.

Our membership procedure is strictly a process that allows us to document and organize the large numbers of interested applicants. The first step is this simple membership application. This will allow us to contact you and learn more about you and your family.

This easy to fill out application will allow us to create a Cherokee name based upon talking to you and reading your family stories, or if you already have a Cherokee name that you have outgrown, we can get to know you and, through the winds that carry all things good, we will work with you to rename you. Most people prefer our White Chief to name them, as that seems to be a correct name fit every time.

All new members will also be a part of one of the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah so that when you come to our festivities and gatherings, you will have a chance to meet with other clan members, the same as it was done thousands of years ago.

Every year there will be gatherings and ceremonies performed by the tribe, and all family members of any age are welcome, for that is what the Cherokees are about, "togetherness of the people". In ancient times, should the parents die, it was impossible to be an orphan, for the Cherokees had no word for orphan; all the adults are the mothers and fathers of the children-- in fact, grandmothers and grandfathers were interchangeable as needed by the circumstances of life's changes.

Got to and click on the "Registration" link

Please return this application via email or postal mail and the White Chief, Waterhawk Garrett himself, will read it and respond to your application, and be in communication with you, to lead you on the white path back to the tribe of your ancestors.

"Look forward to uplifting times."

Regan Waterhawk Garrett
The White Chief of
Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah

copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah

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Anonymous said...

This is total BS. None of the Native nations owned slaves. What sort of forced labor would they have them do?
Stop telling lies.

Anonymous said...

you should keep an open mind, of course there were native american slave owners. Study the era, whites come to native territory enslave some natives they knew the territory and could escape. Soon many married into white society, children get rank in tribes wants in on slave trade, tribe and buys black slaves, marry slaves, etc

Anonymous said...

The home shown above was built by my 4th Great Grandfather, Chief James Vann. Documented proof shows he had many slaves. Not that it is a proud fact, but it is the truth and can be found documented in the Moravian mission diaries which talk of life on this very plantation. His son who inherited his wealth, Rich Joe Vann, was evicted from the home for unknowingly breaking a Georgia law of employing a white man without a permit around the time of the Trail of Tears. The home was given to a white man in a Land Lottery. The reality being that the government found any reason to take over the land. It is now restored as a museum in Chatsworth, Georgia. I am fortunate to have a well documented history, but for those still searching, I would highly recommend creating a account and maybe taking a DNA test through them. This has proven to find true cousin matches for me and allowed me to connect with them. It is not a simple click of a button, and it's not free,it takes ALOT of work and patience. Every day more records are added to the internet to help you discover your past, but it could take years for a breakthrough and you may find the truth is not as you had been told. You can find Indian records on, and many more...GOOD LUCK!

Anonymous said...

I am 60% cherokee and 40% blackfoot and i look black so all of u fake mfz needa stop lying about history because my father is 100% cherokee and he is reddish dark black and we look like ninjaz not fake indians wit certificates. Go get a DNA test and see wat u really is made up wit because if u dnt look black then your not really an injun i have my DNA TEST TO PROVE IT

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

First I like to express my gratitude for your site and information! I a one of the descendants of the black ancient Cherokee kituwahg (keetoowah) tribe, the tribe that lost their land in southwest Georgia in 1836! We were the full blooded black native Americans that were given land in Arkansas, and agent, major William lewis lovely! We are the only tribe left without a sovereignty! We are to date treated like foreign born citizens. I was granted a delayed certificate of birth at age 46! My ancestors were not considered slaves but free men! My DNA test results proves that my maternal lineage came across the bering strait!

Anonymous said...

The black Aboriginal people were here long before Columbus came.

Anonymous said...

black people are the real natives. a few came as slaves

Shontone Powell said...

black people are the real natives...a few came on ships

Anonymous said...

I truly needed this information. Article and comments. I'm in tears I'm finally at the apex praise YHWH!!!! Praise YHWH for reactivating my DNA.

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