There’s a common history between Native Americans and blacks. Tracing back to the late 18th century, both groups sometimes coexisted with one another and created interracial communities that endure even today.
But for Tiya Miles, it’s a complicated history that often goes unnoticed.
“African Americans and Native Americans have been in close relationships since the founding of European colonies,” she said. Yet currently members in both groups are conflicted over their ties with each other, as some Native communities refuse to recognize the descendants of former slaves as true Native Americans.
“The descendants would have voting rights and equal access to tribal resources, but some members of the Native nations in question feel the descendents of slaves are black, and not Indian,” she said.
Miles, a Native American and African American studies professor at the University, urged both blacks and Native communities to reconcile their past and use their shared history as a fulcrum to combat social issues dealing with both groups.
Miles spoke last night at an event held by the Native American Student Association in South Quad Residence Hall in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
Miles drew the audience’s attention to the historical overlap between blacks and Native Americans, comparing their similar backgrounds rooted in oppression and their importance in the founding of America.
“Blacks and Indians laid the literal ground-work for America,” she said: “And I mean, really, the ground-work.” She referred to the ground work as the land taken from the Natives and the enslavement of Africans early in American history.
And this oppression continues today through stereotypes that burden both Native Americans and blacks, Miles said.
“It makes sense that African Americans should be working with Native Americans,” she said. “If we can see issues that way, we can join together to form solutions.”
Despite the current problems between the groups, Miles said Native Americans and blacks have had a positive relationship with each other historically that can be used to foster productive collaboration.
To resolve the current disputes between the groups, Miles advocated both groups finding creative solutions rather than relying on the American court system.
“As students who have the opportunity to study this history and come from these communities, you should strive to become educated about these issues and to envision creative ways of solving problems like these,” Miles said.
Alyx Cadotte, an LSA senior and former co-chair of NASA, said she organized this event to raise awareness about the close relationship between blacks and Native Americans.
“Blacks and Indians relationship is a topic that’s not discussed enough on campus,” she said, “People are sometimes forced to choose – either identity.”
Deena Marshall, an LSA junior and a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority said that it’s important to discuss this ignored issue to help the two communities merge together.
Marshall, who identifies herself as multiracial, is three quarters black and one eighth Cherokee. She said that she chose to embrace her Native heritage after she joined NASA.
“Growing up, I was always told that I was black,” she said. But after being questioned repeatedly about her heritage, she said that she decided it was time for her to find out.
“I’m proud to have an Indian culture inside of me.”