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October 07, 2009

IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas

Since the early days of U.S. history, Native Americans and African Americans have been linked by fate, by choice, and by blood. Terrible and remarkable things have passed over and between our communities, as well as the communities we have created together.

Kevin Gover (Pawnee), Director
National Museum of the American Indian
Lonnie Bunch, Director
National Museum of African American History and Culture

On November 10, 2009, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) will host the opening of Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.  A collaborative effort between the NMAI, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES), the exhibition uncovers and engages the often hidden, but shared histories and lived realities of people who share African American and Native American heritage and ancestry.

For centuries, African American and Native people have come together, shared cultural traditions and practices, united in common struggle, and forged relationships throughout the Americas. At the same time, they were divided by racial prejudice, laws, and twists of history that denied their shared heritage and ancestry. Notable figures in U.S. history such Crispus Attucks, Paul Cuffee, and Langston Hughes all had American Indian ancestry. Yet when most people think of these individuals, they do so as African American.  Understanding why and how history and society have ascribed such individuals an identity as “Black” or “African American” while at the same time ignoring their American Indian ancestry is a primary the goal of Indivisible.  By focusing on the dynamics of race, community, culture and creativity, Indivisible seeks to uncover an important aspect of our history and heritage as Americans and our common desire of being and belonging to family, community, and nation.  We hope this blog will create a space to facilitate discussion around the complex and sometimes challenges issues raised in the exhibit.


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An important topic and one that deserves a forum for people to share their own stories. Thanks for creating this blog.

what kind of tribes are in georgia

I SO want to find my great grandmother or grandfather on the Dawes Rolls or find my heritage as a Cherokee!!!! I have little information to go on. Just my grandfather's name. He was 1/2 blood, my great-grandmother was full blood Cherokee. I want to be associated with the Cherokee Nation. It is so close to my heart. Can someone give me advice on how to go about it? Help me please!

Hello and thank you for all your organization has done and will continue to do, I recently heard a broadcast about african-indian americans on ustreamtv and I would like to get a little help with some research on my family.

If a family was issued an indian roll number and has misplaced that information what do they to reclaim another copy.

And how do you trace a tribe, on the maternal side of my family my Great,great,great Grandmother was a Blackfoot indian from Alberta Canada her name was Sally Two Tree when she came here she had a daughter my Great,great Grandmother Sarah Bloodworth Grant she had 8 names but I only knew her as Grandma Sarah where would I find out more about them.

Also how do you track the slaves?

My Great,great,great Grandfather was a slave by the name of Isiah Smith his slave owners lastname where Jones.
He was born sometime 1835 he fought in the Spanish American War, he also married a woman named Louisa Cotton I don't know if they had children and he passed April 1926.

Where do I go to find out more about them and anyone else thats a part of my ancestry, if you have any information that can help me out please contact me.

There is a part of African-American history that is also Native history. The great migration North included Native people who were trying to blend in to survive. To places like Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and New York.

the Museum tend to focus on western tribes and I think that once more emphasis is placed on tribes of the southeast and northeast more accounts of people of Native/black Ancestry can come to light. As a member I was disappointed that more was not being done to shed light on this. Then they published the article on Plecker in their Magazine. Which was excellent. Now the Indivisible exhibit in additions has showed me that they are improving in this area. I think if they continue they will boost their membership if they continue to document and portray history of Native Black peoples and future exhibits.

This exhibit sounds fascinating. I have a cousin in DC, so I will definitely have to come see this.

I'm Shawnee/Choctaw on my mother's side and Choctaw on my dad's side.

I don't know if we're on any kind of rolls, but I've always had a close identity with my tribal heritage. I'll be majoring in American Indian studies next year.

Hello All,
Many of you have asked the common question..."How do I track my Native heritage?" Perhaps some of you may already know your ancestors and therefore know to which tribe you belong but have no way of proving it. This is a common issue with many Indigenous Peoples of North and South America. Many people never succeed in reuniting with their Native communities. It is unsettling to see that so many have lost the connection with their traditional home physically, as well as spiritually.
Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to reconnect without having physical evidence of your ancestry. Even the smallest first and last name could be the determinant of tribal enrollment. The museums exhibit, “IndiVisble” has paved the way for many questions concerning this controversial topic. How do tribes determine who is and is not a member? What is blood quantum? Is it culturally contradicting to use the blood quantum system, etc. ? The entire subject and exclusion of so many leaves indigenous nations resembling an ultra-exclusive club in that only the elite are allowed to enter. In fact it is quite the contrary. History and hundreds of years of oppression would have us believe that ascribing to Native American heritage is most certainly not a path to elitism, rather the opposite. However, in the quest of respect and recognition several find themselves lost in attempts to understand their identity.
If you are one, of the many, who are searching for yourself or trying to become recognize by your tribe here is some information that might help:
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Telephone: 1-866-272-6272
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C. Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Telephone: 202-208-3100
Also, most tribes have an Office of Vital Records. It is probably best to contact the tribe first with your evidence at their Office of Vital Records. This office houses tons of information about tribal members and can most likely look up your relative’s information.
Keep in mind that knowing and proving you are Native does not always mean you are automatically going to become an enrolled member. There are many criteria that individual tribes enforce on their tribal members (e.g. in some cases at least ¼ Native blood).
“Finding Native ancestry is often a difficult and uncertain path. Genealogical searches for Native roots often begin with clues in oral accounts passed down through generations. Research into census records, archives, deeds, wills, and church documents can take years. Even when a Native ancestor is identified, tribal enrollment does not always follow, since each Native nation has its own specific rules for membership.” –NMAI “IndiVisible”

-Glennas’ba B. Augborne (Navajo)

I totally agree with Jasen... The African Americans and the Natives share a lot in common dating back to hundreds of years ago... Very excellent post... Thanks for all you do!


Loved the content in your blog. Really enjoyed reading it, please keep up the good work. I will tell some of my friends of your good writing and send some traffic your way


It sounds like alot of time and effort has gone into this exhibit,well done.Will surely pass by soon as i have some family in DC

Thank you for making people aware of such tribes and that part of the world, it's really great to have come to know about it.

I love the fact that African-Native Americans are having their history told. My family are African American and Haliwa Saponi tribe from North Carolina and I have always been told to love what I am and my history. I look forward to reading the book and hopefully going to see the display in DC.

We have been tryin to trace my boy freinds family tree and i have no clue where to start, all we know is his grandparents were blackfoot indian, they were from alabama.. no one has record of this nor does his parents but there is pictures of the gramma with long black hair and looks very native american.. what do we do?? where do we start to look for info at .. help...

Really good & informative post.

Great & informative blog. Keep posting more.Thanks

Great article very informative, It's nice to know their culture and history. I really enjoyed reading because i appreciate history so much.

Great & informative blog. Keep posting more.Thanks

Very informative post. Thanks for sharing..

Great photos and posts. :)

I wish discrimination would stop because it only ruins the peace. Every person is unique in his/her own ways. We must be one as brothers and sisters. Blacks, Whites, and others must unite because the world is facing many problems right now.

what an interesting story. I did not know about the rich history of african american indians in the US!
Thanks so much for the post, I really enjoyed learning about African Native Americans :)


I just check this blog, I like the information, I want to say thank you for the information you have shared. Just continue writing this kind of post. I will be your loyal reader. Ton of thanks.

This is a great history article.
As a young person i am unaware of African Indians back in the early days.

Thanks for the educational article.

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