IndiVisible - African-Native American Lives in the Americas

September 15, 2011

Will current blood quantum membership requirements make American Indians extinct?

N01278 Blood quantum is a term used to define bloodlines relating to ancestry. For example, a person with one Indian grandparent and three non-Indian grandparents has one-quarter Indian blood. For American Indians, intermarriage between tribes, however, reduces specific tribal blood quantum.

The concept of documented blood quantum began in Europe and surfaced in the Virginia Colony in 1705. However, Native blood quantum was not widely applied in federal law until the 20th century. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act provided a means for federally recognized tribes to form constitutions and statutes to define their own membership criteria. As a result, the majority of federally recognized tribes began using set blood quantum requirements, lineal descendancy, or roll descendancy as criteria for tribal membership. Many non-federally recognized bands and tribes adopted blood quantum requirements to determine their tribal membership as well.

Tribes that use blood quantum criteria require tribal members be at least one-half to one-sixteenth blood of their tribe. A Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) is issued to tribal members as documentation of tribal membership. Tribes that use CDIB’s have the right to close membership or disenroll members because of lack of blood quantum. Tribes that use roll descendancy, established though treaties, may have tribal members on their rolls with no Indian blood at all—people who are tribal members, but who are not American Indian. Issues of roll descendancy, including closing membership and disenrolling tribal members, are currently being debated in the courts.

A colleague and I were discussing tribes that use blood quantum to determine their membership. She said, "Tribes that do this are setting themselves up for extinction. Eventually intermarriage will wipe fixed blood quantum out.” I totally agree with her: under the current blood quantum of my own tribal membership, my future grandchildren will not qualify to be members. As an American Indian and tribal member, this concerns me.

My colleague said her tribe recently opened up their membership for new members including new babies, people who moved out of state, etc. In order to become a new member each person seeking enrollment had to answer, historical, cultural, and family questions that pertained to the tribe's identity. For newborns, their parents had to answer these questions.

It was this tribe’s belief that if prospective members were connected to their community roots, they would know the answers to the tribe’s questions. Individuals who moved away and did not maintain any connection to their tribal community were not able to answer the questions and were refused membership, regardless of blood quantum. Perhaps this is one alternative that tribes will consider to replace blood quantum requirements.

During the NMAI Living Earth Festival this summer, I asked a Native Hawaiian woman how Native Hawaiians view blood quantum in their culture. She responded, "To the majority of Native Hawaiians, blood quantum is not an issue. We know our family bloodlines, and they are recognized by other Native Hawaiians. This is what makes us Native Hawaiian. I think blood quantum is an issue to Native Americans because of their relationship to the United States government. Native Hawaiians are not recognized by the United States the way federally recognized tribes are. Therefore, I think it is due to the government that Native Americans have to be concerned about blood quantum." To me there are many truths in my Hawaiian sister's feedback.

Do you think current tribal blood quantum requirements need to be amended or terminated? If so, or if there are other aspects of this topic that interest you, I hope you’ll be able to attend the symposium Quantum Leap: Does “Indian Blood” Still Matter tomorrow (September 16) at the museum in Washington, DC. If you can’t be here, please follow the discussion via live webcast. You can also submit questions via email to One of my colleagues or I will make every effort to pose your questions to the panelists. If you can't join us tomorrow, you're welcome to continue the conversation here via the comments.

For more information on tomorrow's program, including the panelists taking part, please see the symposium guide.

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI cultural specialist

Above: Three Nanticoke schoolboys, 1911–14. The boy in the center is from the Street family. Indian River Hundred, Delaware. Photo by Frank G. Speck. N01278

Comments (1)

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Isn't it interesting how the Spanish "pure blood laws" of 1484 influenced the Casta paintings in the New World which lead to the blood quantum system of the USA? Isn't it interesting how the Nazis used the blood quantum system for ridding Europe of Jews?

Before colonization, my tribe adopted people into our tribe without respect to origin. It is still part of our living culture to adopt relatives without respect to blood relations and origin. It is in our best interests to reject the blood quantum system concerning the history and continuous intent of such "pure blood laws". Allowing an external force to our communities to define our identities and define how our descendants can be treated is a cowardly act. As it is commonly said, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Tribes have all the information regarding the history of how "pure blood laws" have been adversely used against human beings. To continue to accept such blood quantum definitions for our identities brings shame upon us all for being so gullible that "pure blood laws" are intended for our benefit.

March 05, 2010

HIDE - A Thick-Skinned Beast


American Indians are often masters of metaphor. Alternative meanings that reflect our spirituality and the histories and narratives of our communities charge much of the world around us. This also extends to the artwork we create. There is no great mystery inherent to any of this, of course, nor are Native people unique in this way. It is a symptom of the human condition to crave and create meaning, to examine and interpret what we’ve been presented with, and to make choices about what we reveal or hide or see.

It’s also no surprise that skin—our most intimate cover for what’s literally on the inside of each of us—offers rich material in terms of metaphor. The English language presents a number of examples related to skin that we use without thought, almost daily. Some are cautionary words about illusion and reality, as in beauty is only skin deep. Other phrases—it’s like a second skin or it got under my skin—suggest comfort, or the lack of it. And descriptors like thick skinned or thin skinned speak of the emotional distance we maintain between ourselves and others. The same multilayered nature of the artworks in HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor is central not only to the exhibition but to this book’s essays. The exhibition—the name of which offers its own multiple meanings—assembles the work of several contemporary artists as they examine issues of identity and consider what it means to be Indian within the context of what we choose to reveal, to hide, and to see.

As individuals, our skin is not only a protection but also a document of our wounds and healing, a witness to our personal histories in the form of scars, stretch marks, and wrinkles. Maori, Hawaiian, and other traditional indigenous tattoo designs literally inscribe an individual’s story and life force on the skin, and many people today find it appropriate to express themselves by ornamenting their bodies with tattoos, makeup and other forms of paint, and piercings. These alterations aside (and despite American culture’s apparent obsession with preventing or treating signs of aging), we generally expect an individual’s skin to accurately represent their life experiences. After all, to be truly unimpeded by the confines of our histories, as documented in the form of our skin, is to belong to the indigenous realm of shapeshifters, those who possess supernatural abilities to change their physical form. At the end of the day, our skin keeps us honest. Try as we might, we cannot separate ourselves from it. And we should not want to.

Our “hides” are important to this dialogue as well. Entire communities may become defined, by themselves and others, based on what they collectively decide to reveal or keep hidden. Another significant conversation about identity and self determination is currently underway at the National Museum of the American Indian, in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in the form of the exhibition IndiVisible and its related scholarship. Like HIDE, IndiVisible considers surface appearances, and what they reveal and hide, within the specific context of our African-Native American communities.

Our “red” skin has meant a great many things to us and to others over the last several centuries. It has been venerated and nearly idolized, and it has made us vulnerable to hate and violence. It has been a source of pride and shame and confusion within our communities, especially as related to its various shades, which themselves bear witness to the various histories of our ancestors. And for as long as Native people have been recorded in images, we have been misrepresented, whether in the beautifully staged romantic photographs by Edward S. Curtis, the perverse exaggerations of sports mascots and Hollywood stereotypes, or the unintentional distortions by otherwise well-meaning individuals. The deconstruction of this imagery is central to HIDE. Here we ponder the artists’ representations of a few of the many ways of being a “real” twenty-first-century Indian: celebrating our beautiful skin, acknowledging the scars we bear as individuals and as tribal nations, and recognizing the scars we inflict on our Mother Earth. HIDE is also a manifestation of a larger and long-term initiative at the National Museum of the American Indian, namely its Modern and Contemporary Native Arts Program, which will continue to present thoughtful and innovative works by today’s leading Indian artists.

I am reminded of the words of American poet Walt Whitman—himself a master of metaphor—who once said, “The public is a thick-skinned beast, and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there.” I’m grateful to the artists who continue to whack away, and in the process have enlightened us about who they—and who we all—are.

Kevin Gover (Pawnee)

Comments (43)

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Fascinating Kevin. I will be recommending this post and associated information on the exhibit to my class on Native American Spirituality and Lifestyle at Grossmont College this semester. We just reviewed some of Curtis' photos and the imagery that the Native faces he captured relate to us. The beautifully decorated hides as well as facial and body decoration do indeed tell us a "hidden" story.

The discussion of how we use skin all day long as a metaphor reminded me of some time I spent in Japan. They have a term there that they have taken from English - "skinship." It's about the importance of touch.

If you talk to your friend every day over a long distance, they feel there is a missing component in Japan. Skinship is when two people touch, whether they are friends or something more.

As much as skin represents our age through wrinkles and our genetic history through color, it also expresses our emotions through touch. In this modern world, real touch is often lacking as we only communicate via the internet.

Absolutely valuable your individual writings to help me. So I currently have received a lot because of your current blogs and it is my best opportunity to share the great viewpoints with you.I hope we all can make contact much more by the mailbox and blog.Thanks a lot.

I really like traditional style tattoos and have been studying them for some time so I really enjoyed this article. The interesting thing is that at the shop I work at near Portland, Oregon we do a lot of tattoos that reflect people's lives. Many people want to get the names of their children or family name tattoo'd on their body. The one name I have trouble with sometimes is if it is from someone who has died. I just wonder if they really want to be reminded of that their whole life. You can see some of our tattoos here:

I really loved the imagery of the skin as not just being an outward protection but a visible reflection of ones wounds and healing. Very powerful.


Daniel Tetreault.
Sidney, BC

I loved this article and am a student of tattooing. My skin is a diary of my life, from wounds from my younger days to the sanskrit tattoo that marks my union with my wife it will forever keep me honest.

I find ancient language tattoos to be fascinating especially those in runic alphabets or in sanskrit.

For Native people, skin encompasses an entire universe of meaning. Our own skin functions as a canvas that we can inscribe with messages about our identity or use as a shield to protect and hide our secrets.This book seems really interesting.I will make a point to go through this book.

I wonder how this would interplay with the position of the original peoples of Australia. Are there any metaphors you think are universal?


Skin is our Identity, I mean, we can identify each individuals if they are old, or young, by looking at their skin. As simple as that, anyway thanks to this great post, I learn from it.

As much as skin represents our age through wrinkles and our genetic history through color, it also expresses our emotions through touch. In this modern world, real touch is often lacking as we only communicate via the internet.

Your ending about Whitman brought to mind one of my favorites quotes: "The finest clothing made is a person's own skin." ~ Mark Twain

I will tell you a secret, we are all magnificent spirits in human form, we are all God in disguise. We are the truth and the light. If all people knew this for sure, it would be the end of all suffering.

Thanks for the well written post. Some people are skin conscious. Some discriminate against other people by their skin color whether it is dark or white, but what matters is we are all God's creation.

A great story about your employee and her being half-Irish. VERY honored!

Our skin may be red, black, white or somewhere in between, but we truly are "one" and should celebrate our beautiful skin.

“The public is a thick-skinned beast, and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there.”

Our cloak in society, Its a very interesting read. It means so much to us and so little, when we think about it. We treasure our hide and yet take it for granted. hmmm... interesting read indeed.


having only studied indian culture intemittently I never realized the importance of skin. It makes complete obvious sense but now looking back it clarifies and intrigues me on many indian styles and references.

Since my teenage days i had been very conscious of my skin color, i have tried different kinds of soaps and lotions to make me more fair. But then i realize it really doesn't matter what skin color you have, what's important is your attitude and how you carry yourself. Cheers!!


An eye-opener. I never really noticed the many uses of the word skin as a metaphor before coming across this post. Really interesting information. The importance of skin in our being, image, and self expression and the meanings associated go far further than i ever thought. Thanks for the post.

Once again, insightful, to say the least....

I absolutely admire lines like this : "As individuals, our skin is not only a protection but also a document of our wounds and healing, a witness to our personal histories in the form of scars, stretch marks, and wrinkles. "

I got a bit sidetracked off my work using google, but glad i found this story about skin, natives and metaphors...
back to work!

I admire too the metaphore of skin. It is simply terrific. Congratulations

Absolutely valuable your individual writings to help me. So currently have received a lot because of your current blogs and it is my best opportunity to share the great viewpoints with you.I hope we all can make contact much more by the mailbox and blog. Thanks a lot.

An interesting article that i will be keeping my readers linked to...

Cheltenham 2011

Brilliant article. I understand why our skin is a means of so many metaphors, after all skin is our personal "force shield" in sci fi terms. Without our skin, we are defenseless and we will die.


Einstein told us that we need a higher level of thinking to get ourselves out of the mess than the thinking that got us into the mess. Stephen Covey tells us that in such situations as we are in today we need a quantum change that can only be brought about by a completely new paradigm. Our current way of living is the paradigm that got us into the mess. The Indian approach is probably the paradigm that will get us out of the mess. If we read this book with an open mind and without prejudice, I believe that the Native American paradigm should be at the top of the shortlist of new paradigms from which we should make our selection for building the world we want for our children.

Terrific Article Kevin. Its amazing how the skin can mean so much and be so powerful. I guess it must be one of the oldest methods of communication as such!

It goes back to..."the old ways are the best ways." I learned about the meaning of skin. The use of metaphors with skin is interesting. Out skin is like the first page of a long book. Many thanks for this.

That is true of contemporary art.. It's a symptom of the human condition to crave and create meaning, to examine and interpret what we’ve been presented with, and to make choices about what we reveal or hide or see.

Nice article! Fact is people tend to put too much emphasis on color of skin that leaves them blind to what makes each individual unique and beautiful.

Kevin, your post is very informative. And I agree to what you said. It's true that people hide their true self or feelings through the what we used to see in them, physically or the outer side of them is very different from the inside. It's quite the same with the saying that "true beauty is on the inside, and not on the outer side of a person".

I want to be with the Natives for even just a week so that I can learn more about their lives. If only I have the financial capacity to travel.

This is an interesting article.
As a young person I am unaware of
African Indians back in the early days.

Thanks for the educational article.

A human being skin color has always been a mystery to the untrained mind of hate all that's your color may be your kind is dumbfounded. ones color should not deteriorate ones ability to blessed others with wisdon, understanding and above all knowing, one should strive to be a citizen of the world.

Very interesting and intriguing story you have here. Oh how I love this quote, "The public is a thick-skinned beast, and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there." Superb indeed!

Richard Barrick

Very smart article. I get why our skin is a means of so many metaphors, after all skin is our personal "force shield" in sci fi terms. Without our skin, we are defenseless and we will die.

What's an amazing post! It's very interesting and awesome. There are so many interesting not usual facts there. It also showes how deep could be connection between a body, language and feelings.

I love Indian Art in any form. I purchased a Sand Painting on one of our trips through New Mexico several years ago. It is so unique and original.

I am very pleased with this article, with our skin, we can express the world of our own lives, that is the art of tattoos

Very true. A few things that i found out studying tribal tattoos..

a. In Maori culture, persons with moko (Maori tattoo) represent they have higher social status;

b. Celtic cross means faith, unity and eternity of

c. God’s love while Celtic knot is symbolic of
life’s journey, and represents a continuity of life with no beginning and no end, a journey to one’s spiritual center.

When inked, these represent true faith and feelings of the individual.

Great article - thanks!
With one in four of the world's population being inked, the skin has become a true meduium of this art form.
Always remember... Think before you ink :)

I really loved the imagery of the skin as not just being an outward protection but a visible reflection of ones wounds and healing. Very powerful.

very true indeed

November 19, 2009

The IndiVisible Memory Book


The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) are co-sponsoring IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas, a traveling exhibit about people of mixed African American and Native American heritage. Do you have a story to tell about your family's Native and African American ancestry? Please visit the NMAAHC Memory Book and share your experience.

The IndiVisible Memory Book can be found at Once you have created an account on the NMAAHC sign-up page, you can add your own memory to the Memory Book by going to the overview page and clicking Share Your Memory.

James Austin ("Pap") Wiley, born in 1872 in Hamburg, Arkansas, was the son of Ellen, a black Cherokee born in Alabama about 1855. Photo courtesy of the Branton family.

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the reevey family of afro native people is very large in new jersey they named a town after them and have land that been in the family for generations,my mother is one of them

We are Arawak/Chickamauga natives whose grandparents spoke Spanish. Go figure that! Anyhow we kept our heritage a secret from non-natives because we natives were always the butt of jokes. Proud to be mixed heritage. It is who I am!

Citizenship Verses Heritage
Cherokee People have struggled for centuries to survive and maintain their distinct identities as citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Today we face a dangerous assault on our tribal sovereignty from a proliferation of fraudulent groups attempting to claim the same treaty rights and obligations that rightfully belong to the true historic Indian nations.
Everyone has the right to their family heritage. However, “heritage” and “citizenship” are not always the same, and should not be confused or used interchangeably.
To be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, at least one of your direct ancestors had to have publicly proclaimed their citizenship at the time of the Dawes Commission Rolls (1906). All others gave up their right and those of their descendants to Cherokee Nation citizenship. The Cherokee Nation Government establishes the criteria for citizenship.
To be more specific in our history, the “Eastern Cherokee Nation” and “Western Cherokee Nation,” including the “Old Settlers” and “Late Immigrants,” joined together in an Act of Union, July 12, 1839. There are no ‘lost’ Cherokee Tribes or splinter groups that hid out or wandered off the Trail of Tears.
Some groups attempt to appropriate the collective rights of genuine Indian nations; they can inflect great harm on the very people they are pretending to be. You can honor your heritage by learning about the history, culture and language of your ancestors, but citizens of Indian nations have rights and civic responsibilities to their nations that should not be infringed upon or imitated.
There are only three Federally-recognized Cherokee Tribes: The Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians both located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina (
Organizations rightfully claiming an association with the Cherokee Nation via Tribal Citizens At Large Groups, visit our web site and go to ‘Organization’ and then ‘Cherokee Communities.’ The Cherokee Nation does not question anyone’s claims of heritage, but merely points out the significant difference between claiming heritage and having citizenship in a federally recognized Indian tribe. For more information contact Cherokee Nation at (918)453-5000 and

Oh, Cherokee never fail to disappoint me.

Anyway, IndiVisible...continue rocking on!

ok, thanks for share great information of indiVisible Memory Book, I will visit the NMAAHC Memory Book.

ok, thanks for share great information of indiVisible Memory Book, I will visit the NMAAHC Memory Book.

Guess who's coming to dinner Chief Smith. Oh Cherokee nation make room in the cave wink, wink.

October 09, 2009

Upcoming Teacher Workshop for IndiVisible: Thursday, October 15, 2009 (4-6:30 pm.)

IndiVisible:  African-Native American Lives in the Americas, produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, raises a host of challenging, and sometimes controversial themes, about identity, race, shared (but often invisible) histories and heritage.  How well do textbooks and current curricula present complicated issues of race, identity, and show the diverse historical interactions between different ethnic groups?  As teachers, how often do you get to address these themes in the units that you teach, and what are some of the strategies that you presently use to encourage students to explore these sensitive issues?


Educators are invited to attend our upcoming workshop for IndiVisible on Thursday, October 15 from 4-6:30 pm. at the National Museum of the American Indian.  Participants will learn about primary sources associated with the exhibit, receive a sneak-peek of the show, and have the opportunity to meet with one of the co-curators of the exhibit, local activist and educator Penny Gamble-Williams.


Advanced registration is required.  Please visit our education homepage at to download a registration form (located on our Teacher Programs page), and to learn more about this and other upcoming events.


Comments (11)

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How do we include the Choctaws in the exhibits?
They were a major Indian Nation responsible
for the civilization.
Many of the Choctaw Nation villages were located from the Choctaw Sea called Atlantic today.

Forts which became State Parks Like Fort Fort Cooper and Jackson State Park in Florida has many of the artifacts of the Choctaw People.

How do we reclaim this artifacts so they can be apart of this museum exhibit?

My name is Louise Thundercloud and I am a mixed blood as are most of us in urban areas. When The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian opened, I was very excited, I took off from work the entire week to attend the festivities. I missed being around Native people and enjoyed myself very much.

I was first made aware that the issue of color and ethnicity existed when I was called a nigger by a western Tslagi, I was more surprised by her comments to me than anything else, but I went on to enjoy myself for the remainder of the day.

During the opening of the museum I overheard many elders saying to whites that "we must begin the healing between us". After hearing one such conversation, I went to the elder who I believe was Tslagi and told him that the healing needed to take place between Native people, both who had ties to Africa and those who do not.

I am very happy that a dialog exist between native peoples in the project of Indivisible, however I strongly feel that the issue of self-identification and being native was not given enough of a consideration or one at all.

I was thinking of a observation and question the late Vine Deloria Jr. made of the Lakotah. His question was "do the Lakotah cease existing because their land base was disrupted"? I ask the same thing when the issue of race, being mixed blood and native come up.

Because I encounter nastiness from other natives who have an issue with my skin color, does that mean I am no long native?

And here is my other question, do I hear the very same issues from those who are mixed with european? Why is it such a divisive matter not only in native circles, but in african american circles as well?

Friday night at the museum, I heard of the issues as they pertained to native people with african blood from the native community, however what of those issues as they come from the african american community?

My other observation would be that more dialog needs to happen in some way to discuss issues of identity. Why is it that some of us who are of mixed ancestry are very protective of our native identities, and identify only as our nations, not as afro native, or black indians?

Of course we are in this century, but aren't some of the problems we face as native people, a direct effect of forgetting the past? Who were we in the past? How would we have been treated traditionally?

I also have issue with likening our struggles as native peoples to that of african americans, they are not similar in my mind because we are from sovereign nations? Civil rights denote minority status, status of those who do not belong to the land. As native people we do belong to the land, and the land to us as Creator chose it. We were given responsibility to care for this land, were we not?

I understand not all of us had the opportunity to be raised with knowledge of our traditions, or our peoples, some had that snatched away, however shouldn't this acknowledgment be accompanied by offers of learning what we should know?

Indivisible asks that we be all welcome at the table, that was also my goal in my conversations with the museum, however since this step has been taken, should we not seriously question how we will use this acknowledgment? Will we use it to learn, to become as one with our people, or to show in one more way, how different we are?

Again I will ask, why is this not such an issue with those who are mixed with european?

Louise Thundercloud

I am a mixed blood as are most who are in urban areas. My questions concernng the Indivisible project is this, how important is identity as a native person? I ask this, because the hurts expressed by many at being left out of pow wows, left out of discussions because of the color of skin easily has created a third definition, afro indian.
I am a amature historian of a sort, I am also very solid in my identity. As a young girl was told of my native ancestry before any other ancestry, I was surrounded by my native ancestry. Later on I heard of the african and scot irish in my family.
I read the writings of Vine Deloria Jr. on the Dawes rolls & the Lakotah people, and feel he made a valid point, that was did the Lakotah cease being Lakotah because they had a diminished land base?
Because many of us have had terrible experiences within the native community, are we not native as well?
My mixtures are Hunkpapa/Dakotah/Tslagi/Siksika & Coast Salish. Some of my blood is from Benin west africa & the moors. I indentify as indigenous or native.
My desire to have native people open dialogue for those of us who have african ties was for healing & education.
I still want us who have this blood mixture to be able to identify with who our people are. I never hear those with european blood say they are white indians, so I don't understand the push to be black or afro indians

Greetings, when I searched for my ancestor who is on the Dawes rolls, it was suggested I try accessgenealogy. It is a free site. You can also put the final Dawes rolls into your browser & check that way. Was your ancestor Cherokee or Freedman
there are two different rolls

Thanks for putting this type of context.
I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this..

Easily, the post is actually the greatest on this deserving topic. I agree with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your coming updates.

Are there any more of these planned in 2011?


Thank you for asking. The museum's Education Office will have workshops in Washington this fall to discuss teaching opportunities using an upcoming museum website on Native knowledge of the environment. Dates and more specific topics are yet to be determined.

If you'd like to receive NMAI's email newsletter for teachers, please write to us via We'll put your address on the email list and keep you in the loop.

Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information
in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the
look for such information.

This information is very helpful. As an instructor of High School and
Community College students, it's good to know how to reach
my students better through the online components of
my Religion classes.

Thank you for keeping us updated.

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.

Comments (25)

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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 :)


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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.