Thoughts on Native American and Black Solidarity

Note: So much of how we see the world is through colonized eyes and those eyes make it so that we categorize large groups of diverse people into one name; Native, Native American, Indigenous, or Aboriginal. Here at CREAD, as you will see below, we aim to use specific tribe names when we discuss our brothers and sisters as much as possible and use the term Native American when were discussing the experience of the 1st people of this land. Words matter.

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November is Native American Heritage Month and though I pride myself on being knowledgeable about the histories of people of the African Diaspora, I had to be real with myself. There is still so much I don’t know about the histories of my Native American brothers and sisters. Thinking of the importance of this solidarity led me to explore the topic of Black/Native American resistance.

Black and Native Colonial Resistance

In the first chapter of his book, Black Movements in America, Cedric Robinson details the history of maroon populations throughout the country in response to the development of European colonies. Native American resistance to colonial rule and oppression had been a given from the time the first European colonists set foot in the US, and some Native American communities were enslaved as laborers before the beginning of African slavery. Multi-racial, national, and ethnic communities resisting European rule, continued to develop in various parts of the Americas as the African slave population increased. According to Robinson, by the start of the eighteenth century “mixed communities of renegade colonists, Native Americans, and Africans were being molded.” Many of the earliest slave rebellions actually happened in collaboration with Native American tribes who were resisting colonial expansion.

Robinson sheds light on rebellions such as the Yamasee War of 1715 – 1716 in South Carolina where Yamasee Indians and other Native American Tribes were joined by free and enslaved Blacks to launch a massive attack on the English colony of South Carolina. Another example of Black and Native American resistance happened in the French colonies in Louisiana when the Natchez Native Americans worked with African slaves to take over a tobacco colony in 1729.  Robinson writes, “after assuring themselves the cooperation of the Africans, the Natchez attacked the settlement, killing 247 of the Europeans and at least one black slave foreman.” When French and Choctaw forces (along with a black militia) attacked the captured colony 2 months later, they were caught off guard by a formidable force of resistance as “nearly half of the now liberated slaves chose to remain with the Natchez natives” (Robinson, 18).  

Though both of these examples stand out to me as powerful multi-ethnic models of resistance, such examples are hardly ever discussed or used to guide current social movements. It also doesn’t help that the strategy of colonial (and modern day America) is to double down with force to crush such collaborations, to send in reinforcements to eliminate resistances, and to elevate the status of some individuals of oppressed groups in exchange for their support. In the case of the Yamasee War, English colonists were only able to regain some control when they received back up supplies and persuaded other Native American tribes to align with them against the Yamasee. Colonists also created militias of African slaves who were given their freedom in return for their support of the maintenance of colonial power.

Flint and NODAPL – A parallel fight for water and life

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Though all of this went down long ago, it blows my mind to think about how narratives of united, multi-ethnic models of resistance are erased from popular memory. In terms of Black and Native American solidarity, I want to take a moment to consider the #NODAPL movement and the #Flint Michigan Water Crisis. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the predominantly Black and low-income community of Flint, Michigan are fighting for access to safe water. Though there were some instances of Native American and Black collaboration between both struggles for water  (see Little Miss Flint, Mari Copeny pictured above), I don’t have much memory in my frame of reference for collaboration between the Sioux of Standing Rock and the residents of Flint. White supremacist culture works to divide groups of color working in parallel movements as a means of preventing united, diverse forces of resistance. How powerful would it have been to have the Native American communities of Standing Rock and the Black residents of Flint fighting together as communities did during the Yamasee war or the Natchez Indian Revolt?

In this fight for liberation and existence, it seems that we can easily get wrapped up in our own fights, instead of mobilizing together and calling on each other for support. I found some information about a movement called Native Lives Matter, which draws on and credits the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was shocked to learn about some of the murders of Native American individuals in the past years. The percentages of police murders in relation to the total Native American population are quite disturbing. One thing that did stick out to me on the website is how much of the rhetoric is about how Black men are being murdered and their murders are covered in the news, whereas Native men and women are being murdered and no one talks about them. It’s like there’s an attitude of “I’m Black, so I gotta focus on Black Lives” or “I’m Native and I gotta focus on Native Lives” instead of it being a BOTH AND situation. Police are killing Black people and Native American people and the media is messed up and covers the stories in ways that don’t seek to achieve justice or to push our narratives forward.

In the cases of NODAPL and Flint, Black Lives Matter and Native Lives Matter Movements, the real enemies are the corporate, capitalist, White dominant powers who don’t give a fuck about Black lives or Native American lives or the environments where any of us live. While Native communities are fighting the erasure of the murders in their communities, Black people are fighting the forces of hypervisibility and criminalization of innocent victims. Let’s not forget the deep overlaps in Black and Native American histories and the fact that our liberations have been tied together.  Also, as it stands now, Oil is Flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline and residents of Flint Michigan still can’t drink their water so we’re all losing and still fighting our battles separately.

A Love Ethic – Centering Black and Native American Solidarity

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The Longest Walk, 1978

Solidarity between African Americans and Native Americans grew with the Black Power movement of the 1970s, whose goals were closer to the nationalism espoused by American Indian Movement activists. Pictured here (left to right) are Muhammad Ali, Buffy St. Marie, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Harold Smith, Stevie Wonder, Marlon Brando, Max Gail, Dick Gregory, Richie Havens, and David Amram at a concert at the end of the Longest Walk, a 3,600-mile protest march from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in the name of Native rights.

When we dig into our histories, from the beginning of Native and Black history in the US until now, there are so many parallels and overlaps, as well as deep traditions of solidarity, collaboration, and resistance. My search on this topic led me to an awesome resource – the exhibition IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas, which details collaboration between Native American tribes and Black communities in the US across time in so many areas of life – ranging from military alliances, shared agricultural practices, and shedding light on the lives of African-Native Americans. Scrolling through these pics was such a wake up call to how much my brain is still trained in either-or thinking when clearly so much of the world actually operates in BOTH-AND realities.

I’m left thinking about how lenses of history are skewed to exclude the overlaps in all our narratives, how we are left playing the Oppression Olympics instead of fighting together. The truth is, by learning more and changing our mindsets, we will begin to see the commonalities between our struggles. It’s clear that preserving one’s emotional energy and practicing health care is essential for the continued fight for liberation. Working together collectively is a way to take on each other’s issues so that we can have support when fighting our own. As a Black woman, I personally found it easier to initiate some conversations about Standing Rock with people who needed to be checked than I did about Flint where I was triggered and put in the red zone. Being triggered or hurt is an understandable response to racial trauma, and it can be helpful having other POC work with you as an ally if you find yourself silenced. Solidarity is so important if we are to continue to fight and push back to hold those who are truly responsible accountable instead of blaming each other.

Resources for the Resistance

Like the indigenous, the neoindigenous are a group that will not fade into oblivion despite attempts to rename or relocate them. The term neoindigenous carries the rich histories of indigenous groups, acknowledges powerful connections among populations that have dealt with being silenced, and signals the need to examine the ways that institutions replicate colonial processes.”

– Chris Emdin

The social studies teacher in me can’t end this without some resources/tips if you’re a teacher looking to incorporate more Native American perspectives and accounts this month:

Read more, learn more, change the globe!

  • Google is our friend and there’s so much good stuff out there waiting to be read and discovered. If you realize like I did that you have some gaps in your knowledge of Native American history, start looking up topics to push your understandings.
  • Educators like Dr. Chris Emdin of Columbia University offer great analyses of the overlaps between the struggles of Black and Native American youth in the public education system given Native experiences in places like the Carlisle school. In his book, For White Folks who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too, Emdin has a fascinating description of urban youth of color as neo-indigenous which has really made me think. Great place to begin digging to answer the question – How can we learn from the struggles of our Native American Brothers and Sisters to fight the continued whitewashing and subordination of Black and Brown youth in the public school system?

Incorporate different sources and Native American voices in your units

  • Since google is our friend, use it to find dope sources to engage students with this month! The INDIVISIBLE exhibit I mentioned earlier is a great source linked to a number of museums with additional sources. Checking sources is key to making sure you find legit information to share with students.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is one of my faves and the book includes some great reading guides and discussion questions at the end. It’s a great text to use to teach about adolescence, perspective, compare and contrast, and to teach in conjunction with Native American History. Here you can find a dope educator guide and a pdf version of the text.
  • Leslie Marmon Silko is a dope writer, poet, novelist who has a range of  texts which are awesome for pushing perspective around Native American identity.


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