Until recently, the topic of historic relations between Native Americans and African Americans has been somewhat neglected. The lives and experiences of people who share African American and Native American ancestry contain stories that have been invisible for ages.
Some reports indicate that, after 1492, large numbers of Natives were being shipped to Europe as slaves. Many of these slaves were then shipped from Spain to Africa. Survivors and descendants of the original group that later returned to America were now classified as “African Slaves”. African and Native people coming together in the Americas was first recorded in 1502. Many Indigenous people of the Eastern Woodlands as well as people of a few nations historically from the Southeast have a significant amount of African as well as European ancestry.
Comanche Family early 1900’s
Courtesy Same Devenney
Unfortunately, the relationship between Blacks and Natives before emancipation was often uncertain. A number of Native American tribes have had close relations with African Americans, especially in areas where slavery was prevalent or where free people of color have historically lived. Members of the Five Civilized Tribes participated in holding enslaved African Americans in the Southeast. Some enslaved or formerly enslaved people migrated with them to the West on the Trail of Tears in 1830 and later during the period of Indian removal. Some Seminole Natives of Florida formed communities with escaped Africans that came to be known as Black Seminoles. Hundreds of Africans traveled with the Seminole nation when they were forced to relocate to Native American territory.
Native Americans nicknamed the African American cavalrymen that they fought in the late 1800’s “Buffalo Soldiers”. The origin of this nickname is not certain. It may have had something to do with the appearance of their dark curly hair resembling the buffalo. These Buffalo Soldiers fought so fiercely that the Natives may have regarded them in a way that compared to the buffalo. On occasion, Buffalo Soldiers married into Native American families. This was similar to the blending of European and Indigenous cultures among the Metis.
Over centuries, African Americans and Native Americans created shared histories, communities, families, and ways of life. They were often separated from others by prejudice, laws, and twists of history. These mixed-blood people lived with a mutual struggle against slavery and dispossession that continues to touch their lives today.
For African-Native Americans, much like the Metis, double heritage will forever be inseparable.