The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Speaker reveals history of slavery, black Indians

By Caroline Manausa/reporter

Many people don’t know black Indians exist because history textbooks barely mention them.

Black Indian history is lost because the story is not told. Native American people connect with their community through stories, and without the stories, identity is lost, said NE government professor Lisa Uhlir in Black Indians’ Lost Culture on NE Campus Nov. 12.

Uhlir’s research began three weeks ago when she saw the DVD Trail of Tears, which depicts the forced expulsion in 1838 of Cherokee Indians from the Southeastern United States to Oklahoma. Actor James Earl Jones narrates a portion of the documentary on black Indians.

“I didn’t know that James Earl Jones, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, all these famous African Americans were actually black Indians, and I didn’t know anything about them,” Uhlir said.

Further research led her to the NE Campus library and three books on black Indians — all with the theme of slavery in the Cherokee Nation.

Uhlir said she was surprised to learn slavery existed among Native Americans. Prior to European and African immigration, it most often resulted from conflict between two native tribes. Some slaves were kept for blood revenge. If a man killed someone of another tribe, he would be held captive, made to work until the blood debt was paid and then released.

As early as 1622, when Natives attacked and killed European settlers of the Jamestown colony, the slaves could integrate into the population.

The Indian tribes did not treat their slaves as property, Uhlir said. They were not sold, and their children were not held as slaves. They worked the land and kept the harvest. Some were adopted into the tribe.

It was not uncommon for Native American women to purchase black slaves, then set them free to become their husbands.

After the Trail of Tears of 1838, relations between the African-American and the Native American began to break. While some tried to assimilate into the prevalent culture, others held to the Native American beliefs.

At the beginning of the century, the Dawes Commission compiled a roster of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory: Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. Only members of those tribes whose names were on the list were eligible for land grants. Former slaves, called Freedmen, were denied enrollment even if they lived on the reservation and had Native American ancestry. Today, descendants of Freedmen “press” for recognition and treaty rights as members of the Indian nation.

“Since I have been in this country, I haven’t heard about this kind of slavery,” said Mohinder Singh, a native of India and a NE mechanical engineering student. “I basically thought it was two races.”

Tassie Bethany, a first-year NE student, plans to attend the rest of Uhlir’s sessions on Native American history.

“All I knew about American Indians was the stereotypical things about the tribes, like casinos,” she said. “It’s the first time I ever heard it. It definitely puts a new spin on slavery.”

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