Our narrow understanding of Native Americans


The Aboriginal Americans were various shades of copper color some very dark in complexion and there were many Nations indigenous to North America that were not much different from the African and Asian in appearance as reported by earliest European/Spanish explorers.

“… the Black Seminoles are sometimes described—and sometimes describe themselves—as black Indians. The concept of black Indians has historical roots in early America and was adopted by individual Black Seminoles (who often just called themselves “Seminoles”) and others throughout the twentieth century. Among older Black Seminoles, for example, there remains a strong traditional sense of not being “African American.” The concept of black Indianness is rooted in the historical reality that some African Americans and Native Americans intermarried, also—and this is more problematic historically—in the belief that some Africans were present on the North American continent before the arrival of Columbus.”


There is a blur between the native American and the African through the lens of the colonizer.

The Black Seminoles were the most successful black freedom fighters in America prior to the Civil War. In Florida, they led the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history, during the Second Seminole War (1835-42). Even more impressively, they won their portion of the uprising — or at the very least, they won a partial victory in their struggle for freedom.

Had a community of white pioneers under a white leader engaged in half the exploits of John Horse and the Black Seminoles, they would have easily entered the mainstream of American consciousness, and would probably now figure in most textbooks of American history.

The Black Seminoles, however, were largely forgotten. Though well known to prominent people of their day, the group ultimately fell to the margins.

The leaders of failed slave revolts, like Nat Turner and the white abolitionist John Brown, at least became minor figures in the history books. The Black Seminoles did not even achieve this status.

A number of factors combined to suppress their story. In the 1830s and 1840s, government censorship, political tension, and southern fears of slave rebellion contributed to a tendency to downplay their existence. Additionally, over the next century, some historians (though not all) continued to describe the two wars in which they took part as Indian wars, not Indian/black conflicts.

Over subsequent generations, a handful of historians kept the Black Seminole legacy alive, but prevailing ideologies prevented them from entering the mainstream. The southern tradition could not embrace the Black Seminoles, probably because they had been too successful. The liberal tradition could not remember them, perhaps because they had resisted oppression too successfully and were never clear-cut victims.

With the advent of recent books, archeological digs, and research, the history of the group is finally coming into its own. With this new awareness, history is not being revised, since the story has been with us all along. Rather, history is finally being heard — accurately and, in some cases, for the first time.


” They are dark in color, not unlike the Ethiopians, with thick black hair, not very long, tied back behind the head like a small tail. As for the physique of these men, they are well proportioned, of medium height, a little taller than we are. They have broad chests, strong arms, and the legs and other parts of the body are well composed. There is nothing else, except that they tend to be rather broad in the face: but not all, for we saw many with angular faces. They have big black eyes, and an attentive and open look. They are not very strong, but they have a sharp cunning, and are agile and swift runners. From what we could tell from observation, in the last two respects they resemble the Orientals, particularly those from the farthest Sinarian regions.” – The Written Record of the Voyage of 1524 of Giovanni da Verrazano as recorded in a letter to Francis I, King of France, July 8th, 1524



Newspapers cheered on the statewide campaign. In 1853 the Yreka Herald called on the government to provide aid to:

“enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last red skin of these tribes has been killed.

Extermination is no longer a question of time – the time has arrived, the work has commenced and let the first man who says treaty or peace be regarded a traitor.” Other newspapers voiced similar sentiments.

In order to clear the way for white settlement, the United States Senate in 1853 authorized these committees to negotiate treaties with the Indian tribes of California.

california black natives

The propagated image of the native American is so narrow in phenotype that most of the uninformed public believe that any darker colored Natives are the result of mixing. The uneducated or the misseducated public are unaware that not only has the West African been living, trading, and intermingling with the indigenous American nations for a 1000 years before the European invasion, but the Negroes and the Natives American even after colonialism has intermingled so much in the south that they are now considered one people.



“…associated and intermarried with the negroes until they finally lost their identity and were classed with that race so that a considerable portion of the blood of the southern negroes is unquestionably indian” –

Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 23rd

Now a pretty significant law passed in Virginia in regards to how we understand Native race and Negro race as the government defined it:

” Be it enacted by the general assembly, That every person having one-fourth or more of negro blood, shall be deemed a colored person, and every person, not a colored person, having one-fourth or more of Indian blood, shall be deemed an Indian.” –

Primary Resource

Chapter 17 of Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia(1866)

crow tribe 1883

We see here that racial lines are being established by the governing powers distinguishing the Native from the Negroes specifically stating that if you are non Negro but have 1/4 Native Blood you are classified as Native, but if you have “any” negro blood you are Negro and nothing else.

We are now beginning to comprehend the idea of what a native is or isn’t based on racist laws passed during colonialism that persist today.


Because colonial history clouded the ethnic identity of certain groups.
Virginia passed two acts in 1682 that combined Native Americans and Africans into one category as “negroes and other slaves.” In 1699, slave laws stipulating whippings and other forms of corporeal punishment as the standard practice for dealing with slaves were the rule in Virginia.

black law

We have developed this narrow view of Native Americans and distorted idea of what a negro is so that we make these ignorant assumptions about a people we have no real understanding of. Black is a misnomer and so is Indian and as we begin to peel away the layers of bias history as recorded by the invader we can begin to properly understand the indigenous people’s history and appropriately realize the ethnic identity of non-European people.






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