What kind of insult is “Aborigine”?

Unless in the minds of Whites like Scott Beason, and Black American politicians, Native Americans are inferior to both, in the USA’s “racial hierarchy.” Or perhaps Australian Aborigines are? But late Native American scholar Jack Forbes (an extremely distant cousin of mine) theorized that most historic USA Blacks have Indian ancestry, and proposed research into the ‘Red Roots’ of much of Black culture. Even before I read him, I’d heard that 40 percent of Black Americans know of Indian ancestors … which suggested to me that a majority at least had them.

It’s also curious to me that Beason seems to allow that people who aren’t identified as “Indians” here can still be “Aborigines.” That’s almost a Canadian (Horrors!) usage of the word: They use “Aboriginal” as an umbrella term for Indians, Inuit (aka Eskimos), and Metis. What a concept!

Lumbee Indians near Federal Recognition

That’s Heather Locklear‘s tribe.*  They believe they do it by swearing-off casinos they say they’ve never been interested in anyway.  Like my Nanticokes and many other East Coast tribes who’ve borne the brunt of the colonization of what is currently the U.S. the longest, Lumbees have been heavily intermarried for many generations. 

Issues around racialism, after 518 years of European-American politician and governmental influence and oppression, have unfortunately penetrated parts of America’s Native community also, hence the references in some WWW comments to certain Tribes or individuals as Black or White or “Wannabes,” attempting to deny their Indianness.  This is despite the claim of U.S. “Indian Law” and every Federally-Recognized Tribe that their Sovereignty gives them the inherent right to regulate their citizenship just like any other nation; tragically this basic U.S. law is contradicted by other laws, such as Congressionally-supported regulatory Recognition criteria requiring a nearly-Amish level of endogamy thruout the Tribe’s recorded history, and remaining in a small geographical area, despite the violent, racist, anti-Indigenous, economic, and cultural pressures of the Settler polities.  (Their own Common Law stipulates that a criminal should not profit from his crime, yet these crimes go studiously and dishonorably unpunished in a tradition as old as British settlement here.)

Anyway, Many Years to the Lumbee Nation!  And their website!

*–(Locklear is a frequent surname among Lumbees.)

Scottish Metis

Fascinating little article here from 2001!

2010 Census: Part-Indians, Part-Blacks, etc.

After looking over this 2001 story from a fine journalistic publication that maybe needs a new name(!!), IOTM that ‘traditional’ Census-Indians and Census-Blacks are poorer, disempowered, oppressed, discriminated against, etc., raising the question whether an increasing number of ‘non-traditionals’ laying claim to their Mixed Race Ancestry skews the demographics in ways that harm the discriminated-against, darker-skinned Americans?  (The same thing has been happening in Canada.)  ‘Ah, yes, Indians have now made it into Scarsdale, Redmond, Beverly Hills, West Palm Beach, so we don’t have to worry about them anymore!’

I ask this of myself too (as I did last May).  For logistical reasons I was not counted in the 2000 Census, but in 1990, feeling cheeky, I wrote myself down as Native American, in the only choice allowed me before 2000’s multiple-choice Census.  (Though I wasn’t living in a particularly upscale neighborhood at the time.  [I’ve been growing slowly in my Native self-consciousness since my mother informed me of it in the early ’70s … more quickly since I got on the Internet in the late ’90s!])

Ironically, this is the flip-side of a concern voiced by some Black leaders in the runup to 2000 — that traditional Census-Blacks claiming other races or ethnicities might dilute their political strength.  Remember that Congressional, State, and Local legislative and election districts are re-drawn every ten years in part on the basis of race (along with Party registration, neighborhood voting habits, income, etc.) — including Federal-Court-ordered “majority-minority” districts to redress racist housing segregation or exclusionary zoning.  So this isn’t just about paid-up membership in the NAACP.

Maybe those of us interested in claiming additional identities officially besides the one (North) America thinks we belong to, for which we don’t suffer as much from (North) America actively anymore [I’m choosing my words carefully here], should assert a specifically Mixed i.d., distinct from African-American or Native American or whatever — standing totally in solidarity with our oppressed cousins, whatever our internal disagreements.

What term or terms to use?  Metis, to those who have ever heard of it, usually connotes French-Canadian-Indian, although the term, as I have reported, historically and again now increasingly has broader usage.  Mestizo, again to those who have heard of it in the U.S., usually connotes a Spanish-Indian Mix somewhere in the family tree, although some have tried to apply it also to us Eastern U.S. “tri-racial isolates” (a term we have traditionally eschewed).  Mulatto is usually thought to mean a Black-White Mix, although Jack Forbes believes that historically it was mostly Black-Indian.  It’s said Forbes tried to broaden the local (colonial Carolina and New Jersey) term Mustee/Mestee* to cover all us “tri-racials.”  I once toyed with the equivalent Irish Gaelic term, Meascach, at least in regard to myself.  Some folks at the National American Metis Association have used the historic English Halfbreed or even its historic contraction ‘Breed, though my question here is what if my Native blood quantum — a racist, racialist, and unconstitutional category in the U.S. — is less than “Half”?  I haven’t seen anybody trying to revive the terms Quadroon and Octoroon, or any of the dozen or more other historical terms Forbes chronicles!

We could unite on a term like Mixed Aboriginal, going on to specify the Mix we wish to claim for ourselves on that same line on the Census form, eg, “Mixed Aboriginal: Irish and Nanticoke Indian.”  Except apparently the 2010 form won’t accommodate such a thing; see this 1.7MB PDF, and when it opens, go up in what is usually the page number box in the Reader toolbar and type “Sec1:5” without spaces or quote marks, then hit Enter/Return.  We get only 17 letters and spaces.  [I’m sure someone tried hard, but this is not well-designed even generally speaking.  What if someone is both Asian and Pacific Islander, as many traditionally-“Asian/Pacific Islanders” are?  What if they’re more than one “other race (sic)”?: Jewish, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, Iranian/Persian, Azeri/Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Indigenous Siberian, Tatar, Chechen, Aboriginal Australian?  By some estimates Armenians and Georgians are Asian too.  Many of these are small groups in this country, but it could happen!]

Yup, the 2010 Census discriminates against us ‘Breeds: Part-Indians, Half-Blacks, part-Whites, whatever, wanting to claim “All My Relations”!  They want to break us into tiny little pieces!  Actually it wants to break down traditional Census-Blacks and Census-Indians, hoping to be done with legal or political obligations to them.  That’s called genocide, the same old story. 


(*–I believe it’s pronounced mis-TEE, derived from the same French, Spanish, and Latin words like Metis [formerly, Mestis and Mestif] and Mestizo.)

How long have Europeans been here more-or-less continuously?

This Wikipedia article reminds me that it’s probably been pretty much 1,000 years, not just since 1492.  Leif Erikson and Co. didn’t just visit.  There were Norse settlements in Greenland and coastal northeastern Canada from around AD 1000.  They first settled in Greenland in 984, the original Norse settlements disappearing, possibly to malnutrition, “by the late 1400s.”  Seasonal settlements seem to have dotted coastal Canada starting not long after 984, and tantalizing evidence is that Norse visited and traded even farther down the coast, into New England, and less credibly, even farther south.  In the same late 1400s, Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, and French fishermen started seasonally fishing Canadian  Maritime waters once again, making use of coastal lands in doing so, soon after Spanish and Portuguese ‘rediscovered’ the Americas, farther south.

When you think about it, it’s doubtful that Vikings didn’t have intimate relations with Native women, by force or voluntarily, so they may have even left behind Mixed-Blood descendants among the Aboriginal populations here.  So even when Europeans seemed to disappear from here, in a sense they may not have.

New Nanticoke Indian chief, powwow plug, Recognition?

This is the tribe I’m related to – though it seems I don’t qualify for formal membership because my particular ancestors weren’t in the right place at the right time.  But if you’re in or near Delaware next Saturday or Sunday, do check out the powwow, one of the biggest east of the Mississippi (and every year, the weekend after Labor Day).  It’s along State Route 24 between Millsboro and Lewes, Delaware, on the north side of the road … you can’t miss it.  Sunday morning even includes an on-site outdoor Christian Indian worship service – they’re big Methodists (hence Chief Jackson’s comments against casinos, I presume).

I was surprised to read he’s ‘visualizing’ Federal Recognition … but the late Ned Heite (pronounced like Hyatt) believed he’d scientifically confirmed what we’ve always known, our continuous communal history and Native identity, considered difficult for many Eastern communities at one time categorized as “tri-racial isolates.”  The following I’ve gleaned from Mitsawokett.com:

…From 1994 to the end of 1998, a group of archaeologists excavated and researched a small house site (called Bloomsbury) in Duck Creek Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, that was occupied at the end of the eighteenth century. In the course of this research, it became necessary to understand the community context in which the site existed. The community study led to some conclusions, some of which are detailed in a report posted at Heite Consulting’s Web Page. (See Related Web Sites)

Essentially, the group headed by Ned Heite, a historian and archaeologist working on the project for the Delaware Department Of Transportation, documented the continuous existence of a Native American remnant community throughout the past 300 years. The group believes that it has conclusively shown that the community defended its existence as a distinct lineage group, even when there were no “Indians” on the official record. Moreover, Heite and his co-workers show it is obvious that the families recognized their Indian origins, and that their non-Indian associates accepted this.

…Ned Heite says, “There is, clearly, a need for in-depth revisionist histories of the Native American remnants. A few steps have been taken along this path by genealogists, by tribal organizations and by a few academic historians whose points of view are neither afro-centric nor eurocentric.
“There is a large and growing body of literature on the isolate communities, written from both inside and outside.

“Virginia Easley DeMarce published two articles on the “isolate” communities, both of which are extremely useful. Dr. DeMarce brings the professional historian’s techniques to a genealogical problem. Essentially, she showed that the Melungeons and other groups with exotic origin legends were actually Indian remnants. The articles were published in 1992 and 1993 in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly:

  • “‘Very Slitly Mixt:” tri-racial isolate families of the Upper South – a genealogical study.’ Vol, 80, No. 1 (March 1992), pp. 36-56.
  • “‘Looking at legends – Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied genealogy and the origins of tri-racial isolate settlements.’ Vol. 81, No. 1 (March 1993), pp. 24-45.

“There has been a burst of scholarship concerning isolate communities, but much of it must be taken with several very large pinches of salt. Brent Kennedy’s book on his own people, the Melungeons, is an example. While Kennedy’s research and activism are massive and admirable, the book contains some leaps of faith that are, in my opinion, unacceptable. Dr. DeMarce has pointed out that the most logical explanation for Melungeon origins is that they are an Indian remnant group who migrated from Central Virginia.

…”Communities went under a variety of names, of which Melungeon is one of the more common. In {northern and maybe central Kent County,} Delaware, the Indian community were called moors. I have heard that this kind of evasive nomenclature was adopted to avoid being called black, mulatto, Negro, or Indian, during the ante-bellum period. If they were identified as Negro or mulatto, they would be subject to discriminatory laws. People identified as “Indians not taxed” lost their civil rights and got shipped west.

“There is good evidence that large numbers of Indians stayed behind during each “removal” episode. To this day, there are remnant communities in each of the steps along the westward migration from which Indian tribes were ‘removed.'”

…”What are you?”

A correspondent wrote, “…I am one of these Delaware ‘Moors.’ …as a growing adolescent, life posed many questions to my siblings and myself. Removed from Cheswold and living in south Jersey many of our friends would often ask “what are you?” and although often we would ask our parents and grandparents (living in Cheswold) we never got much more than “our people.” Within the last four years I have lost my mother …and my maternal grandparents, all of whom were dearer than life to me. I would very much appreciate anything you could forward me so that I may let my children know whom and what a wonderful lineage they came from.”

Another, living in the deep South, says, “Folks ask me all the time, ‘just what are you?'”

And a third wrote, “I also remember being told as a child that the direct family…were mostly a mixture of Anglo/Indian and Spanish blood which didn’t make it easier for my sister and I to answer the question “what are you?” that was so frequently asked by classmates in the 60’s and 70’s. It wasn’t until the early 70’s that the term “other” was provided on the national test papers we were given in elementary school. Before that you had to list yourself as white, black or asian, those were the only choices. In short, I’ve learned much about our roots through this group and would like to offer my assistance in anyway that I can to help uncover and document the truth of our family history for ourselves and for future generations.”


“I Never Knew”

My people never told me about my real ancestral home
Those that came before me sought to protect their own.
I never knew the old ones and who my ancestors were
I never knew what they sacrificed or what they had to endure.
I never knew about the family secret and why my mother cried
I never knew until all of the old folks had died.
I never knew until I found out for myself, without any shame
That what I am inside is to be loved and that no one is to blame.
I never knew who I truly was; hidden way down deep inside
I do know now that I must tell it to all with great pride.
I never knew that I, son of my mother, was of mixed race
Delaware Moor; the Yellow People; this is my true human face.
I never knew that I was white, black, and Indian
I never knew because others considered it to be an ultimate sin.
I never knew what my grandmother taught me came from Indian ways
But loving memories of the touch of grandma’s hands stays and stays.
I doesn’t matter that I never knew.
It only matters that now I do.

–{Mr.} Loren Kelly
August 27, 2006

Our forebears have left us many orally transmitted records telling us we are descended from one or the other or both of the Lenni-Lenape and Nanticoke peoples of the Delmarva area; as we have learned more of the connections between our contemporaries across North America we have broadened the scope of this web site from being initially a record of Lenni-Lenape descendants to one which is inclusive of the Nanticokes.

…Native American research in southern New Jersey and Delaware presents often unsoluble problems to their living descendants and to historians. The greatest problem: the Indians living in these areas in the 1600’s and 1700’s were either forcibly removed or fled or avoided brutalities by dissolving into the European-descended community–and by so doing lost their identity and, to genealogists, research is all about individual identity.

It is easy to imagine that the removals of those of the original inhabitants who insisted on retaining their native identity was a powerful influence on the many who remained in Delaware to blend in and not attract attention. Proclaiming their Indian roots would attract unwanted attention.

Many Native Americans accepted baptism, the act of which, in the view of Christian society, converted the participants from ‘heathens’ or ‘savages’ to Christians. The simple act of baptism kept them from being swept up in Jacksonian purges, permitting them to live on the margins of transplanted European-derived society. The implications for the historical record were ominous. In effect, baptism brought about a change of status, from persons with Native American heritage to an officially recorded racial class of ‘colored’ or ‘mulatto’ or ‘black’. The resultant of this process of virtual “pleckerization” was a population of Native-descended people in Delaware whose recorded history became inseparable from colored persons of other ethnic derivations.

Institutionalized poverty and segregated, inferior schools, as well as indifference on the part of officials and citizens reporting to the recordkeepers, affected the sources available to us. Illiteracy compounded this problem, severely hindering family recordkeeping in Bibles and journals. Poor folks then, and today, did not and could not create records reflective of wealth and learning, i.e., land transactions, wills and probatable estates. Ministers of their churches, many minimally literate, kept few records. Where a circuit rider visited both white and colored churches, the recording of births and marriages of members of colored congregations were, by comparison, not nearly as complete. Readers may judge for themselves by viewing surviving records at the Delaware Archives. As would be expected based on economic and educational factors, more is found in jailhouse, almshouse and illegitimacy records than in church birth, marriage and death records and records dependant on family wealth.

A teacher, Anne Pemberton, has written, “Oral history must be preserved – otherwise history falls to the wayside as the province of the privileged – ignoring the history and stories of those who were not gifted with the opportunity to read and write.”

The archaeologist, Lyle Browning, adds, “Oral history definitely has a place and rightfully so. But there are oral histories that are not valid. What it does is provide a challenge to go to work on and push the interpretation of evidence as far as the evidence allows. The trick is to extract the nugget of truth from the whole.”

Library of Congress research specialist, Jurretta Jordan Heckscher, states, “Oral history is not inherently more or less truthful or accurate than written history: accounts of both types must be carefully evaluated for their sources, circumstances of production, biases, probable effects of knowledge or ignorance, degree of correlation with established fact, and other human filters before their veracity can be assessed for its factual utility in any given instance.”

The Mitsawokett web site takes from governmental, church, family and other records and, where these are not available, oral tradition and history to enable our cousins around North America to learn of each other’s existence, to share family lore and genealogical data, to give them a handle on “what they are and where they came from” and to give them a base from which to begin personal research.

These pages signal the respect we have for the original inhabitants of these lands and are a link to the past for their descendants.

The U.S. Metis dilemma

Reading about Obama’s goals for Native policy reminds me of the dilemma faced by Mixed-Blood Indians within the United States who may be luckier (for now) than our Indian-identified cousins: In some ways we would wish, like our brothers and sisters within Canada, to receive some kind of recognition under U.S. law, considering that many of our communities antedate 1776, or the later U.S. conquest / cession of our territories.  But doing so could detract from the material help so many other Indians and Tribes receive from Washington, which is already far from enough, reflecting continuing illegal and genocidal policies and negligence on the part of the American government.  This was pointed out to me in recent years by one or more U.S. Métis groups like this one.

What’s the goal of “recognition” if not money, reservations, casinos, etc.?  Most basically, the government-to-government relationship of co-sovereigns.  Beyond that, influence in U.S. policy that concerns us and even our Indian cousins.  One thing not commonly mentioned in the U.S. is non-Treaty aboriginal rights, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering, when such rights have not been ceded by Treaty.  But even “Federal recognition” as currently set up takes decades, sometimes generations, and to add hundreds of non- (or semi-)Indian-identifying Indigenous communities to that process would probably bring it crashing down!

Some US Metis spokespersons even say non-Indian-identifying Metis who are currently luckier than our Indian-identifying cousins shouldn’t seek individual recognition, Tribal membership / citizenship, for similar reasons, but instead should join one of the newly-forming Metis groups.  But, at least since the ’60s, Tribal membership is sometimes seen to have a certain cachet, especially for those of us separated by miles and/or generations from our Native roots.  (Sure, if we don’t “look Indian,” and society doesn’t maltreat us like it does those who do….)  This is a little like Black-activist objections to the mixed-race option introduced in the 2000 Census, fearing Whites will perceive a smaller Black community and belittle their aspirations for equality and social justice and fairness – “divide and conquer.”  In fact, a majority of historic African-Americans have also Native American and European ancestries, just as most persons with Native American ancestries also have European and/or African ancestries now, and more European-Americans than realize it – especially Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch – have African and/or Native American and/or South or Southwest Asian ancestries.  (BTW, most non-Latinos don’t realize that most Latinos have substantial Native American ancestry, either.)  And more than a few Indian-identified persons treat Metis as “wannabe’s,” rather than “are’s.”  The fact is that America usually treats you based on what you look like … unless they know that there’s more to you than what you look like, and then they mistreat you on that basis!  So by no means should equality, fairness, social justice continue to be denied somebody, simply because he or she doesn’t meet the deniers’ traditional definition of this or that.

OTOH, in Canada at least, Metis often share Indians’ problems with health, poverty, and discrimination.  It might be interesting to investigate whether American Metis are worse-off in these ways than any of their non-Indian cousins, and perhaps more like their Indian cousins in this regard than currently suspected.

If Mixed-Blood profile, roots, and culture(s) could be raised in this country, their groups might be able to take pressure off needy Native communities.  Indians or Tribes could help with this perhaps.  But as currently understood here, no Metis group as such has any claim on the U.S. (except perhaps the couple cheated out of “Halfbreed Reservations” promised in Indian [sic] Treaties in the Midwest), and so like the group linked above, their aspirations are mostly less tangible and more voluntary.

The other thing is that Halfbreedness in the US has been mostly a highly-localized phenomenon, somewhat below-the-radar, with few if any of the larger kinds of groups, communities, and cultures that developed in what is now Canada – even a couple short-lived regional Republics in the Plains!  (This Wikipedia piece, while somewhat semi-comprehensive, focuses on the Plains Metis of Canada, especially their French-derived; this one, on what might be called Plains British-derived Metis; these links provide a bare hint that there are Metis in and rooted in Central and Eastern Canada; this site seeks to do much better, as does this oneThis document suggests that at one point ALL QUEBEC could be considered a Metis Reserve, and this long and quirky but rewarding one, that most French-Canadians are in fact Metis, “Creole [continental] North America,” not-quite-White, not-quite-French!)  As the links in parentheses indicate, Metis have a higher profile in Canadian history than here.  In fact it has been documented that many of the ‘border tribes’ the US warred with, stretching from the Great Lakes to Texas, were in fact Mixed-Blood Nations.  And many “White” cities from the Midwest to the Northwest were founded by Metis, even Francophones, even immigrants from Canada.  But in US historiography – as in fiction, movies, TV shows, etc. – ” ‘Breeds” usually have to choose between Native and Settler peoples.  [How many Old West cowboys were Metis / Mestizo???]  And so we have more than 200 relatively-tiny, loosely-organized communities in the Eastern U.S., identified around 1960 by Brewton Berry in Almost White, and by others before and since, most with a tradition of Native roots as well as Old World(!), most of whose neighbors seek to deny them any origins sounding more ‘exotic’ than mixed-Black-and-White: Nanticokes, “Turks,” “Portuguese,” Brass Ankles, Redbones, “Blackfoot Cherokee,” Melungeons, “Moors,” etc etc etc.  (OTOH, it’s highly likely that many of the early-modern Blacks and Whites invoked, had acquired Indian ancestry too, since Indians were enslaved as part of the Greater-Atlantic Slave Trade since the 1400s or earlier [sic], according to Powhatan-Renape / Lenape Metis Jack Forbes.)  And culturally, often these have been forced ‘underground,’ to largely assimilate to surrounding White or Black communities – though always retaining a certain distinctiveness, even if often uncertain to others or even themselves or their kin, or “hidden in plain sight” – unlike the ingenious blended Euro-Indian culture(s) of Metis in Canada.

THEN AGAIN, this US group thinks the solution isn’t to go along with the problem, but to challenge it head-on – “apply directly to the forehead,” so to speak! – not by simply joining the competition for a small or even shrinking pie, but with greater numbers to get the pie enlarged!  (They do perceive a need in the US Metis community similar to that in the Native-identified community.)  By some estimates one in three people in the U.S. has Native ancestry!  Imagine THAT Mixed-Blood Nation – 100 million registered voters!

In true Native fashion, one wants to honor “All My Relations.”  But how to do that – ah, that is politics!