Reflection: Indigenous Blacks are living proof of the strength of our ancestors

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by Miriam Zmiewski-Angelova in collaboration with Storme Webber, Brit Reed, Leanne Rye Brock and Kailyn Jordan


Since the adoption in 2014 of the indigenous-led resolution to transform the second Monday of every October into Indigenous Peoples Day, replacing the Day of Christopher Columbus (murderer of indigenous peoples, rapist and prolific slave trader), the holiday has honored the legacy and solidarity of Indigenous communities in Seattle for years. Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day 2020, it is a grim reality that we cannot celebrate in the same way as in the past due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Our country is also facing the cumulative effects of the general outcry against violence and the continued death of black and brown bodies at the hands of law enforcement, the increase in threats and violence by various white supremacist groups, the collapse numerous health care, employment, education, and housing systems due to a struggling economy and an incredibly controversial presidential election.

Overall, 2020 has been grueling for Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color. Many of us in the BIPOC community rely on family and community support, our cultural protocols and ceremonies to create balance in our busy lives. But because it has been so difficult to access that support and find balance, we feel a deep sense of grief, trauma, isolation and loss. I am an Afro-Indigenous mother of two, full time worker and lawyer / coach for early childhood educators and families. I felt it was important on this Indigenous Peoples Day during BLM and COVID-19 to help elevate black perspective, community and voice.

Right now, the focus is on racial equity and unity for BIPOC, along with more discussion of how anti-darkness is manifesting itself in our own communities. Native black people are living proof of the strength of our ancestors. Their resilience lays the foundation for a brighter path for our families and, more importantly, for our next generation. Like the Sankofa of Bono Adinkra, we must look back on our past and bring it back to the present day if we are to take positive steps forward. This piece offers lyrics from people of mixed Indigenous and Black / African American heritage in and around the Seattle area:

Reflections on grief, protest and healing during a pandemic and revolution

“Young people are the future and black and brown youth are front and center,” said Kailyn Jordan, a 13-year-old black activist. “Being a black and indigenous activist has been exciting and difficult. I won lifelong friendships and even had the opportunity to watch the March on Washington in Washington, DC I spoke in front of crowds of over 1,000 people, played my poems on NPR and I even made the news. I often remember that I am only 13 years old and that I have to get away from activism.

Brit Reed, Choctaw and Black conductor and artist, said: “Seeing these protests was something I dreamed of and prayed about in my early twenties… With COVID and being a little older now, I definitely agree. that a variety of tactics are needed [to be able to] protest safely from their homes … To be able to contribute to the movement and help prevent the spread of COVID, my initial idea was that people need something to wake up to if they don’t have a job to go to. It starts to get depressing after the honeymoon phase ends without having to work. Especially if you don’t have a lot of money. Following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and in the midst of the Seattle pandemic quarantine, Brit partnered with the YÉ™haw exhibit to create an artists relief fund. It was very important, she said, to establish a Black-Native gallery free from anti-Blacks and to allow Black-Native artists to tell their own stories. Brit also collaborated with Seattle #BLM to have posters made by and for blacks and in solidarity.

Listening to Kailyn and others, I reflected on the importance of balance and self-care in these turbulent times. We cannot get together, have a ceremony, share meals in large gatherings, or even hug people who are grieving the loss of their families and communities. As a parent, I constantly worry about making my children and others sick after a grocery run; about random violence towards my relatives by white supremacists roaming the city; about supporting my son in online school while working full time so that he doesn’t become another failing education system statistic on black, brown and native children. And yet, through the worry, I am also excited by the passion of those who fight in the streets and at home, creating a voice for the voiceless.

Reflections on the Identity and Visibility of Blacks and Aboriginals

Being born of mixed descent, and especially mixed African descent, seems to invite a litany of questions and qualifiers. I have heard statements ranging from “What are you?” “,” How are you so mixed up? “,” You are diluted “(referring to the amount of blood),” So you are basically a mutt “,” How do you get there? “(Referring to how my parents met) and” You are pretty neutral ethnically. ”In the wider Aboriginal community, colourism sometimes appears a little differently than in spaces dominated by white people. “Brit said.” However, if your darkness is attributed to being mixed with darkness, then you are at the lower end of the pecking order. Whereas if you are mixed up with whiteness, you are more likely to be accepted in the community.

Doula / midwife and lactation counselor Leanne Rye Brock discusses Blood Tropes as part of her thesis work in Blood Will Tell Us: Native Americans and the Policy of Assimilation. “Anthropologists have played an important role in consolidating the image of the ‘authentic Indian’ by staging, fabricating, authenticating and editing what was and was not Indian,” writes Leanne. The fictitious notion of having “the addition of white or black blood” created different value judgments about someone’s Indianness. While “the addition of white blood made Indians smarter, more pragmatic and by the way with Christianity, the English language and traditional ways of life,… the “one drop rule” could soften their Indian status in the eyes of the US government as well as some tribal governments. These tropes led to racist policies that perpetuated colourism, anti-black and anti-indigenous rhetoric, and created divisions and further erasure among our black and indigenous communities.

For Storme Webber, two-spirit interdisciplinary artist and poet, “embodying and claiming Two-Spirit practices and traditions is a way of giving service to a community that may not have a voice … The ancestors know who we are. I resonated with Storme’s words. Like Storme, I describe meeting my ancestors as finding common ground for surviving the genocide: the indigenous, African and Ashkenazi Jewish peoples. When I reflect on the unimaginable challenges experienced by my elders, I thank them for their resilience which has allowed me to be here and to have many privileges that are not granted to them.

In recent years, there have been more efforts to educate and unify people within BIPOC communities around intersectionality, or the various and many ways in which we self-identify. Groups seem to spring up daily to begin to create more dialogue and visibility for those of us who are seated between two identities. For me, it has been very heartwarming to have spaces where I can connect and have my children dialogue with other members of the Afro-Native Métis community. Storme said: “I am grateful for all the change. Sometimes the things that can be our burdens can also be our blessing. I am a two-spirit black Indian. There have been instances everywhere I’ve turned where I haven’t been getting enough of something.

“We need to fight anti-darkness and raise the profile and recognize that indigenous black people exist in our communities,” Brit said. “I would like our communities to give us the same benefit of the doubt, and a place at the table, that is given to our lighter-skinned people and our white aboriginals. ”

Fortunately, many young leaders like Kailyn are rising to the challenge. “It hasn’t always been easy,” she said, “but I wouldn’t change it for the world. ”

“As a black and Choctaw woman, I feel like I’ve been seen and accepted for the colors I hold by both my black and native people,” Leanne said. “Maintaining a sacred healing space in the midst of these trying times has been difficult but not impossible. We come together to sing from a distance socially and create Zooms to stay connected. This period of quarantine and racial unrest brought about a silence that allowed people to hear the cries of black and indigenous communities. Knowing your history is knowing that you are sacred and that you stand on the shoulders of a resilient people. Your past doesn’t have to be your story. It is your healing tool.


Miriam Zmiewski-Angelova is Choctaw, Cherokee, Sauk / Fox, African American, and Ashkenazi. She is the mother of two beautiful Brown babies, an early learning coach, an artist and a gardener.

Miriam Zmiewski-Angelova

Storme Webber is Sugpiaq, Black, Choctaw, Russian and Norwegian. She is a two-spirit interdisciplinary artist and poet.

Storme Webber

British Roseau is a Choctaw and Black chef and artist.

British Roseau

Kailyn jordan is Black, Leech Lake Chippewa and Nespelem Band of Colville Confederated Tribes. She’s an eighth-grade activist speaking the truth.

Kailyn jordan

Leanne Rye Brock is Black and Choctaw. She is the mother of two kings, educator, leader, lawyer, childminder and lactation counselor.

Leanne rye brock

Featured Image: Celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Seattle 2017 (Photo by Susan Fried)

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