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Enslaved Amongst Natives

The ignored voices of Black Natives are only heard when faulting the Native people for their enslavement. When the topic of conversation is American chattel slavery, the practice being used by Native Americans is taken out of context to justify the actions of the oppressor. Being chattel meant being property forever and the curse being passed down to the next generation. The practice of chattel slavery was introduced to the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations as part of their assimilation into being “civilized” in the eyes of the U.S. government. Historian Richard White described this shameful part of history as “an ill-advised turn away from indigenous values and practices that resulted in the destruction of Choctaw culture and institutions that left the Choctaw people impoverished, dispossessed, and dependent.”

When a person says statements such as slavery has existed everywhere around the world that’s just another form of gaslighting to justify the extent of white supremacy. Gaslighting goes farther than an abusive partner for Black people in America because oppression is America’s template. As a Black woman in America, I’m tired of the praise of bigotry while my plight is a footnote in today’s textbooks.  It comes in the form of the “white-passing” Native that refuses to acknowledge colorism, when laws against intermarriage between the Indigenous population and Blacks existed. I am fed up with hearing this stuff happened so long ago when “A 2006 University of Georgia study showed that employers prefer light skinned black men to dark skinned black men, regardless of their qualifications.”(nccl.org) What happened in 1776 was not the birth of a nation but a deadly dance with the devil. The irony is that the devil came bearing a cross with intentions to erase the cultural beliefs of Indigenous people and call it an “act of justice”. Choctaw leaders would write letters to the reverend of Worcester, conveying a false sense of approval of the mission schools in their western district, in hopes that it would deflect a potential land grab. In the June 4th 1820 edition of the Missionary Herald, the leaders said that Choctaw girls would “learn to cook and sew like white women,” while Black women were defeminized, and viewed as naturally inferior thus being subjected to exploitation. In 1825, the letters from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions reflected how the missionaries were swindlers and the Choctaw boys were forced to work the fields “in the same manner that negroes were…” The missionaries were misappropriating  the funds and supplies of the Native populace according to Robert Cole who called them “cheats and liars”. Just as it plagues Africa today, painting Christianity as the standard for being civilized plagued the Indigenous people on their land as well. It was Thomas Jefferson that said, “You will unite yourselves with us, and we shall all be Americans. You will mix with us by marriage. Your blood will run in our veins.” These assimilationists believed that intermarriage would hasten the Natives’ “advancementinto civilization, so, when in the history of this country have all  lives mattered if non-Christian cultures do not? Why should I call myself African American if being American was never supposed to include me? 

Before chattel slavery, Indigenous people who captured prisoners of war would temporarily keep them as servants and they were either incorporated into the community or executed. Colonial authorities were paying Natives in the form of weapons, jewelry, and other European items when Choctaws captured Chickasaws and vice versa, “an estimated 24,000 to 51,000 indians [sic] including approximately 2,000 Choctaws were sold into the British slave trade between 1670 and 1715.” French officials compensated Choctaws for Chickasaw scalps and slaves; while British officials paid Chickasaw and Creek Natives for Choctaw slaves. After an increase of African slaves in the mid-18th century, colonial planters encouraged Indigenous people to become slave catchers to prevent coordinated rebellion amongst the Africans and the Natives. 151 years prior to the Treaty of 1866, Choctaws and Chickasaws waged war against one another in Mississippi only to be consolidated like puzzle pieces in Oklahoma and, “act in concert regarding black [sic] people’s freedom and citizenship rights” despite being separate entities. Colorism was being “free” as a Black Native in 1866, but not considered a citizen in the eyes of the Natives until 1883. Colorism is the union of Natives and colonizers being encouraged while Black Natives in 1883 were barred from elective office. Chickasaw Governor Jonas Wolf stated that “The Chickasaw people cannot see any reason or just cause why they should be required to do more for their freed slaves than the white people have done in the slaveholding States for theirs...it was by the example and teaching of the white man that we purchased, at enormous prices, their slaves, and used their labor, and were forced, by the result of their war, to liberate our slaves at a great loss and sacrifice on our part, and we do not hold or consider our nation responsible in nowise for their present situation.”(pg.141) 

The story of having Black skin in America is being the social pariah for not wanting to be exploited. It’s the real experience of being viewed as the lowliest of the races within a country bathed in genocide not by our hand. At every opportunity to recognize Black people as allies and equals, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations were invested in the degradation of Black people in hopes to survive white supremacy.

Sources:

Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South. Barbara Krauthamer

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/904d9237-1b8a-49bd-a801-448942b8cb52

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-native-american-slaveholders-complicate-trail-tears-narrative-180968339/

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