Native American solidarity with African Americans promoted

Colette Yellow Robe (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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June 5, 2020 - 4:59pm

A leader in efforts by Native Americans to support African Americans says the two groups have a complicated history, and some common experiences.

Colette Yellow Robe wears a lot of hats – many of them connected to her Native American heritage. A northern Cheyenne woman, Yellow Robe’s secretary of the Lincoln Indian Center board of directors, co-chairs the Native American Women’s Task Force in Nebraska, and is active in efforts to help raise awareness of murdered and missing indigenous women.

Now, she’s part of an effort to strengthen another connection – between Native Americans and African Americans. Yellow Robe says the groups have a complex history that includes some shared experiences, like slavery, that started for Native Americans early on.

“It first of course started in the Caribbean when Columbus – infamous Columbus -- hit and started enslaving the Tainos, and then it moved inland into the southeastern parts of the country,” Yellow Robe said.

But she says European powers eventually switched to Africa as a source of slaves.

We were “conquered” and colonized, and as a result we were enslaved as well and then when the diseases started wiping us out they found a new market meaning the European colonial powers found a new market and started enslaving African – what became African Americans, African slaves,” she said.

Eventually, some Native American tribes acquired slaves themselves.

“We have to be honest about the reality that some tribes owned slaves, took on slaves in order to assimilate into the United States culture. Or, you know, that was their strategy. They thought it would work. And that’s the horrific effect of the divide and conquer,” she said.

And, she says, conflict between the groups went both ways, as in the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.

“The Buffalo Soldiers – you know, African American cavalry were enlisted to hunt us down…So again, they were turned against us, in that instance,” she said.

In the 20th century, one group was used to erase the other from official records. In 1924, Virginia passed something called the Racial Integrity Act, that required every birth to be recorded as “white” or “colored.”

“So either you were white or black…And if they (Native Americans) were more passing, or lighter, they would become white. So the natives were just kind of erased,” she said.

The Act, which also prohibited interracial marriage, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving versus Virginia.

At the same time as these legal developments were taking place, Yellow Robe says, things were happening at a human level as well that called for solidarity.

“A lot of us have intermarried. We have a lot of families. We are tied by blood now. We are interlocked, and that’s very important, at least in my tribal culture. We have made a bond together,” she said.

That’s why, Yellow Robe said, Native Americans will be working with African American groups like Black Lives Matter to push for things like funding for education about diversity history.







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