I am a black Cherokee. I feel like I don’t fit in with my indigenous side, and I am ashamed that I don’t know much of the culture. Even so, being a black Cherokee is tough to fit in since most don’t accept them. What should I do to feel more native? What should I do to feel pride on both sides of me?

Dear relative,

Thank you for this question, it is a challenging question to answer. It saddens me to hear that you have experienced anti-Black racism, or lateral oppression, by your Native American communities. Racism in this country is challenging to address, and anti-Black racism can be even more challenging to address because of the long history of the Native American and African experience of colonialism.

The Native American and African experience in this country is intimately tied together. At the point of contact on Turtle Island (All of North and Central Americas) colonization had a significant impact on both Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and African peoples forcibly brought here during the transatlantic slave trade. These events created parallel and lasting experiences for these two groups of people that continue to this day. This experience continues to have consequences to the lives of both Native American people and African American people, the way in which these populations are treated in this country, and the relationship that is created between these populations. One of the consequences of this is lateral racism, or anti-Black racism.

I want to tell you that you are Native enough, and people not accepting who you are does not change that.

Many people who are mixed-race face the dual experience of racism and lateral oppression in their everyday lives. I cannot speak to what your experience may or may not be within your own tribe, but I am so happy that you want to get more connected to your culture and traditions!

Here are some tips for dealing with lateral racism, and to feel pride in yourself and your culture:

  • Get Support: Talking to or spending time with supportive friends, family, professors, or mentors can be an effective way of releasing stress and reducing isolation. You are not alone!
  • Get Empowered: If you are experiencing racism or discrimination, finding a way to push back is empowering and healthy. It can reduce feelings of depression or helplessness, and give frustration and anger a positive outlet. This will look different for different people in different situations. Whatever your style, it’s important to have a way to make your voice heard.
  • Practice Good Self-Care and be kind to yourself: In dealing with the pressures of being exposed to racism and discrimination, it can be easy to lose track of the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. It may sometimes be hard to resist using unhealthy ways to cope, such using drugs and alcohol excessively, or isolating oneself from the broader community. Taking good care of your physical, mental, and spiritual health will leave you better equipped to cope with the stress of bias, and make empowered choices for yourself.
  • Embrace Who You Are: As you begin to know yourself better and have more confidence in the person you are and want to become, know that wherever you are, is where you’re meant to be. Walk this journey with patience and kindness for yourself.
  • Reach out to an elder or family member: Ask them to tell you stories about your family, or to teach you a traditional craft, if you feel comfortable. Our stories keep us connected to our ancestors and our future, and can help offer us hope when we might be feeling down.
  • Look into your tribe’s cultural programs: Is there a community center, or tribal school or college that offers classes or culture programs? Do a quick internet search and see if there is a center that hosts a culture night for your tribe.
  • Check out social media: Sometimes there are Facebook groups or Instagram pages that focus on a specific identity or group. Some Instagram accounts that uplift Black and Native identity are: @BlindianCountry, @MelaninMvskoke, and @RadmillaCody.

I wish you the best of luck on this journey. You are important. There will be ups and downs, but I hope that you are able to find pride in all parts of your identity!

Best of luck,

Auntie Manda

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