Intersectional Indigenous Identities: Afro-Indigenous and Black Indigenous Peoples

Intersectional Indigenous Identities: Afro-Indigenous and Black Indigenous Peoples

As a national organization, Native Americans in Philanthropy represents a wide range of Indigenous peoples, cultures, and identities. We are aware of the relatives in our communities that are battling against intersectional layers of oppression and underrepresentation.  

Afro-Indigenous and Black Indigenous peoples face a myriad of issues including erasure of their identities, colorism, anti-Blackness in Indigenous communities, and a complex web of historical, cultural, social, and political influences.  

To better understand Afro-Indigenous identities, we developed a list of terminology and concepts that are used to describe the identities of and issues facing our Black relatives.  

We want to emphasize that collective language concerning Indigenous people is complex and has important nuances. This guide is intended as an introduction and starting point. We also invite any feedback you might have so we can continue to share.  

Afro-Indigenous – A term that refers to peoples who have both Indigenous and African lineage. 

Black Indigenous/Black Indian/Black Native – Terms that refer to peoples who have both Indigenous and African lineage. These terms can be but are not always synonymous with Afro-Indigenous. Ultimately, their usage depends on how an individual chooses to describe themselves.  

Blood quantum – A system developed by the United States federal government to determine how much “Indian blood” an Indigenous person has and if they are qualified for tribal enrollment. Blood quantum limits accessibility to citizenship and is designed to decrease enrollment numbers. Today, some tribes still use blood quantum as criteria for tribal enrollment. As part of their sovereign status, every federally recognized tribe determines its own criteria for membership and enrollment.  

Freedmen – A term that refers to people who were formerly enslaved. This is also an important legal and political classification whose contemporary usage refers to the descendants of people enslaved by Indigenous people or descendants of former enslaved people who lived among Indigenous people. For tribes like the Cherokee Nation, this is an especially complicated issue. Most recently, the Cherokee Supreme Court struck a portion of its constitution that formerly restricted freedmen from enrolling and running for office. 

One-drop rule – A social and legal principle that declared a person with even one Black ancestor is classified Black themselves. This concept led to many Afro-Indigenous peoples having their Indigenous identities and even their tribal citizenship denied. It is now another complicating factor when Afro-Indigenous people are required to prove lineage for tribal enrollment and other matters.  

We hope this guide helps you as you expand your terminology for Native peoples. We also hope it’s a good starting point for further education and exploration about our rich people, nations, and cultures.