Native, Aboriginal, Indigenous: Who Counts as Indian in Post Apartheid Virginia

Native, Aboriginal, Indigenous: Who Counts as Indian in Post Apartheid Virginia

Mid-Atlantic Conference on the Scholarship of Diversity, Conference Proceedings
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
April 2004
17 pages

Jay Hansford C. Vest, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies
University of North Carolina, Pembroke

In 1948, sociologist William Gilbert wrote: “Indian blood still remains noticeable in our eastern States population in spite of the depletions arising from over 300 years of wars, invasions by disease and white men from Europe and black men from Africa.” Gilbert chronicled remnant Indian groups of the eastern states from Maine to Texas and Virginia to Illinois. In his findings, he reported that only Vermont and New Hampshire exhibit no residual Native tribal population while Georgia, Arkansas and Illinois manifest no surviving social groups. At the time, Gilbert estimated the survival of 75,000 to 100,000 mixed-blood Natives “Who may frequently be more white or Negro in appearance” than Indian. Having fallen into disuse, the original tribal names were largely lost in time and most often the distinguishing terms applied to these Native Americans has been nicknames given them by the dominant white people.

Noting that Virginia’s surviving Indian groups tended to retain traditions of their Native origin, Gilbert identified several mixed blood groups along the Blue Ridge and Piedmont zones of the state. Stating that these concentrations “beginning with Rappahannock County in the north and continuing southward along the Blue Ridge through Rockbridge and Amherst Counties and striking directly southward to Halifax County on the North Carolina border,” he gave definition to the geographical occupation of these interior Virginia tribal groups. Specifically he identified 500 to 600 mixed bloods in central and the extreme western end of Amherst County near Bear Mountain and Tobacco Row Mountain of the Blue Ridge. Known locally as “Issues,” he describes these people as having “a very rich brunette with straight black hair and Caucasian features.” Noting a second group northwest of Amherst County, he further identified a population of over 300 “Brown people” exhibiting “a mixture of white, Indian, and occasionally Negro blood.” A third group who claimed Indian descent was identified by Gilbert in “Halifax County on the North Carolina border. Locally both groups were considered to be “mulattoes” but acknowledged as “a group apart from both whites and Negroes.” While this brief summary exhausts the information supplied by Gilbert, it does not begin to manifest the social history and cultural significance of these and other surviving Virginia Piedmont and Blue Ridge Indian groups.

Considered in an ahistorical context, these sociological reports of “tri-racial isolates” have largely been taken as a means of undermining the aboriginal-indigenous character of surviving Native Americans in the eastern United States. Minding this conclusion, it is the intent of this paper to, first, supply to an historical background of Colonial Indian assimilation and explore the American institutional racism that has plagued these Natives, particularly in the south, and second, to consider factors of their Native-aboriginal-indigenous birthright…

Read the entire paper here.

Tags: , , , ,