Proudly African AND Native American – Really?
How many times have you heard someone say – or maybe you’ve even said yourself, “I’m half Cherokee;” “I’m three-quarters Navajo on my mother’s side;” “I got Indian blood in me?” When African Americans make these claims, I wonder what the assertions are based on? Is it that high cheekbones run in their family? Was great great Big Momma’s black hair so long she could sit on it? Or is the belief that it’s more exotic to be descended from potential Indian chiefdom rather than African royalty?
I became interested in this topic most recently when in my capacity as an advisory board member for www.africanancestry.com, I was asked to reveal the DNA test results of several African American notables living in Los Angeles. In advance of the invitation-only ceremony, I learned that the DNA findings for one, linked them to Native American lineage.
Hearing the news, the organizer of the event panicked. Gina Paige, president and co-founder of www.africanancestry.com offered comfort, assuring us that “no one is ever disappointed by Native American results.”
Not doubting Gina, but curious to learn more, I conducted my own unofficial poll, quizzing people who had taken the DNA tests. Those whose results came back as Native American were not only ecstatic with the news as Gina Paige had forecast, but a number of people have been disappointed that Native American lineage was not found, but was expected.
It’s no wonder. According to several historians, most African Americans today who believe they are of Native American heritage are misled. Dr. Rick Kittles, a geneticist and co-founder of www.africanancestry.com who has performed DNA testing on over 30,000 African Americans offers, “If you ask ten African-Americans if they have Native American ancestry, eight of them will say ‘yes,’ but when we actually test them, it’s less than 10 percent.”
Interestingly, as far back as the 1920s, Dr. Carter Woodson (known as the father of Black History) posited that a third of most African Americans have Indian blood. Research since DNA genetic testing confirms that 5% of all African Americans have at least 12.5% Native American ancestry, equivalent to a great grandparent.
So, what about our storied legends who over the years have claimed dual (Native American and African) lineage: Frederick Douglass, Crispus Attucks, and poet laureate Langston Hughes, who supposedly traced his lineage back to Pocahontas? Were they misled?
(top row) from left to right: Frederick Douglass, Crispus Attucks, Langston Hughes. (bottom row) Pocahontas.
And what about you?
If you’ve always believed that you have Native American roots, you may want to take a DNA test to confirm your lineage. The results may surprise you.
Parenthetically, the person I revealed at the event in Los Angeles who was of Native American heritage on her mother’s line was not surprised. She’s proud of the legacy but anxious to now trace her paternal line and hopefully pinpoint her African roots.
If you’ve taken the test and found that you were of Native American lineage, I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic. Drop me a line at email@example.com. And if you haven’t yet traced your roots, there’s no time like the present. Visit www.africanancestry.com to learn how. Until then…