Though in practice this flattening of Indigenous identity affects all Natives, it is especially harmful to Natives that are also Black.

-Grace Randolph

I enjoy the fall season. All year long, I look forward to the cooler weather, the back-to-school hustle, autumnal harvest excursions, and the flurry of family and friends that the holidays bring.

But between football season, Halloween, Native American Heritage Month, and Thanksgiving, fall is also the time of year that Indigenous people are catapulted back into the collective consciousness of this country. And with that, the lever of anti-Indian racism switches from erasure to an onslaught of dehumanizing depictions that cannot be disembricated from the season.

I am a citizen of a tribal nation, but to me Indigeneity is more vast than putting power to paper. I am Wampanoag, Black, and Korean, the embodiment Indigenous, enslaved, and immigrant peoples. My racial identity is one that most people consider existing in the future rather than the present. The racial logics of white supremacy means that often non-Natives perceive my body as too foreign and too Black to legitimately carry Indian identity.

As an Indigenous parent, my parenting toolkit includes being prepared to speak to other adults about racist behavior and curriculum when safe enough to do so. For the most part, these incidents are dealt with after the fact. My partner and I have a template letter that we use to begin conversations. Typically, we opt to send my partner in to the sit down with teachers and administrators. My partner’s Indigenous identity isn’t more valid than mine, but between being a man and physically racialized as Native, he receives fewer challenges to his identity. A part of me worries that this choice reaffirms the idea that Black Natives somehow unfit to speak on Indigenous issues, but I am also old enough to forgive myself when I pass on the “teaching moment” because I’m tired.

RELATED: Why we need to stop excluding Black populations from ideas of who is “Indigenous”

However, recently I had to deal with anti-Indian racism in real-time at a music program at our library. What started with a song about prairie wagons quickly turned into playing Indian with bells and drums. The music teacher even began the program by informing us that at a training she had been told the song was inappropriate, but we were all going to pretend. I live in Oklahoma, where there is a higher than average number of Native youth. The decision that music instructor made was predicated on the white supremacist belief that Indigenous people should not be afforded the same dignity and respect in public spaces.

I informed the regular librarian that my children could not participate in the racist music program, gathered my kids, and left. As I buckled my children into their car seats, I realized that my anxiety wasn’t because I lacked language to speak on the erasure of Indigenous people, but that speaking up meant making myself vulnerable to further racist attacks about my identity. This is due to the fact that in addition to anti-Indian racism I have to deal with anti-Blackness.

When my oldest child was in the first grade, he came home from school and told me he didn’t know if he was a real Indian anymore. Another child had pointed to his Washington football team jersey and noted that my son wasn’t the exact shade of red as the mascot on his athletic wear. To this child, Indians were two dimensional and could only look one way.

Though in practice this flattening of Indigenous identity affects all Natives, it is especially harmful to Natives that are also Black.

My oldest is in middle school now. At this point our family has dealt with bullying related to offensive sports mascots, teachers giving out “Indian names” to non-Native students and the whitewashing of our history. As much as my children understand that it isn’t up to people to tell them who they are, it is still painful that some non-Natives and Natives view my childrens’ Indigenous identity as less valid because of their proximity to me and Blackness. This is further compounded by demands for solidarity and activist labor for non-Black Natives when the validity of Black Natives is regarded as conditional.


I come from a Native community that determines citizenship by lineal descent. This means tribal citizens can be racially coded any number of ways. Sometimes, in an eagerness to rally around a common identity there is a push towards colorblindness which unfortunately erases the hardships of the most racially marginalized.

I know of at least one tribe that codified laws against intermarriage between tribal members and Black people, and others that deny their Freedmen the right to citizenship. Anti-Blackness is woven into the federal recognition process for Indian tribes. For tribal communities that were willing to compromise their Black Native relatives in order to minimize the risk of land loss and rights, it is important to consider how those families might still today be affected by being considered “uncultured.”

In Native spaces there is talk a lot about how to grow our circle and rebuild our communities, but too little interrogation of how what each person brings to the community fits into racial capitalism. More non-Black Native people should take a moment to reflect on their own participation in oppression before claiming somebody Black should automatically know better than to express anti-Indigeneity. Knowing that Black and Native identities are not mutually exclusive is a start.

Grace Randolph is a thirty-something, mother of four kids, and a writer. My work has previously appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Cloudthroat, and the Rumpus.