What we can learn from the stories of Black Native people
"Afro Native Narratives," a documentary and photo project, documents the stories of Black Native people.

By Michael Santiago  

Editor’s Note: Three years ago, Michael Santiago and Macha Rose began working on “Afro Native Narratives,” a documentary and photo project that documents the stories of people of both North American indigenous and African descent — a group that they say has been underrepresented throughout history. In this week’s edition of Parallax, Santiago discusses the purpose of the project and what he learned from Theo (who is of Blackfoot/Niitsiitapii descent  and Lonnie, who are pictured above. 

The photo is for “Afro Native Narratives,” a portrait and film series project that explores the historically-ignored Black Native identity as it stands today, as well as the effects of “blood quantum” laws, which define who is allowed membership in Native American tribes or nations based on the degree of ancestry a person has to that tribe or nation. The project aims to bring the discussion of Black Native identity to the forefront and bring forward the faces of Black Natives who continue to embrace the traditions of their ancestors. We photograph and interview individuals who have grown up maintaining tradition and continue to do so, like Theo.

The project also focuses on individuals like Lonnie Graham (right), who know some of their Native history because it has been passed down through oral tradition, but are missing a lot of information, like which tribe they belong to.

Lloyd Bravewolf Cox, Blackfoot and Cherokee Descendant. Outtake from Afro Native Identity Narrative #blacknative #blackindians #afroindian#native #nativeamericans #ndn #mixedrace#indigenous #afronativeidentitynarrative

Braids Symbolizing Healing & Hair-touching Boundaries

@lanewilliam asked:

First, my main character came from a neglectful facility, where her hair became very matted and tangled, and her adoptive family cleaned and braided it. So her braids become associated with healing, nurturing love and chosen family. Is this an appropriate use of her hair in the story? Are there pitfalls I should be careful of?  Second, I’m looking for advice on other characters touching her hair. Should I be careful about having close friends, family and love interests touch her hair? Does it matter whether those people are Black or White? Or is it fine so long as it’s an appropriate to the relationship (mischievous sister pulling it, father patting it, lover stroking it, etc) as opposed to coming from a creepy stranger?

I don’t see a problem with this, as you’re giving braids a positive association. Remember her hair doesn’t need to be braided in order to be positively associated, though, and just having clean hair is enough. But I’m just throwing that out there; it’d be a bit of a reach to pull a negative association out of her getting braids after this situation. It doesn’t need to be bigger than it is.

Do consider her head would likely be tender and fragile after that much neglect, so braids aren’t the best option to jump right into as it would likely lead to breakage, especially on the weaker edges. Perhaps there’s a rest given before she gets her hair braided, or it’s braided very gently.

Idea: You could also focus on her hair being properly washed with natural hair-friendly shampoo/conditioner or cleaning conditioner (i assume at this neglectful facility, if she had shampoo it was some cheap kind or chemical-laden one that damages Black hair) and detangled, deep conditioned, moisturized…overall just being cared for properly. Again just ideas of some of the things that might go into her hair being cared for. I’m glad you’re showing aspects of her hair being cared for, and It doesn’t necessarily all need to be on-stage.

As for having others touch her hair, it would depend on the character on what she accepts or not. It’s more about trust and the established relationship as you said. 

I’m definitely in on avoiding having strangers or rather anyone she’s not close to sticking their hands in her hair unchecked, but that goes for closer relationships as well. Having a little sister pull it would likely be annoying regardless, but if she’s sensitive it might be a bigger deal. That’s something you’ll want to work out in her character. 

A lover stroking it, father patting it, are all loving things that she may allow the other party because it’s affectionate and they’re close vs. an evasive act of curiosity or entitlement. 

Lesya has more on positive braiding symbolism!

~Mod Colette

A similar concept exists in the Native-written ballet Going Home Star, which is about two modern Natives reconciling the residential school system. The main characters end up journeying through the past to expose what happened in residential schools (the male main character as a survivor of the schools and ran away, but faces the possibility he could have easily been killed; the female main character is a Native disenfranchised from her identity who reconnects) and explore their historical culture, even though they had lost it in modern day.

After they’ve exposed the depths of the wounds that occurred in residential schools, they are finally able to start rebuilding. The visual symbol of this rebuilding is her braiding his hair. Considering one of the first things residential schools did to Native children was to cut their braids (and one of the flashbacks to the residential school showed a girl getting her hair shorn), this was an incredibly meaningful gesture. 

You might want to consider this type of care and trust, with what Colette said. Braids are involved, intimate and extremely culturally bound, so an arc off healing and reconnecting wouldn’t be out of place at all. It would probably be quite cathartic for the Black character, and probably Black readers— I know I sobbed my eyes out, seeing myself reflected back and being given so much hope I could still find my culture even after losing it generations ago.

~ Mod Lesya

Maimouna Youssef
African & Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek heritage

Maimouna Youssef is dedicated to the struggle for freedom and human rights. Her music exudes revolutionary consciousness, yearning for a new paradigm of social design where people consciously express the native roots that run through their blood.

She has learned to allow the crimson river of her ancestral spirits to pass effortlessly through her voice, invoking rhythms and soul often neglected by mainstream popular music.

Maimouna’s ancestry from her father is American Indian and African, and from her mother is American Indian). Born Maimouna Kwayera OlaTu-Tu Holoka Hanan Hassan Youssef, she has been singing since before she could walk, and toured at a time when other kids were discovering Clearasil.

“When I was 12 my mother, my grandmother, and myself were a group called 3 Generations,” she says. “We did songs preaching world peace and cultural development. We traveled to Georgia, Kentucky, and Arizona. It was cool.”

Her basic education was as diverse as her musical one. She was homeschooled by her mother and aunt for most of her life, first in Baltimore and later in Virginia, where her family moved in 1997.

That energy that passes to us through the womb is the same force that binds us all together, a love frequency that Youssef has tuned herself to for receiving her crown as a divine feminine spirit having a human experience.

The bright joy of her music is for our awakening, shedding the damage of past eras through the light of unity, a candle held to reveal the path for the children seeking a new kingdom on Earth.

“I would never change who I am for the music business,” she says. “As long as you keep counting your blessings and keep putting good karma out there, God is gonna keep sending good things to you. And you take it and keep moving." 

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” –Mahatma Gandhi

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Afro Native Narratives. A Documentary Film on Black Native Identity

Afro Native Narratives is a body of work that looks to explore and assist in the preservation of Afro Native Identity through the mediums of portrait photography and video documentary.

Would you like to be a part of our photo/documentary series and share your family history and keep it alive and relevant, Follow the link and contact us. We would love to have you participate. 

Kitty Cloud-Taylor and daughter & her sister and her child from the Ute Indian Nation. John Taylor, a black man married Kitty Cloud. 


“Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” –Mother Teresa 

Please comment, if you have any information about this magnificent photo (date, place, names, heritage). Thank you.

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About the cornrows thing...

It really was never about the hair.

Originally posted by mtv

The core of Amandla’s discussion about cultural appropriation had barely settled on America’s consciousness, much less our subconsciousness before this happened…..

and then swiftly this happened.

This “conversation” between 16 year old Stenberg and the now 18 year old Jenner caused a huge uproar. Immediately Amandla not only was accused of being a race baiter and of being the stereotypical “angry black girl” she also became Andy Cohen’s “jackhole of the day” for her counter of Kylie’s cornrows. Many people were astounded that this situation was all about hair. Anyone should be allowed to wear their hair in any fashion they want. Even the styles that have been traditionally worn by black women and girls for decades. The styles that have been worn traditionally by black women and girls for decades, primarily for function, secondarily for fashion. The styles didn’t seem to be on anyones radar or worthy of praise until Miley,or Iggy, Kendall Jenner started wearing them.

 When Amandla Stenberg called out Kylie Jenner’s cultural appropriation many came to her defense. Cries of: shes young (she had allegedly been in a relationship with a now 25 year old man since she was 16), “shes just trying to figure it out” the words of Justin Bieber, and that shes can do whatever she wants flooded the interwebs as the dispute between the girls became the highest trending hashtag.

I agree everyone should be allowed to wear their hair the way they want. A London boy in 2011 shouldn’t have been sent home because his cornrows were believed to be too closely associated with London’s gang culture. White children were also prevented from shaving their heads for fear of its association to skinheads.  

7 year old Tiana Parker should not have had to leave school because of her hair in 2013. She had attended her school for a year before her dreadlocks caused an issue.12 year old Vanessa VanDyke should not have been threatened with expulsion for wearing her hair in the natural form that grew out of her head. 

A Native American boy, 5 years old, was sent home on his first day of kindergarten because his traditional braids did not meet the required dress code for little boys. 

Okay…clearly the issue also lies in the school dress code policies. Policies that seem to make it very difficult for children of color or of other cultures to wear their hair in anyway that is different from their straight haired counterparts.  So no, Amandla’s comment was not a jab at Kylie but instead were the actions of a young woman trying to inform a privileged, young, soon to be adult celebrity with a massive fan base of impresionable individuals, to not be so careless and ignorant to the value that has historically been placed on hair and hairstyles by other cultures. It is possible to appreciate that culture without appropriating it.

  After these events I imagine that amandla would have had one last question:

What would America be like if we, as a society, defended the freedom of children of any and all color to be who they are the same way we defend  young girls/women, like Kylie Jenner, to do what they want? 


Vanessa was featured on the real 11/13/2015 and her Afro still looks amazing.
DNA from mummies shows how Europeans wiped out first Americans
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia analysed the DNA extracted from 92 mummies ('Maiden' pictured) and skeletons from lost American cultures.

“Using DNA extracted from Inca mummies together with older remains found in Peru, western Bolivia, northern Chile, Mexico and the Argentinian Pampas, the researchers were able to build up a picture of how the early American’s spread through the continent.

They then compared them to the genomes from modern Native American populations, but were unable to find any of these ancient DNA sequences in the modern lineages.
This suggests the indigenous populations in South and Central America suffered a devastating collapse that led to almost none of their genetic material surviving today.

The study also allowed the researchers to reconstruct where the first American populations may have originated from.
Some recent research has found evidence of Asian and Australian DNA in Amazonian tribes and suggested they may have been among the original colonists of the continent.

But the new study traced the DNA found in the mummies and skeletons to a group of people who became isolated in eastern Beringia up to 25,000 years ago." 

"Dr Bastien Llamas, a senior research associate with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA who led the study, said: ‘Surprisingly, none of the genetic lineages we found in almost 100 ancient humans were present, or showed evidence of descendants, in today’s Indigenous populations.

'The only scenario that fit our observations was that shortly after the initial colonisation, populations were established that subsequently stayed geographically isolated from one another, and that a major portion of these populations later became extinct following European contact.”