Friday, September 21, 2018

Tri-racial isolates?

A review of "Strangers in Their Own Land" 

This is a somewhat controversial book about Native American (Indian) groups in the state of South Carolina. Some of them are unrecognized by the proper authorities, others have eventually become recognized by the state but not by the federal government. Only the Catawba are recognized at the federal level.

A large part of the controversy is caused by the mixed race origins of the groups involved. Unless I'm mistaken, only the Catawba are “pure” Indians, while the others have mixed Indian, White and Black ancestry. The Black component was particularly contentious in the Jim Crow South. Often, the South Carolina groups (except the Catawba) were regarded as “tri-racial isolates”, “Free People of Color” or “Mulattoes”. One group, the Cheraw, have at least some Arab ancestry through a certain Yusuf Ben Ali (alias Joseph Benenhaley). It also seems that all the groups mentioned in the book, once again with the Catawba as the sole exception, are distantly related to each other, all of them being descendents of mixed race immigrants from North Carolina. The author argues that the Lumbees in NC are related to these migrants, perhaps another controversial question?

“Strangers in their own land” could be of some interest to those doing research on bi-racial and tri-racial groups, and of course those interested in American Indians. There are still many unresolved identity issues on the Indian front, especially in regards to so-called Black Indians. There's also the entire problem of “Pretendians”. Personally, I have no particular opinion either way on which groups should be recognized. Of course, in a genuinely color-blind society, the problem wouldn't even come up, but that's probably utopian…

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