top of page

Afro-Indigenous Histories in the United States: A Model Syllabus (v.1.)

*Cover image art by Paige Pettibon


Indigenous epistemologies within North America are gaining increasing popularity in mainstream scholarship and ongoing campaigns to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. In these conversations, scholars like Tuck and Yang remind us that ‘decolonisation is not a metaphor’ and that decolonisation instead is a reflection of real action that needs to take place to address the aftershocks of North American colonisation, settlement, and contemporary harms. These actions include the ‘land back’ movement, the repatriation of stolen resources, the correction of whitewashed histories, and a global effort to prioritise mending our collective relationship with the environment among other movements. The nuance that is often missing from these conversations within the ivory tower of academia – defined as ‘a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world’ – is the role and positionality of Afro-Indigenous cultures in these contexts especially as we understand the totality of the aftershocks of colonisation. What does it mean for someone to be simultaneously indigenous to and settler in a land? What are the implications of this hybrid identity on indigenous epistemology? In this article, I outline a curriculum for exploring Afro-Indigenous narratives and histories, along with their role in decolonisation. I begin with Afro-Indigenous pasts, continue onto Afro-Indigenous presents, and conclude with Afro-Indigenous futures.


Key Terms and Context


Official tribal membership based on criteria such as shared customs, traditions, language and tribal blood.

Ivory Tower

A secluded place that affords the means of treating practical issues with an impractical often escapist attitude.

One Drop Rule

A social and legal principle that declared a person with even one Black ancestor is classified Black themselves. This concept led to many Afro-Indigenous peoples having their Indigenous identities and even their tribal citizenship denied. It is now another complicating factor when Afro-Indigenous people are required to prove lineage for tribal enrollment and other matters.


Engagement in cultural activities including tribal ceremonies, language learning, council meetings, and cultural education


(A combination of the words pretend and Indian) is a non-Indigenous person who falsely claims Indigenous ancestry, and/or falsely claims to be from a specific Indigenous nation.


The very complex and contradictory process through which groups come to be designated as being of a particular “race” and on that basis subjected to differential and/or unequal treatment.


The process whereby human remains and certain types of cultural items are returned to lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations.


An attempt to stop people from finding out the true facts about a situation


Unit 1: An Introduction to Afro-Indigeneity


Some of you might be wondering what Afro-indigeneity is. This is a fair question as the definition and connotation of this term can differ across geographic and even local contexts. For the purposes of this essay and the associated syllabus, I will use Native Philanthropy’s definition which describes Afro-Indigenous as ‘a term that refers to peoples who have both Indigenous and African lineage’. People within this identity are often referred to as ‘Black Indigenous’, ‘Black Indian,’ or ‘Black Native’ among other variations. Furthermore, this syllabus focuses on Afro-Indigenous narratives and histories within what is now known as the United States of America. To ground readers, I begin this syllabus with core vocabulary terms that will assist in framing the remaining materials and align readers on key definitions for terminology frequently used in Afro-Indigenous scholarship.

Discussion Questions

  • Based on the provided materials, how would you define Afro-Indigeneity?

  • How has the history of racial politics within the United States impacted for Afro-Indigenous people identify and are perceived?

Unit 2: My Relations' Keeper: Intersectional Layers of Oppression and Solidarity


In the context of the United States, it is important to acknowledge the thresholds for what and who are considered Black or Indigenous are drastically different, both historically and contemporarily. With this in mind, while to be racialised as Black (this is different from being able to identify ethnically as African) one only needed ‘one-drop’ of Black blood, to be racialised as Native (this is different from being able to identify ethnically and culturally as Indigenous) blood quantum was required. In quoting ​​professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia Michael Yudell, Scientific American described racialisation as ‘an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics’. The disparities between these thresholds for racialisation demonstrate this imprecise proxying and have contributed to more fluidity in how those who fit within this identity characterise themselves and are characterised by others. This is not to say that I am challenging who is and is not Native, but rather to recgonise that racialisation more broadly is not consistently or appropriately defined in the United States. In this section of the syllabus, I invite sources that aid us in reflecting on what it means to have both Black and Indigenous heritage in the past and present, as well as what the implications are for Afro-Indigenous futures.

Unit 2 Materials

Discussion Questions

Unit 3: Clarifying the History


While the acceptance of Afro-Indigenous people and the plurality of this identity have received wider acceptance with increased education and anti-racist efforts in recent years, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, historical accounts of Afro-Indigenous peoples have often – though not always – indicated the opposite. In this section of the syllabus, I aim to provide resources that assist in clarifying these histories. In this section the materials focus on two major narratives: 1) the broader relationship between African American and Native American communities from 1790 – inclusive of shared cultural traditions – and 2) the more distinct history of people who have both African American and Native American heritage. Moreover, these readings address the political and sociocultural tensions that arise within and about these communities, providing a background for the next section of the syllabus on ‘Double Consciousness: Contemporary Enrolled Experiences’.

Unit 4 Materials

Discussion Questions

Unit 4: Double Consciousness: Contemporary Enrolled Experiences


While this can vary across tribal nations, one’s connection to their Native identity is often governed by one’s membership to that nation. Generally, membership can be based on factors including enrollment, blood quantum, descendancy, and participation (all terms I have defined in the syllabus). The identity politics of tribal nation identity are often threatened by ‘pretendians’ (people who falsely – and often maliciously – claim to have Native Heritage for personal gain). From the ‘my grandmother is a Cherokee princess’ to ‘I have a little Indian in me’, Native identity for some is a costume or white lie that creates harm for Indigenous peoples. To this end, this section of the syllabus will engage Black Natives on their current experiences and insights on Indigenous diversity.

Unit 4 Materials

Discussion Questions

Unit 5: Rethinking Afro-Indigeneity + Implications for Decolonisation


In this final section of the syllabus, I introduce materials on Afro-Indigenous futures. It is important to emphasize here that, in centring Afro-Indigenous scholarship and histories in this syllabus, the intention is not to ‘other’ Indigenous Americans of African descent – not to position our indigeneity as different or our struggles as foreign. Rather, I aim to push against paradigms that would endeavour to do just this. In the words of Black and Saginaw Chippewa writer and scholar Kyle T. Mays, ‘Solidarity on the road to reparations begins with combining our radical imaginaries, because our futures rely on our shared efforts to free ourselves’. For this reason, among others, this syllabus includes original content by and conversations with Afro-Indigenous peoples. This syllabus is by and for us

Unit 5 Materials

Discussion Questions

This syllabus was co-authored by Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez & Myesha Jemison.

bottom of page