In July, hundreds of black Indians gathered in Washington, D.C. at the First Gathering of the National Congress of Black American Indians (NCBAI). Speakers, attendees and presenters at the event included community and spirituals leaders from the D.C. area and many surrounding states, as well as others from English and Spanish speaking black Indian communities.
The event was planned in part by Jay Winter Night wolf (Jay Gola Waya Sunoyi) and several others in the community as a celebration of black Indian history and the existence of black Indians in contemporary society.
This gathering was the first of its kind, wrote Adrien Heckstall on Facebook. Black Indians have been the subject of books, documentaries, and an exhibit launched by the Smithsonian Institution in 2009, but this is the first effort to bring the people together.
Black Indians have shaped American culture, wrote Heckstall. “Noted descendants of African people and the 2000+ native tribes and nations include Crispus Attucks, Frederick Douglass, Charlie Parker, Jesse Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, A Phillip Randolph, Muddy Waters, Jack DeShonette and James Brown.”
Morgan James Peters, a professor of black studies who shares Mashpee Wampanoag and Barbados ancestry, was at the gathering. “The gathering was a wonderful event. We had a little over 400 people in attendance,” Peters said, who was also one of the musicians at the event—he’s in the group the Groovalattos. “The combination of speakers, musicians, poets and singers of traditional Native and West African music, as well as the soul-funk house band created a spiritually enriching and inspiring event. The spirit of the delegates and guests was equally positive. The flow of conversations during lunch and in the parking lot after the event also indicated the enthusiasm sparked by the day.”
“Really it was just about bringing folks together,” he said. “Black Indians are rarely acknowledged beyond being a concept, but to have a first of its kind gathering really brought about expressions of joy from those attended as wells those who have sent us messages via e-mail, social media and text of how they wish they could attend and are so pleased that such an event and such a group exists.”
Peters also spoke about the NCBAI’s plans in the near future to hold a powwow and black Indian concert as well as an academic conference to be held at UMass Dartmouth in February.
“Black Indians do not get enough regard anywhere in the U.S. When you consider the laws of race in this country, the concept of a composite people or the pro-generation of composite cultures goes against the U.S. myth of keeping the races separate,” Peters said. “When you speak of Washington D.C., consider that it was Jay Nightwolf, whose vision led to the formation of the congress and the gathering; who hosts a weekly radio show that address Native people and the Black Indian in particular.”
The NCBAI received worldwide support on social media as people from all over the world expressed appreciation. Lisa Ellwood, a Nanticoke Indian who also shares African American ancestry and currently lives in the UK, voiced her support on Twitter. According to Ellwood (@MochaLisaccino on Twitter): “The strength and size of the NCBAI will only increase in the years to come and the organization’s steps to unite Black and Indian people is a necessary step in the right direction.”
Ellwood wrote on Twitter, “Now that the Nat’l Congress for Black American Indians exists, ppl (people) will have to deal with us deciding to own who we are & not go quietly. There's a lot of power in knowing as much about your lineage as possible imo (in my opinion).”
Ellwood also expressed pride in who she is and advocated for others who wished to know more: “Nobody should ever be ashamed of whom they are or (for) wanting to know more about what was lost to them.”