America Reframed is one of many informative programs hosted through World Doc, officially known by WORLD™. World Doc is a publicly supported channel of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, among other supporters, and offers 24/7 access to documentaries in nonfiction narratives and in science while also offering engaging news programming.
By Blood is an independent documentary from America Reframed that brings into the forefront the extremely important, and often dismissed, issue of the African American experience from the perspective of the Freedmen. The Freedmen were once slaves owned by the Cherokee tribe before the time of the civil war. Also known as “thin bloods” it is repeated throughout the documentary — both orally and visually — that most of the Cherokee tribe members can pass as Europeans and that most have a heavy presence throughout Oklahoma and with the tribal casino industry.
Cherokee: One Of The “Five Civilized Tribes”
I did not know that there were 5 tribes, the Cherokee being one of them, that owned slaves. This ignorance of mine I blame on the romanticized image of the Native American — a First Nation people whose sufferings by the hands of the Americans are well known in my imagination. Perhaps this is why I found it heartbreaking to learn about the Freedmen — ancestors of slaves owned by the Cherokee — and their fight for representation in a tribe that once owned their ancestors.
The documentary touches on the history of the Freedmen and their forced enslavement before the civil war. It also touches on the heavy connection the Cherokee, and four other tribal nations, had with the confederate army and to European ancestry.
What struck me the most was the willful attempt by the Cherokee elders and government to deny the Freedmen citizenship — thereby denying any conceivable acceptance to the tribe and any possible access to much needed financial funds. The argument against accepting the Freedmen was that they were not of Cherokee blood — that they were not of Cherokee blood because they were African.
Throughout the documentary, the Cherokee claimed to love one another, that if “one cried, we all cried.” Overall, something that I found extremely frightening was the Cherokee government’s fight to deny any possible connection they may have to the Freedmen — so much so that they changed their constitution to fit a narrative of exclusion. Much of the Cherokee reasoning for doing so ultimately resided on an abhorrent refusal of the African people in their culture.
Witnessing Contemporary Discrimination & Suffering
After watching Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Africa’s Great Civilizations, I am witnessing how much the African people suffered throughout history. Some still do. In the case of the Freedmen, they are suffering to this day and are still awaiting a decision on their citizenship after only winning the right to vote in their nation. With this administration, I doubt they will receive one anytime soon.
This documentary highlighted the Cherokee in a way that I never imagined a First Nation tribe to be. How can the Cherokee freely hate and discriminate the Freedmen, solely on the basis of their African roots and their roots to slavery? How can they not understand that as former slave owners, the Freedmen are at least owed reparation? How can they equate the Freedmen’s fight for acceptance into the tribe — many of whom have direct ancestry with the Cherokee people — with the colonial powers that worked to eliminate their people? It is not the same.
With our attentions focused on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the discrimination most tribes are faced with as they fight to protect their way of life, it is easy to forget that discrimination does not only come from outside forces; it also occurs from inside your own. By Blood shows that discrimination and hatred are alive and well within the Cherokee nation. And the fact that most of them can pass as European “white” is disturbingly intriguing and is something that I will look into.
By Blood is available to stream on the World Doc website. I highly recommend that you actively #ShiftYourPerspective and learn about a social issue that plagues this country still.
“By Blood chronicles Freedmen descendants Roshon Jones, Sylvia Davis, and Marilyn Vann, as well as civil rights advocates David Cornsilk and Jon Velie, whose roles illustrate tenuous race relations across Oklahoma. Ultimately, the documentary illustrates how federal encroachment over Indian territories led to Oklahoma’s statehood and fueled its violent history, as well as the divisive legacy of racial classification by the one-drop rule.” By Blood
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Header image is a screenshot of the documentary. Image from America Reframed.