Posted on December 8, 2023

A Growing Number of Black Californians Are Claiming Their American Indian Lineage

Briana Bringier, Inland Valley News, December 4, 2023

A growing number of Black Americans, relying on newly digitized federal records and other sources, are discovering direct bloodlines to Native American ancestors. These discoveries are inspiring individuals to trace and claim their Native American ancestry, leading some to apply for citizenship with tribal Nations.

When Daniel Bruce Kelly, 32, an actor and minister, began researching his genealogy, he was sure that he would identify a place in Africa where his family came from.

The Huntington Beach man who identifies as African American, says he was determined to prove his parents wrong. His mom and dad had begun discovering, exploring and embracing their European and Indigenous American ancestry.

In his research, Kelly discovered that his great-great-great-grandfather was registered as Cherokee on the Dawes Roll, a U.S. Government record listing individuals eligible for indigenous tribal membership.

Kelly also identified other family members listed as Indian on U.S. Census Bureau records.

“At first, I was offended that my parents didn’t want to claim to be African, but then I had this awakening. You can’t talk about Native American history without talking about the Black American Indians,” Kelly said.


In 2021, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court removed the phrase “by blood” from its constitution. That change acknowledges that the descendants of Black people once enslaved by the tribe, the “Cherokee Freedmen,” have the right to citizenship, which means they are eligible to run for tribal office and to access other resources. In 2022, The University of California (UC) began waiving tuition and fees for Californians who are members of federally recognized Native American tribes.

However, debates about who is — and who is not — American Indian continues with some darker skinned indigenous people facing challenges in claiming their Native American ancestry.

Not all Native Americans had lighter skin as often shown in Hollywood movies. There are even historical renderings of phenotypically Black Indians drawn by professional artists in the early 1800s.

For people without a record of acceptance into what are considered “the Five Civilized Tribes” — Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole and Chickasaw Indians — many have been denied citizenship.

For example, the 3x great-grandmother of Kiori Jordan-Marquering, 46, of Santa Rosa who was known as “Indian Julia,” was denied acceptance into Choctaw Nation based on her appearance.

“She is visibly Negro,” the space reserved for “office use” on her application form noted.