Although many African-Americans claim to have Native American roots through ancestry, historians have found that less than 10 percent of blacks have Native American ancestry. That breaks down to five percent of blacks who have one great-grandparent with Native American genes. In addition, 58 percent of black Americans have at least 12.5 percent white ancestry.
Blacks and Native Americans have mixed cultures since the late 18th century. Through slavery and wars, the two racial groups worked and lived together for centuries. Slaves would escape to find a home among the reservations. They learned the ways of the Indian culture. The Indian tribes would be a part of the Underground Railroad, sometimes providing refuge for slaves on their way to freedom.
Groups like the Black Seminoles were ‘Gullah’ people who escaped enslavement in South Carolina and Georgia and lived among the Seminole Indians in the South. Black women were among those that helped the link between the Indian tribes and African-Americans.
Race relations were similar to western culture among the other Native tribes. Whites encouraged many of the common tribes like the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaws to have black slaves among them to introduce the western civilization to the Indian tribes in an effort to make them more manageable. Even though the slavery concept was introduced to the culture as a control tactic, there is controversy regarding the responsibility Native Americans may hold in history and their lack of recognition for their ancestors who owned black slaves.
As a result of a mixed culture that was a product of the forced institution of slavery, blacks with relatives who were enslaved by the Cherokee (a.k.a., the Black Cherokees or freedmen) have insisted on their rights as part of the Cherokee tribe, as it related to the 1866 Trail of Tears treaty. The treaty ensured special provisions to members of the Cherokee Tribe as reparations for their dangerous and deadly trail from the South to Oklahoma. Included in that trail were their slaves – ancestors of the Black Cherokees. The Cherokee Nation initially rejected the request of the Black Cherokees, denying their rights to any provisions offered through the government for the tribal group on the grounds that they did not have any Cherokee blood. After the request was taken to the Cherokee Supreme Court, the decision was first upheld then overturned and the Black Cherokees were granted tribal rights and provisions.