Migration, Indigeneity, and Belonging in Appalachian Mixed-Race Communities Today

Authors: Brennan McDaniel*, Columbia University
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Indigenous Peoples, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Appalachia, Melungeon, Monacan, Lumbee, mixed-race,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Several distinct mixed-race communities in Appalachia and elsewhere are presently engaged in movements, broadly conceived, towards self-description and self-determination. Following the Indian Removal Act and earlier forms of displacement, surviving Indigenous nations in the East were forcibly removed west of the Mississippi River or otherwise relocated. Concurrently, Native peoples of mixed-race backgrounds were steadily pushed into the rugged, undesired terrain of Appalachia and surrounding areas. The continued presence of these mixed-race “isolate” communities scraping by with limited resources became a focus of scholars, writers, politicians and eugenicists in the 19th and 20th centuries who constructed Appalachia as a distinct, ‘other’ region. Over-emphasizing internal violence and criminality, genetic ‘feeblemindedness,’ promiscuity and cousin marriages with an obsessive disapproval of ‘miscegenation,’ these outsiders portrayed individuals and entire “tri-racial” communities – indeed, the entire region – as diametrically opposed to progress, setting the stage for further economic conquest by corporate interests well into the present day. Some of these communities have received state and federal acknowledgment, while others continue to reconcile a collective mixed-race identity in otherwise precarious conditions. Focusing on the Melungeons of Tennessee/Virginia as well as other adjacent genealogically-related communities, I reflect on these social, cultural, and national revivals– already intimately linked with regional geography– in light of more contemporary migration and global calamity, petrochemical and nuclear expansion, the emergence of new technologies and diseases, and ongoing assaults on Indigenous sovereignty and the possibility of reoccupying homelands.

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