In order to enforce the new laws, Indians and Africans had to be distinguished from Europeans. Government census takers began visiting Indian communities east of the Mississippi River in the late 1700s and continued their task of identifying, categorizing, and counting individuals and "tribes" well into the 20th century. In the earlier days of this process, Native American communities that were found to be harboring escaped African slaves were threatened with loss of their tribal status, thereby nullifying their treaties with the U.S. government and relinquishing all claims to their land.
Despite the restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, Indians and Africans still managed to form close bonds. Some Native American communities ignored the laws and continued to aid fleeing African slaves. Some free Africans aided displaced Indians. Sometimes the two groups came together in "prayer towns" — European communities that welcomed and protected converts to Christianity, regardless of race. Sometimes, Indian women married African men when the number of men in their own communities was decimated by war or natural disaster. Some Native Americans listed themselves as "Negro" or "mixed" in order to retain ownership of their land.
Some Native Americans refused to sign the census rolls during the 18th and 19th centuries, some refused to register with the Bureau of Indian Affairs or to allow themselves to be "removed" to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma during the 1800s. As a result, many of their descendants grew up in urban environments instead of on reservations. This isn't the image of Native American experience most people carry in their heads but, in this part of the country, it is quite prevalent.
Hollywood has taught us to associate the facial features you see on Indians in the movies with red skin and sweeping Southwestern vistas, yet these people have skin tones that range from coffee to cream to pale enough to be mistaken for white. Over half the Indian population today lives in a metropolitan area.
They are of Indian decent, but many are also of Euopean decent or African descent or Mexican decent, and they are also Blackfoot, Canarsie, Caribe, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Lenape, Matinecock, Mohawk, Munsee, Ramapo, Shinnecock, Seminole, Unkechaug, Taino and many others.
They have spiritual names in addition to the names that appear on their birth certificates; they dance at powwows wearing full regalia; they have naming ceremonies for their children.
Some of them speak indigenous languages, some fast on the full moon in accordance with ancient religious beliefs, and all are extremely proud of their mixed heritage. African – Native americans embody the intertwining of two of America's most stalwart and dynamic ethnic communities.