Oct 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Project aims to shed new light on Indigenous enslavement

Photo illustration of archival wood carvings of an Indigenous village and European colonizers.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Hulton Archive, Culture Club, Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG, Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/via Getty Images.

A new project is building a massive website uncovering the enslavement of Native Americans.

Why it matters: The death of George Floyd two years ago drew attention to systemic racism and the legacy of slavery, but the general public knows very little of Indigenous enslavement in the U.S. and Latin America.

Details: "Native Bound-Unbound: Archive of Indigenous Americans Enslaved" promises to digitize and piece together stories of the millions of Indigenous people whose lives were shaped by slavery.

  • Using documents, baptismal records, letters and oral histories, the site will allow people to search for Native Americans who were enslaved and locate possible descendants.
  • It will be similar to Enslaved.org — a database that gathers records about the lives of enslaved Africans and their descendants.
  • Users can look up relatives and trace their histories.

Zoom out: Indigenous slavery co-existed with African slavery from the sixteenth up to the late nineteenth century, Andrés Reséndez wrote in "The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America."

  • He estimates that between 2.5 million to 5 million Indigenous people were enslaved from the time of Columbus to the end of the nineteenth century.
  • Apache members were enslaved in the American Southwest and sold to work in mines in Mexico. Latter-day Saints settlers in Utah purchased enslaved Native Americans and converted them.
  • Reche-Mapuche people were enslaved in Chile and sold to work in Peru.

What they're saying: "We are doing this for descendant communities to find themselves their ancestors reflected in an archive," Estevan Rael-Gálvez, a descendant and the creator of Native Bound-Unbound, told Axios.

  • "This will be made for the general public, for artists, for media (and) for other scholars."
  • Rael-Gálvez said like enslaved Africans, enslaved Native Americans were stripped of their tribal identities and family connections. Many descendants might not even know their links.

The intrigue: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced in February it had awarded Native Bound-Unbound a three-year, $1.5 million grant to help build the website.

  • The grant will support the creation of an open-source database and repository and later digitizing, transcribing, and translating documents.
  • The website is expected to go live in about a year and a half.

Don't forget: Many Black victims killed in the 1921 Tulsa Massacre were descendants of Freedmen -- formerly enslaved Black people once owned by tribal members.

  • Today descendants of Freedmen have the right to tribal citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.

Go deeper:

Slavery ancestor project expands

Story of the Underground Railroad to Mexico gains attention

Cherokee Nation wants info on Black descendants linked to slavery

Go deeper