Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Chris Brown- Your Actions Will Show If You Are Really Indian

By:  Ruth Hopkins

Yesterday, infamous singer Chris Brown revealed via Twitter that he had just discovered he is descended from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Who are the Pamunkey, you ask?  They are an Algonquian Tribe that was once part of the Powhatan paramountcy, and are one of only two tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia that still retain reservation lands assigned to them by treaties with the colonial English government in 1646 and 1677.

Brown, a multi-platinum selling recording artist, is also a celebrated dancer who’s dabbled in acting.  Just a few weeks ago, Brown won a Grammy Award for best R&B album. Despite his career successes and the fame that’s accompanied it, his musical achievements are not what Chris Brown is most well-known for.

In 2009, Chris Brown physically assaulted his then-girlfriend, pop superstar Rihanna. Following the beating, pictures of a battered, emotionally-devastated Rihanna were plastered everywhere- online and off.  After he pled guilty to felony assault, Brown was sentenced to five years of probation and six months community service. Ostensibly, the public’s memory is short because Chris’ proclivity for woman beating appears to have been all but forgotten- or even worse yet, celebrated.  He’s at the top of the charts again, and he’s being hailed a comeback kid.

Is Chris Brown really Native?  Who knows.  He wouldn’t be the first non-Native person I’ve heard claim that their great-grandmother was a ‘Cherokee’ Princess, and he won’t be the last.  I hope his claim of Pamunkey heritage isn’t just another ploy to get him more attention and sympathy.  In pop culture, Native stereotypes are ‘in’ right now.  One only need watch a music video with some non-Native trollop dancing around in a fake warbonnet, or browse the latest ‘Native inspired’ apparel at a local Urban Outfitters to realize that.

If he is, I’d like to see him sincerely embrace his new-found indigenous heritage.  We’re more than beads and feathers.    I wonder if Chris knows that one of the most famous members of the Pamunkey Tribe is a woman?  Cockacoeske (ca. 1640 – ca. 1686) was chief of the Pamunkey Tribe for more than 30 years.  She was known for maintaining unity, and led several other Tribes besides her own.  She played an active role in the Bacon Rebellion, and negotiated with the British crown as well as European colonists.  If fact, she was one of the first of the tribal leaders to sign the Virginia-Indian Treaty of 1677 and 1680.  If Cockacoeske were alive today, I bet she’d give Mr. Brown the scolding of his life.

Today the Pamunkey people are highly involved in preserving their culture and natural resources.  If Chris genuinely possesses Pamunkey ancestry, it is his duty to support his people in their endeavors.  Additionally, Native women experience the highest rate of violence among any other group in the United States.  I suggest that Chris find the true road to redemption by turning attention to the plight of native women, as well as women everywhere, who fall prey to domestic violence.

Mr. Brown, if you truly are Native, we will not condemn you.  However, you are expected to make restitution.  This is our way.

Finally, my Lastrealindians allies, let us help people understand that Mr. Brown shouldn’t be the poster child for individuals who are of mixed African American and Native American ancestry.  There’s thousands of others out there today who process both heritages, and are superb examples of how the two cultures may co-exist and support one another in amazing ways.  Lift up these individuals to the people. They are part of the Native narration, and yes, they will help us determine our future.