“Black Indian” is an intergenerational memoir of Shonda Buchanan’s large extended family of many diversities, loaded with the slippery complexities of myriad ethnic experiences. A woman-centered handing down of experiences and knowledge from mother to daughter, from aunt to niece, the story is as heartbreaking and sorrowful as it is joyful and empowering.
Stories passed from one generation to the next recount histories, reinforce values and establish the present, defining a place in the world and how we have come to be in that place. Buchanan states in her introduction that “Black Indian” is her own and a collective memoir — within that context her family’s history is communicated by way of stories that have borne the imprint of each teller.
In the narrative that bridges the spoken word and the written form, the keystone is Buchanan’s mother and her mother’s generation, which link the past to the present. The result is a story remembered and shared, shedding light on the continuity of a family through times of historical trauma and the bludgeoning of identities and human dignity.
Buchanan’s American Indian bloodline begins in North Carolina and makes its way across several states, eventually ending with a family home in central Michigan. That tangible history of movement, interwoven with African, African-American and Euro-American bloodlines, creates a Black Indian identity that is claimed, at times with reference to physical traits such as skin color, facial features and hair, all part of a longing and quest to know who one is and what one is made of.
Buchanan had her DNA analyzed, and although this is a scientific assessment of American Indian physical bloodline it is not the focus of the book, nor is tribal enrollment; she addresses and acknowledges tribal governments and membership criteria respectfully, explaining that some Black Indians are enrolled in a recognized tribe and some are not.
With a writing style that moves with ease in and out of the poetic, the no-nonsense, the tragic and a kind of endurance that is earthily and spiritually human, “Black Indian” is a read both intriguing and satisfying.
Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. Her memoir, “Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year,” received the 2018 Minnesota Book Award for memoir and creative nonfiction.
By: Shonda Buchanan.
Publisher: Wayne State University Press, 333 pages, $19.99.