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DavidBall
NATIVE AMERICAN AND INDIGENOUS MUSLIM STORIES:
Reclaiming the Narrative
VISIONS AND VOICES

Native Americans are often invisible in our public discussion of America, and even more so in any discussion of Muslims in the United States. As a group, Native Americans broadly make up 1.8% of the US general population. As such, they are often overlooked, invisible and underrepresented in public conversations and decision-making. And Muslims broadly make up an estimated 1.1% of the US general population. Among Muslims in the United States, Native Americans make up just 1-2%. There is an absence of awareness and lack of representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims both in the broader US public and within the US Muslim community.

Visions and Voices, the first publication from ISPU's Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories (NAIMS): Reclaiming the Narrative project, is the first-ever photo narrative project to center the lived experiences of Native American and Indigenous Muslims in the United States. This research amplifies Indigenous Muslim voices to highlight the challenges, strengths, and needs of this small but incredibly diverse community.

This project seeks to:

- Provide an accurate representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims, on their own terms.
- Raise awareness, facilitate cultural competency, and offer educational materials tailored for broader community understanding.
- Identify the specific needs and assets of Native American and Indigenous Muslims more broadly.
- Gain a greater understanding of the views of Native American and Indigenous people of other faiths and no faiths toward Muslims and Islam.

Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories: Reclaiming the Narrative will be released in two parts.

Visions and Voices, released in November 2022, uses a narrative portrait approach. ISPU Researchers conducted 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Native American Muslims over a period of six months. Interviews explored identity, ways to navigate multiple marginalized communities, and insights into participants' struggles, hopes, and dreams. From these interviews, professional storytellers developed and summarized participant stories. Photographers met each of these participants in their communities all across the United States to capture portraits. By centering their voices and images, this form of storytelling opens up the possibilities of new ways of understanding, while disrupting dominant narratives about Native American and Indigenous Muslims.

Trends and Treasures, to be released in the spring of 2023, is a thematic report of the strengths and struggles of Native American and Indigenous Muslims. It will draw on the narratives of participants in the Visions and Voices portion, as well as on a series of focus groups with Native American and Indigenous people of other faiths and no faith.

This project is published in partnership with and made possible by generous support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts Building Bridges Program and with support from IllumiNative. The mission of the Building Bridges Program is to support national efforts, working with U.S. Muslims, to increase mutual understanding and well-being among diverse populations for the benefit of building stronger, inclusive communities. IllumiNative is a Native woman-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to challenging the narrative about Native peoples.

Photography for this project was conducted by iDigiMedia + Swish Marketing Agency. Slide to the right of each photo to see additional photos and continue the story. Stories were developed by Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu.

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NATIVE AMERICAN AND INDIGENOUS MUSLIM STORIES:
Reclaiming the Narrative

NATIVE AMERICAN AND INDIGENOUS MUSLIM STORIES:
Reclaiming the Narrative

VISIONS AND VOICES

Native Americans are often invisible in our public discussion of America, and even more so in any discussion of Muslims in the United States. As a group, Native Americans broadly make up 1.8% of the US general population. As such, they are often overlooked, invisible and underrepresented in public conversations and decision-making. And Muslims broadly make up an estimated 1.1% of the US general population. Among Muslims in the United States, Native Americans make up just 1-2%. There is an absence of awareness and lack of representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims both in the broader US public and within the US Muslim community.

Visions and Voices, the first publication from ISPU's Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories (NAIMS): Reclaiming the Narrative project is the first-ever photo narrative project to center the lived experiences of Native American and Indigenous Muslims in the United States. This research amplifies Indigenous Muslim voices to highlight the challenges, strengths, and needs of this small but incredibly diverse community.

This project seeks to:

- Provide an accurate representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims, on their own terms.
- Raise awareness, facilitate cultural competency, and offer educational materials tailored for broader community understanding.
- Identify the specific needs and assets of Native American and Indigenous Muslims more broadly.
- Gain a greater understanding of the views of Native American and Indigenous people of other faiths and no faiths toward Muslims and Islam.

Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories: Reclaiming the Narrative will be released in two parts.

Visions and Voices, released in November 2022, uses a narrative portrait approach. ISPU Researchers conducted 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Native American Muslims over a period of six months. Interviews explored identity, ways to navigate multiple marginalized communities, and insights into participants' struggles, hopes, and dreams. From these interviews, professional storytellers developed and summarized participant stories. Photographers met each of these participants in their communities all across the United States to capture portraits. By centering their voices and images, this form of storytelling opens up the possibilities of new ways of understanding, while disrupting dominant narratives about Native American and Indigenous Muslims.

Trends and Treasures, to be released in the spring of 2023, is a thematic report of the strengths and struggles of Native American and Indigenous Muslims. It will draw on the narratives of participants in the Visions and Voices portion, as well as on a series of focus groups with Native American and Indigenous people of other faiths and no faith.

This project is made possible by a generous grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts Building Bridges Program and with cultural support from IllumiNative. The mission of the Building Bridges Program is to advance relationships and increase understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities for mutual well-being. IllumiNative is a Native woman-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to challenging the narrative about Native peoples.

Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories: Reclaiming the Narrative

Faces and Stories

Native Americans are often invisible in our public discussion of America, and even more so in any discussion of Muslims in the United States. As a group, Native Americans broadly make up 1.8% of the US general population. As such, they are often overlooked, invisible and underrepresented. And Muslims broadly make up an estimated 1.1% of the US general population. Among Muslims in the United States,  Native Americans make up just 1-2%. There is an absence of awareness and lack of representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims both in the broader US public and within the US Muslim community. 

Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories: Reclaiming the Narrative is the first-ever project to explore the lived realities of Native American and Indigenous Muslims. This research centers Indigenous voices to highlight the challenges, strengths, and needs of this small but incredibly diverse community. 

This project seeks to provide an accurate representation of Native American and Indigenous Muslims, on their own terms, and to raise awareness, facilitate cultural competency and educational materials tailored for broader community understanding, and to identify the specific needs of Native American and Indigenous Muslims more broadly.

Native American and Indigenous Muslim Stories: Reclaiming the Narrative will be released in two parts. Faces and Stories, released in November 2022, uses a visual narrative approach. ISPU Researchers conducted 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Native American Muslims conducted over a period of 5-6 months. Interviews explored issues like their Native identities, Muslim identities, how participants navigate their communities while having multiple identities, and insights into their struggles, hopes, and dreams. From these interviews, professional storytellers developed participant narratives. Photographers met each of these participants in their communities all across the United States to capture portraits. By centering their voices and images, this form of storytelling opens up the possibilities of new ways of understanding, while disrupting dominant narratives about Native American and Indigenous Muslims. 

DavidBall

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Choctaw

Palo Alto, CA

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Chocktaw

Palo Alto

I knew growing up that I had Choctaw ancestry through my mom. My great-uncle Ben's middle name is Pushmataha, after a famous Choctaw chief. Until third grade, we lived in Hawaii, where white folks are not a majority. Unlike other white people, I was aware of whiteness. After fourth grade, I lived in Georgia, which was the homeland of the Choctaw. I learned about the Trail of Tears, after which the Choctaw were forcibly resettled in Oklahoma. My grandmother's grandfather was Napoleon Ainsworth. I have some information about him up in my office at Santa Clara Law School, where I teach law. He was the first Native person to go to the University of Virginia Law School.

DavidBall

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Choctaw

Palo Alto, CA

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Chocktaw

Palo Alto, CA

In 2016, I received my Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. Different tribes have different blood quanta for membership. So, I don't know that I am atypical. I don't know that I'm typical. I have fragments of the genocide that live on in me. I have a complicated, complex relationship with my identity, which is appropriate for the United States, and, frankly, for the world. I don't often publicly identify myself as Native. For political reasons, I do not want to occupy space that is better occupied by folks who are, however you want to define this, more marginalized.

DavidBall

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Choctaw

Palo Alto, CA

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Chocktaw

Palo Alto, CA

I came to Islam via marriage. That was a condition for marrying my wife. I wasn't going to do it if I couldn't do it with sincerity, so I took it seriously enough. My Muslim identity has become much more salient to me. I always said I would do it if I found it meaningful, and I have. I have a sense of not fully belonging. Being a white Southerner, but not fully belonging to that is similar to being Native, but not fully belonging to that, and then to being Muslim, but also not wanting that to define me in ways with which I am not comfortable. Eventually, I found my Muslim community: folks who were not convinced of their own rectitude, and who were into mystery. During the central moment of Christianity, the crucifixion, Jesus says, "Oh God, oh God, why have you forsaken me?" "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" If Jesus is questioning God at the central moment, it's okay that your faith has doubt. I mean, I think that's the point.

DavidBall

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Choctaw

Palo Alto, CA

DAVID BALL

Oklahoma Chocktaw

Palo Alto, CA

There are all these places in the Qur’an that I've talked to people about: Why does it say “read and reflect” in the Qur’an? Why does it say, “There's much in here for those who would understand?” What is it about certainty and religion, even though religion has uncertainty baked into it? Remember: “Allahu ‘Alam.” The greatest Muslim jurists ever all said that. And Muslim jurists say that now.

If there’s one thing I want people to remember it is: Be curious and open about each other. Humility is not self-deprecation. The Prophet (saws) was the epitome of humility, as with so many other things.

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DavidBall

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

As a Diné, we are taught to introduce ourselves and our ties of kinship no matter who the audience is. We are ambassadors, so to speak. I was born and raised in Shonto, Arizona; Navajo (Dineh) reservation, granddaughter of Haskie and Etta Barlow, daughter of Lavonne Barlow. Growing up, my biggest influences were my grandparents and my mother. Their prayers were beautiful and comprehensive. I was beside myself when I learned that in Islam, all the people also pray, but five times a day. I was more certain that Allah guided me to the true way of life because I come from generations of prayerful people who have taqwa.

DavidBall

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

I joined the Marine Corps while still in high school. I did my time and got out. In 2004, I met a Muslim family who introduced me to Islam. They were just being Muslims: praying, fasting, and doing dhikr. May Allah bless them for sharing with me the Qur’an in Arabic and English translations. I accepted Islam in Tucson, AZ, and soon moved to Southern California. The SoCal Muslim community has been instrumental in my studies of Islam, and I learned the proper knowledge of Islam in context. It is dhikr that has been my greatest companion during some of the strongest tests; it is my medicine and my heart stays content.

DavidBall

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

Indigenous Peoples and Muslims share a beautiful view of the creation around us, “beauty all around us.” One of my favorite ayat in the Qur’an is:

Allah is the One Who sends the winds ushering in His mercy. When they bear heavy clouds, We drive them to a lifeless land and then cause rain to fall, producing every type of fruit. Similarly, We will bring the dead to life, so perhaps you will be mindful. As for the good land, vegetation comes forth in abundance by the command of its Lord, whereas from the bad land, only poor vegetation comes forth. Thus do We expound Our signs in diverse ways for a people who are grateful.” — Quran 7:57–58

DavidBall

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

LATANYA BARLOW

Diné and Chiricahua-Apache

Yorba Linda, CA

I want people to know that there are second-generation Indigenous Muslims. Some whom can attest to the parallels in way of life as a Native and the way of life as a Muslim. I would like Muslims to know that most American holidays and constitutional laws as it relates to treaties, land, and human rights; it will take much interpersonal interaction with Indigenous Peoples to push through toxic stereotypes that still exist in the mainstream Muslim communities in North America. Without proper Indigenous consultation, harmful biases remain rampant and no building of transformative work can occur. Rank racism includes not knowing who’s ancestral land you’re walking on. Brave activism will always be at the forefront of Indigenous resistance. The fight for truth in peace requires nothing short of reliance upon Allah, our Creator, the Lord of the Worlds.

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DavidBall

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

When I was born, I was told I was an Indian. I know that's not the politically correct term nowadays, but older folks still use it. That's what I've used all my life. And, it's related to Indios, which means people of prayer, so I don't mind that term.

I'm Native American on my dad’s side, part of the Miami and Wea Tribes of Indiana. My grandfather is the great-grandson of Chief Little Turtle. He was one of the greatest war chiefs that ever lived. He led the biggest defeat to the US military in history during the Indian Wars.

We don't have a reservation. We didn't have much of a community, just the family. When you lose your identity, it affects you in many, many ways.

DavidBall

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

I think that my dad had a lot of issues in that direction that affected him. And that had something to do with why we were always wandering around. He had a restless soul and couldn't decide where he wanted to be. My dad took us back and forth between the backwoods in Indiana and Southern California. In California, we lived right off the Serrano reservation in the foothills of San Bernardino, in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was a very small community–they’ve since grown and are huge now, with casinos and all that. But at that time it was a very simple, humble and poor community–but it was my community.

When we were in Indiana, I would go hunting with my dad. I remember crawling around, smelling out the trails. Some memories are vague now, but I spent the majority of my childhood in the out-of-doors, either in the woods or up in the foothills of the mountain, just studying nature, sitting on a log. You can learn so much just watching the plants and the animals.

DavidBall

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

I was a student nurse, living in Southern California, and knew many people from a lot of different countries so I came to know a lot of Muslims. We'd go out, have a good time. Everybody got along. But once in a while, religion would come up. I decided I wanted to study Islam and prove to them that it was a false religion and teach them some humility. One day, I was leaning against a tree outside my apartment and reading the Quran. All of a sudden, it was like I got slapped in the face and kicked in the stomach at the same time. I literally doubled over like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. What got knocked out was my pride. I saw truth in a way that I had never seen it, and truth about myself.

DavidBall

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

DR. MARYAM BLACKEAGLE

Miami Tribe and Wea Tribe of Indiana

Hubbard Lake, Michigan

We have our own struggles. Myself, I'm the only Muslim in my family. It taught me self-dignity. It taught me to live a decent life and get my act together. You have no idea the nur until you live in darkness. I have said many times that if it wasn't for Islam, I probably wouldn't be alive, because that's how much it saved me. You would think parents would have eventually been proud of me because it really turned my life around. But I think that was the final straw. The Native community is very closed. They don't want to learn. They've had too much trauma with other religions being forced on them that, for the most part, in my experience, they have not been interested in learning.

I wish that they could open their mind because if ever there was a group that would get it, it's Native Americans. One of the things that really stood out to me was the similarity of Islam and Native American philosophy. The more I learned about Islam, the more I realized that it was a sense of coming home. In Native philosophy you are a part of the whole. Every little thing is connected. You have a responsibility. We are the vicegerent. We are the trustees of this Earth.

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DavidBall

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

I was born, raised, and live in Detroit, Michigan. I identify as African American and Native American. I am one-fourth Oglala Lakota. My late maternal grandmother was full-blooded Native American and born on Pine Ridge Reservation. Her name was Norene Ruby Between-Lodge. Like many Native Americans, she was sent off to boarding school where she was stripped of her culture, identity, and faced unfathomable adversity. Hers was in California. It was in California that she met my grandfather and from there, they moved to Detroit and started a family.

It was only like six or seven years ago that I started to identify with that side of my heritage. Many of us, we don't have any knowledge of our lineage, our history, especially as African Americans. I was on a journey of finding myself and trying to get in touch with the Creator. I grew up Christian in a Presbyterian Church. My parents were not very religious and had only joined us in church for a handful of special occasions. It was just me and my siblings who would go to church. I'm glad that God was always there in my life, that I had that upbringing, that knowledge of Him. Eventually, I stopped going to church. But I always kept God in the center of my life. I always prayed and never stopped believing.

DavidBall

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

I am the third of four siblings to convert to Islam. My brother was the first to convert 12 years ago; my older sister was the second, eight years ago, I converted three years after she did, and my eldest sister converted in 2021. Someone asked me one day, "When you pray, who do you pray to? Are you just praying to a God in general?" I thought about it, "Who am I praying to exactly?" I think that really sparked the giddy up to get to know, "All right, who is God? Who is Allah?" Definitely, that's how I came to Islam.

I still have a lot of family living on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. As a kid, we didn't go out there and visit regularly, I didn’t have that luxury. I had only visited for, unfortunately, funerals and things of that nature. I did however have my grandmother here who was wise, loving, and the backbone of the family. A year into my new journey of Islam, I took it upon myself to go and visit to learn more about my culture and get in tune with that side of my family.

DavidBall

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

I spent a couple of weeks there in South Dakota, I stayed with my Auntie Mona. During that time, I was able to learn a lot from my late Auntie Annabelle, who everyone called grandmother. She taught me a lot, like how to sew a ribbon skirt, which is a skirt that they wear during different ceremonies. [There were] ceremonies that I got to attend such as the powwow, a sun dance, and I even had a naming ceremony. I didn't go through the full ceremony because there were some things that we just didn't have the time to do, and some things that I felt probably would clash with Islam. But I do have an Indian name: Mustinchila Ska Win (White Rabbit Woman), named after my great-grandmother.

I found acceptance and curiosity about Islam during my time on the reservation. Especially my grandmother Annabelle; she was definitely interested. She wanted to know more.

DavidBall

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

ALYSSA CRAIN

Oglala Lakota

Detroit, MI

I think, in general, the beliefs, the morals of Native Americans are in alignment with Islam—family values, their high morals, their overall respect for life, and being in harmony with the Earth and its inhabitants living as one. Every nation was sent someone to deliver them the message of there being one God, one power. I do believe that maybe someone had gone to them—and I think that person was Black Elk, who I'm actually related to—[and] received a premonition indirectly from a higher being on more than one occasion. Ultimately, they believe in one higher power.

I'm definitely not done. I plan to go back, not only to learn more, but also to, inshallah, spread Islam. It is vital to get to know our history, especially from our elders while they're here and not take them for granted. And to enlighten them as well, because they want to know what's going on with us.

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DavidBall

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

I was born and raised in Mexico. I come from a very small community in Mexico, in the city between the states of Jalisco and Michoacán. We are revolutionary people. But due to the colonization of the land, we were displaced. We had to move—constantly—and find places where we could settle. Our family, for generations, has moved from place to place due to violence brought from other sources.

Our Indigenous roots go to the Nahua, the Otomi, which covers the Yucatán Peninsula and goes all the way to Guatemala—the one everyone knows and calls the Aztecs.

We have some Huichol, or the Wixaritari, that are [there] now, that covers the area where my family settled at some point in Nayarit, Mexico. We have a little bit of the Tarahumara and the Purépecha, which is the strongest Indigenous community after the Aztecs.

DavidBall

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

The Purépecha community never let the Aztecs go through their territory. That's what the story says. They were their hardest, hardcore warriors. They never let them take their territory over.

My mother has been a very big part of my experience in religion because she started traveling when she was young. Her travels took her to many places and she was able to see things that opened up our eyes and doors to see there was more. Our communities faced much religious trauma. Not only from colonization times, but also with the Catholic Church forcing the Indigenous community to take traditions that are not ours or that are not accommodating to our traditions.

When I moved to the States. I found these Spanish channels on YouTube. By the grace of Allah, it was meant to be. I watched those videos and then I started to learn more and more and more about Islam, and then one day I just went for it. For me, it's important that Islam doesn't spread the same way Christianity did.

DavidBall

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

AMOR CREY

Nahua, Otomi, Huichol, Wixaritari, Tarahumara, Purépecha

San Diego, CA

I consider every community in Latin America, my community. I have a relationship with all the masjids that pop up–in Chiapas, in Mexico City, in Puerto Rico. I’ve made it my business to make sure that when Muslims go there, they go with the right intentions and with the right words. Because I cannot go to a community and spread the word of God in a cultural way. I have to do it in a natural way for people to understand it and follow it.

I want to see Islam spread in Latin America because it saved me. I was in a very dark place, dealing with very dark forces. For Latin America to heal, there needs to be help and the only help comes from Allah. Regardless of how dark your life turns or how you think you are lost within your traditions, there is always light when it comes to your Lord. He will always bring light to your life. I found light and it brought me back to life and gave me a real purpose. We see people looking for purpose everywhere. "What's my purpose? What's my purpose in life? I don't know my purpose." And some of us are guided.

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DavidBall

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

I'm a revert to Islam. I converted to Islam when I was 17. I'm 29 now, and I'm a member of the Tuscarora Tribe here in North Carolina. I'm also Waccamaw Siouan, but I identify more with my Tuscarora people. I hold a lot of identities as a Black woman, as a Muslim woman, as an Indigenous woman, and a mother.

I grew up in New Jersey, and it was only recently that I decided to do this work of reconnection. I was in search of who I really was. So, I did, and found out that all of our family is in North Carolina.

Natives in North Carolina, especially the more Southern tribes of North Carolina like the Waccamaw Siouan people, are very, very close-knit. I did have some family members who were like, "Uh-uh, she ain't one of us." This is part of the reason why I don't necessarily identify as Waccamaw Siouan. I experience some imposter syndrome.

DavidBall

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

They also have a lot of rules as far as enrollment. One of those rules is that you would've had to have been in the community, taking part in the community activities. And what they mean by community activities is that they want to see you in church every Sunday. I'm Muslim, so that's not going to happen.

A lot of people don’t know this but Natives here in North Carolina are heavily Christian. They go to church every Sunday. A lot of our ceremonies, a lot of our powwows, always begin with a Southern Baptist Christian prayer. We were some of the first people hit by colonization, so a lot of our traditions are lost. I think a lot of people have this misconception that all Natives on Turtle Island are just like the Natives from the West. Or, at least what is portrayed in the media—these spiritual beings that worship smoke or whatever.

DavidBall

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

KAYLA CYRUS

Tuscarora and Waccamaw Siouan

North Carolina

I grew up Baptist and converted to Islam in high school. I grew up in the church. I think Allah connects us to things in this life in such profound ways because, although I didn't grow up around my people, it was so familiar to me. But it’s still a struggle. I feel like I don't belong in these spaces. As a Muslim, I don't belong in Native spaces, and as a Native, I don't really belong in Muslim spaces. I'm really at a place in my life where I have not figured out how to embody both of those identities at the same time. Yet at the same time, I have such a beautiful vision for these two groups of people coming together. It's hard. It's a lot of work.

My hope is that something is put in place where Muslims know more about Indigenous peoples and Indigenous peoples know more about Muslims because I feel there's so much potential and power in that space. If we could get an interfaith Indigenous circle going, that would be an absolute dream come true for me.

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DavidBall

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

I grew up in West Virginia and I was raised by my grandparents. I was lucky they raised me. My grandmother was a Branham and my grandfather was her first cousin. When you have 22 kids and you're poor, you're going to marry them out to whoever comes and asks. You have big families, you can't afford to feed them, so the fathers said, "Yeah, marry him," because that was one less mouth to feed.

We were raised poor, but I didn't know I was poor until I was older. We were, as my uncle told me later, poor white trash. We'd go back and forth to the Monacan Indian Nation reservation. It's on the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's beautiful up there. We have a burial ground and everything, and it's the most wonderful thing to go up there. You feel so spiritual when you go home.

DavidBall

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

One day I might decide to move back. My kids will come and see me. They're half Lebanese, and can tell you as much about being Native as they can about being Muslim. I'm very proud of that. My ex-husband and I were married 40 years, so I raised my kids and did my thing. Now, I'd like to get more involved in my tribe.

My becoming Muslim wasn't from my ex-husband at all. I had been married about 11 years when I recognized a woman across the street. It was Mary—a friend I’d had when I was 18 years old. Her husband was also Muslim and Arab. I always say that it was God's will that He sent her into my life. I was raised Southern Baptist. I learned to pray in English before I did it in Arabic, because I had to know what I'm praying.

DavidBall

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

DIANA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

Through Mary, I also met about 50 other American women who were married to Arab Muslim men and I got real close to them. That's where I learned my religion, from my friends. I started fasting that first year. It was easy because I had friends doing it with me and we stayed busy. I was joking with them at coffee last week, "Twenty-five years ago we were sitting around breastfeeding, and now we're talking about menopause."

Back on the reservation, when our elders would come down, we’d have a fire at night and we'd dance. An elder told us he’d reverted to the Native religion. He said you have a spirit on each shoulder: one spirit's good, one spirit's bad. In Islam, you have the same thing. He said that when you're buried in the Native religion, you're buried in a white shroud toward the east. When he was explaining that—I get goosebumps thinking about it now—I thought, Islam was the original religion and then everything branched out. That's when I first realized the similarity between Native religion and Islam.

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DavidBall

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

Growing up, I never felt like I fit in. I still don't. I've only met one other person besides my siblings that are half Native, half Arab, and Muslim. Growing up, I struggled with my identity because I'm not white and wasn't raised white, but people thought I was white. I always wanted to be darker-skinned, because everyone else in my family is. I wasn't dark-skinned enough to be considered Arab or Native. But I am.

My heritage through my mom’s side is the Monacan Nation from Amherst County, Virginia. Very little was taught to my siblings and me about our tribe and ancestors at a young age. It wasn't until my adolescent years that I started to do a lot of research, on my own, to understand where I came from. I've learned horror after horror about what our country has done to my Native ancestors. You can't stop something from happening again if you don't know about it. As I was on my journey to discovering who I am, I also learned from my maternal great-aunt, Mamoo. She taught me the truth about the living conditions today on reservations, the reality behind stories like Pocahontas, and how cruel and systemically messed up our justice system really is.

DavidBall

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

I haven't spoken to my dad in about 10 years. My mom was a domestic violence worker, but my dad was not the most empathetic and compassionate person. After years of being gaslit and "force-fed" toxic masculinity, I had to part ways with him, years before my mom finally could. I couldn't have that toxic energy in my life any longer. I wanted better for myself. I deserved better for myself. He never physically abused me and I hadn't received even a spanking since I was a little kid. Though, I do recall a small altercation where he pushed me. I was about 14 years old and no longer a little boy. I pushed back. He never pushed again. I bring this up because I don't want people to think that I had a horrible childhood because I didn't. I was clothed, loved, and fed. Especially fed, I was a really big kid. I needed to part ways with him because the journey I was embarking on in my life, at that time, was a lonely, but a spirit- and soul-fueled journey. I had to follow it. Had I surrounded myself with that negative energy day after day, I would not be the man at peace I am today. I would be a man in pieces.

DavidBall

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

My Native and Arab sides share a lot of the same beliefs and values. They both hold loyalty and respect almost as a pillar in their communities. It is instilled in us from the time we are babies. The two cultures do also have their differences of course. In the Arab culture, you are what your dad is, so other Arabs saw me as only Arab. They didn't acknowledge the Native side. My generation, first-generation Americans of immigrant parent(s), acknowledges the Native side, since they teach science in school. I am more inclined with my Native spirituality than Islam right now.

Although, if someone asks me, “What's your religion?” I say Muslim, or that I was raised Muslim. However, I find myself praying and seeking advice from the universe, Mother Earth, and God all at the same time. I'm not trying to change Islam. I'm just focusing on the parts that make me a better, happier person.

DavidBall

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

HUSSEIN ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

I've always been more drawn to and in awe of the Native side. Aside from the mysteries, I was discovering about my family history, there was no hate. No judgment, no shaming you or telling you that you were wrong or sinful. It had to do with being connected with nature, Spirit, and yourself and everyone around you. It's more of a collective experience as opposed to where Islam is very one-on-one with God.

The moon holds the greatest connection between Muslims and Natives. Their day-to-day lives depend and rely on the moon phases. Both religions are very connected with nature. If you're touching the Earth, that's all you need as a Muslim to pray. It’s the same as being Native; it's all about being connected to the Earth. As for a "take-away" from my story, I hope people realize that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Be at peace, not in pieces.

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DavidBall

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

I love telling people that I'm Native American. I will tell you all day. Growing up in Dearborn, I was always very vocal about it. Our family was one of the only few diversified families. I had some issues because I wasn't full Arab. I got in trouble a lot more for the simplest things that other kids would do too. I would say it's actually worse because I wasn't fully Arab.

As a child, I just did what my family did. Like for Ramadan, I was told that I had to fast, so I did. And I was told on Eid that we celebrate, and I did. These are things I was just doing because I was told that I was supposed to. When I turned 15 and I was in high school, I was able to start realizing the reason I did things, not just because my dad was telling me I needed to.

School-wise, I never actually learned about Native Americans until I was in middle school. That's when they started to bring in all of that stuff. I don't remember what year, but it was November, which is Native American month.

DavidBall

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

In school, we were learning about Native Americans and my teacher asked my mom to come in because that was the only Native American that they knew. My mom came in and did a presentation. And then they asked me to do my fancy shawl dance. It was the butterfly dance. I dress in full regalia and wear a shawl—that’s why it's called the butterfly dance, because the way you're supposed to move the shawl, it looks like a butterfly. I would say that was probably one of the first times any of them had ever been introduced to something outside of being Arab and being Muslim.

Every year, during the second weekend of October, my mom’s side has a family reunion and we go down to Virginia. I’ve been going there since I was like five up until COVID—I went every year except for my senior year of high school, because it was the same weekend of homecoming.

DavidBall

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

SABRINA ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Dearborn, MI

I always heard my older ancestors—most of them passed away at this point—speak in our Native language. But even with Arabic, I never learned it. There are certain words that I picked up on. I can hold a very short conversation in both languages. But I've never really sat down and learned or been taught either of the languages. I've just overheard just from older people around me.

I'm maybe one of the more newer generation Native American Muslims, because I'm only 21. I'm just learning my path with both being Native American and being Muslim. I’m still finding my way.

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SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

I was born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan which is about 90% Arab American. My mom is Native American, from the Monacan Indian tribe. My dad is Lebanese and I was raised in a Muslim household. It was a little confusing in our household, because my dad was a practicing Muslim, my mom was a convert, and I felt they didn't really see eye to eye sometimes on religion. But we did go to Islamic school. My parents taught us to pray. We read the Quran. As you get older, you just learn different things and you're learning who you are.

Growing up in Dearborn, I don't think I ever met another Native American. It's a very close-knit community and people are all the same. It was hard growing up in a place where it’s mostly one type of person. If you're different in Dearborn, you stick out and they don't really care to get to know you. I think that's what drove me to get out of there. I wanted to see different places and meet different people. I lived in Dearborn until I was 24, and then moved to Las Vegas, which is where I live now.

DavidBall

SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

I work in the Las Vegas District Attorney's Office in the juvenile division. We have a whole unit related to the Indian Child Welfare Act. If a child of Native American descent is removed from their home, we try to keep them with a Native American family. It happens a lot out here because there are so many Native American families.

The only Native Americans I knew growing up were my family. My immediate family is in Dearborn, but my Native American family is scattered in Ohio, Florida, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. There's actually a holiday in the state of Virginia after my Aunt Mary Belvin Wade, who fought really hard to get our tribe federally recognized. She went to Washington and was our advocate. It’s unfortunate that it didn't happen until she passed away, but she started the conversation.

Every October, we have a family reunion. Our tribe is from Bear Mountain, Virginia, but my mom was raised in West Virginia. We meet there every year for a weekend. We rent out a big campsite—there’s a main area and about six cabins. Anywhere from 100-300 people attend each year, both family and friends. We do our spiritual practices, send prayers to our ancestors, and meet new family members.

DavidBall

SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

SOMMER ITAWI

Monacan Indian Nation

Las Vegas, NV

This was something we did with my mom’s family three days out of the year, but the exposure I had to my Native American culture on a daily basis as a child was slim to none. Now that I’m older, I know the backstories and how hard our tribe fought to be federally recognized. When you become federally recognized, it opens up a door of opportunities. I am an active card holder and my daughter, who is just seven months, is also a registered Native American in the Monacan Indian tribe. She was my mom’s first grandchild who became a registered card member.

I really want people to educate themselves on the background of Native Americans and where we really come from. The history books have taught us a story that's twisted and we have movies, like Pocahontas, that are teaching kids stuff that just didn't happen or is not true. People know there's a big Muslim presence in the United States, but I don't think people know that there's a big Native American presence anymore, especially out where I am.

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DavidBall

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

I grew up on an Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota. We've lived around that lake for 500 years. We had naming and other ceremonies. We did maple sugaring, wild rice gathering, and traditional hunting and fishing.

In Ojibwe culture, the grandma is the matriarch. My grandma was an Ojibwe first language speaker who created the first Ojibwe language dictionary with the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Historical Society. I learned how to make moccasins, white ash baskets, and birch bark canoes from her.

I became Muslim when I was 15. I think it was the moving recitation of the Quran on YouTube that made me want to learn more. I was still living on the Indian reservation then. A lot of Native American men serve in the military. My dad's generation was part of Desert Storm. There was a lot of negativity towards Middle Eastern things. I didn't tell anyone that I had converted.

DavidBall

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

I prayed alone in my bedroom and tried to buy a copy of the Quran without my family knowing. I hid it amongst the other books on my shelf. I practiced the best I could for a few years. It’s hard to hide something like that. You put it on the back burner if your grandma made something with pork in it and she's really pushing it on you. In the Ojibwe culture, you can't really turn down the things that your grandma offers you.

After my conversion came out, there was a period of open hostility and straight-up hate crimes. It was like, "How can you do this to your family? How can you betray us?" Then there was a period of little to no contact for a few years. Now, my dad is more accepting. There are certain rituals around speaking to God that he thinks are unnecessary. Ojibwe think of God as a passive figure. The spirits take your prayers up to God, and maybe something will change for you. It’s not personal. In Islam it’s personal; God is listening directly to us.

DavidBall

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

MEGAN KALK

Ojibwe

Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in Vineland, Minnesota

I didn’t wear the headscarf ‘til later. In Ojibwe culture, the hair is sacred. It's an extension of one's soul and it's something to be proud of. Wearing the headscarf is looked at as being ashamed of your culture. I wear pants and a short headscarf or hoodie now. On the reservation, sometimes I don't wear the scarf. I don't feel guilty about it. Whether they're white or Native, people are just more comfortable. The headscarf has been a huge, culturally confusing, and contentious issue. It sucks that it's like that.

It would be interesting to delve more into specific Native spiritual practices and how those relate to Islam. Whether it's the American Muslim community or the Native community, until you delve into the spiritual commonalities that connect people to their cultures, they're not going to learn about each other. They're just going to see the differences on the surface.

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DavidBall

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I'm a city Native. My father was Mescalero Apache from Texas, and my mother is Irish and Comanche from Los Angeles. I identify as Mescalero Apache, but have been taught through the Navajo Nation. I went to a wealthy, privileged private school, which was not diverse. The majority of the students were white from a very western identity. I was forced to live in two different worlds. In middle school, we started going to the reservation consistently when my family had been adopted into a Navajo family. At that point my isolation from other Natives ended. I now had cousins and aunties everywhere.

It was hard on me at a young age to not fit in with the other students from my school. Anytime I asked my father if I could go to a high school party, he’d say, "Nope, we got to go to the Rez." Then we’d drive to Arizona and every time we went we’d take part in a ceremony (the Peyote Navajo way).

My uncle was the road man, running the ceremony. Other uncles were the drummer and fire man. My aunt brought the morning water. My shuma, my grandmother, was there. I'd look over and my silly cousin would be across from me. All of my family’s generations gathered together. My feeling of not fitting in would leave, and I would belong.

DavidBall

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

You go into the tipi when the sun goes down and you're up all night singing songs and saying prayers. You come out in the morning reborn. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual awakening. It was heaven. When I was on the Rez, I belonged 100 percent. It really made me who I am.

I also grew up doing the Pow Wow Circuit. My father was an artist, so we traveled all around selling his art across the United States. That was good, because when I met my Muslim husband, my world was already open to new ideas and ways of life.

We became good friends. We were both spiritual, and we'd have deep discussions and learn together. I resonated with the Islamic messages of kindness and caring, the understanding that we all come from the same place, and that we need to have a relationship with the Creator.

DavidBall

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

ALETHEA REDCLAY

Mescalero Apache

Los Angeles, CA

His family was a different issue. It was a difficult path to be welcomed into his family. It's a really big ask to convert. However, the ask wasn't out of anything other than love. So, the response was out of love as well. It felt difficult to create a full identity until I was older. I was originally from two different worlds, the Native side and the Western side. When I met my husband, I had to learn to open up to even another part of myself. The part of me that felt divided started combining once I became pregnant with my eldest son, Xade. I dropped the boundaries that I had set up inside myself. I follow the Native American church and Islam. My husband has prayed with me in the tipi and [at] ceremonies. He says “Allah”; I say “Creator.” It's the same thing. We raised our children with both religions. They are free to choose their path.

It's a crazy wild path, but when you walk it, it is beautiful. A lot of people have an issue with conversion, but all that happens is: you just open your heart to more. I didn't lose my Native side. I gained Islam and the beauty of it as well.

Alethea Redclay photogapher: Hassan Ali

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MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

I love the story of how it all started in the 1700s. My ancestor’s name was Molly Pagan. Settlers would take children away from their homes and raise them Christian.

Molly was taken by Reverend Aaron Brown and lived in his house. She wanted to marry an enslaved African American man, but the Reverend forbade it. She ran away and married Mingo Pollock anyway. They intermarried with other Indians, whites, Blacks, through the years. Some cousins look African-American; my other cousins look Indian, and other cousins may look white. It was accepted by the Nipmuc. That’s how I got here.

I was raised in Alexandria, Virginia. We would visit my dad's Nipmuc side of the family near Worcester, MA. It was difficult, being Muslim and Nipmuc. I come from a very religious family. My sisters all wear headscarves; my mom wears a veil. My dad writes Muslim books for children.

DavidBall

MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

From a Muslim point of view, I was raised to know some of the powwows practiced shirk. But, my mom and my paternal aunts and uncles also made sure that my five siblings and I knew about being Nipmuc, while also being respectful of us growing up Muslim. It was still confusing, though. I thought, "Where do I fit in?"

With Native Americans, it's about celebrating the land. For me, it feels a lot more like pagan worship. Am I being a good Muslim if I go to the fire ceremony, where everybody might be dancing around a fire, or different things like that? It's an inner struggle. I'm going to do it regardless, because that's how I am. I like to try different things. I'm the rebel of the family. There's always one.

Now that I'm older, I have to make a choice for myself. For years, I honored my Nipmuc side from afar. When you're mixed race, you might pick a side according to how you look. Outside of the Nipmuc tribe, I'm still fighting for my place. Within Native American communities, I want to highlight that they’ve also mixed with African Americans.

DavidBall

MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

MAHASIN SALIM

Nipmuc

Alexandria, VA

Both communities have been colonized and have many of the same struggles. I fight the injustices that are happening to all African Americans. I have to do what's right for my Nipmuc ancestry too.

Everybody's journey is different. I feel like I'm on this journey alone. I am a Muslim in the way that I believe. My hope is to merge both sides. I just made my first ribbon skirt. I still pray the five prayers. Hopefully, I'll wear my scarf soon. I just have to see how I can do it personally. When that happens, I will be proud, like, "I am both. I am this, and I am that," and then fight for both. That's my thing. It's a harmony.

Molly Pagan, it started with her. I want to know more about my ancestors. Everybody wants to know where they came from. It feels good knowing who I am. It makes me proud. I really am.

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DavidBall

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

I was born and raised in Harlem. I’d always been told that we were part Native. My grandmother couldn't tell me exactly who the people were. She took me to her aunt's house in Alamance County. I saw this woman with hair all the way down her back. I hadn’t seen an African American woman look the way she looked. It piqued my interest: "Who are these people? Where are they from? Why do they look like this?"

I used to read about the Moors of Spain. I thought they were intelligent people who gave Europe a lot. Then I started reading about Islam. I never was comfortable in church. There was something about Islam that felt more natural to me. After reading a while, I said, "I'm going to the mosque." As soon as I got there, I ran into a friend. He said, "I knew you would come one day." I took shahada at Shaw University mosque. I was the Emir there during 9/11, after which the FBI had the community under surveillance. It was a rough ride, but Allah made a way.

DavidBall

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

I was fortunate to get a job with the state as Senior Deputy Clerk at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. My father is from North Carolina, so I would go to the archives at lunchtime to search records. I wasn't looking for Native American roots, necessarily. I was just wanting to see and to know. Five years ago, I shared a picture of my great-great-grandmother on Facebook. That's when my cousin contacted me. She said, "Where'd you get that picture from? That's my great-great-grandmother." So, we knew we were related. I enrolled in the Occaneechi tribe after that.

My wife isn’t Muslim, but we have an understanding: "I respect your belief; you respect mine." I love my wife. I love my faith. I love my tribe. I try to have a balance where everybody can be as happy as can be.

DavidBall

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

ED SANDERS

Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation

Zebulon, North Carolina

My tribe is my extended family. I don't treat them any different than my immediate family. Dancing is a sort of spirituality for Natives. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean religion. During the powwow, we say a prayer and have dances, but they're not religious. I don't dance a whole lot, but I go in the circle. I want to be with my family inside the circle. I consider all the tribe members my family, because somehow we're all connected

I've never invited anybody from the tribe to come to the mosque with me because this is the South. Some people are conservative Christians. I wish people would learn a little bit about Islam. I know a lot about Christianity, but most people don't have a clue about Islam. I love being Muslim. It's been a blessing. I'm a regular guy who loves Islam and being part of the Native community. I love both of those things and helping people. That's pretty much me in a nutshell.

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SIDDEEQAH SHARIF

Chickasaw and Afro-Indigenous

Baltimore, MD

SIDDEEQAH SHARIF

Chickasaw and Afro-Indigenous

Baltimore, MD

I was born, raised, and live in Baltimore. My family is Muslim. My family converted in the 1970s through the Nation of Islam. My mom's side is Chickasaw and also African American. We’re Afro-Indigenous. My aunt has this saying: People act like Indigenous people on the East Coast don't exist, but they're hidden and they're hidden in us.

I grew up in a Muslim community that was very accepting. We often had programming that included music and dance and cultural exchange. There was a night of song where my aunt’s mother would do her traditional dance as a cultural display. My sisters, brothers and cousins used to go to my aunt’s house after school–it was right around the corner. It was where everyone wanted to be, it was the spot. There was music playing, sage burning, and a whole beading table set up for us if we wanted to bead work. She had all types of Indigenous and African instruments. We actually learned from my aunt and her mother, who was instrumental in reintroducing our traditions to a lot of Afro-Indigenous Muslims in our community.

DavidBall

SIDDEEQAH SHARIF

Chickasaw and Afro-Indigenous

Baltimore, MD

SIDDEEQAH SHARIF

Chickasaw and Afro-Indigenous

Baltimore, MD

As our community grew, there were people coming in who didn’t like it. They thought we were practicing shirk and we were doing Voodoo and magic. And they called my aunt a witch. But I didn't grow up with this idea of duality. For me, Islam worked perfectly with my Native traditions. We have the same values, the way that we go on vision quest. I look at it as the same thing the Prophet Muhammad did in the cave. If the Prophet was a human being, just like the rest of us, and he went crying for a vision then we should all go crying for our visions. I don't think that is in any way incongruous with Islam. If anything, it's in perfect alignment with what we believe we should be doing–seeking spiritual guidance from the source and not from an intercessor.

My aunt’s mother made it a point to teach all of us in the community our traditions. I didn't realize until I was older that this was a concerted effort to pass these traditions on. I talk to my cousins about how we dropped the ball when teaching our kids—we’re scrambling now as they’re getting older. We go to visit my aunt’s mother every couple of weeks so that my kids can learn from her and I can learn too. We're getting to the age where we're going to need to take over family traditions.

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DavidBall

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

My mom passed away of a drug overdose when I was 12. I was in the foster care system from seven until emancipation from the state at 21. I've been a wayfarer, raised by different, distant family members. I wasn't raised with a strong Native background. A lot of Native communities are victims of modern day genocide through the foster care system. They’re put in white homes, indoctrinated by Christianity, and don't have access to their culture.

I have Choctaw lineage, but don't know many other Choctaws. I have to pick and choose practices that aren’t necessarily traditional to my tribe. It's difficult when you're a victim of genocide. Your culture is erased. I met other Natives through youth programming in Chicago. In my twenties, I was adopted by the Mashika community here in Chicago; they're Mexican with Indigenous roots. I traveled to South Dakota with them to meet with the North Native Elders. I went to different medicine ceremonies there, including sweat lodges and peyote ceremonies.

DavidBall

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

Sometimes the Muslim community and their commentary on race pisses me off. Immigrants come to America and thrive, but don’t understand that they are riding on the backs of the formerly enslaved Black community and Native genocide. Then, sometimes, I'm with Native people and they're like, "Oh, I'm going to put the headdress on the Pope."

Allah sends you things to get you through tough times. Comedy is huge in the Native community. It helps us to get through the tough times. No matter what, something funny as hell is going to happen and my will to live persists. I'm hit with every f—ing calamity ever. My heart is failing, I have a lung disease. I still find some way to make a joke out of a sh–y situation.

DavidBall

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

ASHLEY WOLFORD

Choctaw

Chicago, IL

I was exposed to the Muslim community from a young age. But what really influenced my decision to convert was attending events like Community Café from the age of 14 onwards at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. I met some African American and Native Muslim women there. I asked them, “Can you still practice your Native culture?" They said, "Yes, you can." I took my shahada alongside them in front of a thousand people, 12 years ago. At the time, I wasn't ready to try to embrace everything at once, but now I want to embrace both. A lot of Elders are calling for a day where all faiths come together to fulfill the prophecy of the Seventh Generation, when people fight the destruction of our resources like at Standing Rock. Some Elders have worked with folks from the Nation of Islam.

I think there is a hadith that says, "Even if water is flowing, you shouldn't waste it.” As Natives, you don't view trees as a thing: you breathe their oxygen and benefit from them. That is a similarity between Native practices and Islam, in my personal opinion. I am still learning to balance both identities.

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XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

I grew up in Los Angeles. I was removed from a tribal community or reservation, but close to an urban Native community. I went to powwows at UCLA. My family was a little community in and of itself. My parents were really young when they had me. My mom converted to Islam when she married my dad. I grew up more secular in Islam. We would pray together and fast in Ramadan, but we never went to Sunday School and things like that.

Growing up Muslim and Native is ostracizing in a city that's white and Christian. My basketball coach used to call me "Little Terrorist"; kids called me "Osama". Learning about painful aspects of Native histories in school was tough. My two younger brothers went to the same schools, but they're lighter-skinned than me. So, their struggles were different.

My maternal grandfather was Mescalero Apache. He died before I was born. He was an artist and worked at the LA Indian Center. My mom would tell me stories about him and our Native culture. So, I always have that foundation and two teachings in which to place any struggle that I'm going through.

DavidBall

XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

My maternal grandfather was Mescalero Apache. He died before I was born. He was an artist and worked at the LA Indian Center. My mom would tell me stories about him and our Native culture. So, I always have that foundation and two teachings in which to place any struggle that I'm going through.

In teachings in the Quran, I think about, "What does my Native culture say about this? Or, what does my Native culture think about it?" In Native spirituality, there are some inanimate but spiritual objects that have a holy presence or a holy position. I don’t perceive them as separate gods. I can hold the belief that there's one God while understanding the spiritual power of the objects that we were using to pray during the ceremony. That's a tension, but not necessarily a tension within myself. It’s more of a tension for Muslim people I share that experience with, or Native people I talk to about Islam.

DavidBall

XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

XADE WHARTON-ALI

Mescalero Apache

Poughkeepsie, NY

Being able to balance both identities as I move through the world is really important to me. Even though both have been attacked throughout my life, there's rich history in both cultures. Islam has a ridiculously rich history globally, and in America, too; especially in how Black consciousness and empowerment formed around Islam. When Muslims take a stance against something, it's like their words mean something entirely different, or they're evaluated more intensely. It’s the same with Native people: when there are pipeline protests happening, their existence as Native people scares the state more than if they were white environmentalists.

Because these communities are feared by the state and because these parts of my identity have been attacked by others, I think there's so much power in them. What I want—especially for someone who is younger—is for people to understand the empowerment of this; and to be validated by both of these knowledge bases. Both of them can be in conversation with one another; they don't necessarily negate the experience or understandings of the other. Empowerment and confidence can be gained through both identities. That's what I want people to remember.

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Research Team

Brennan McDaniel

Primary Investigator

Ph.D. student, Yale University

Dalia Mogahed

Director of Research

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Dr. Nida Ahmad

Research Associate

Independent researcher and consultant

Huda Rahman

Research Associate

Undergraduate student, Vassar College

Nura Maznavi

Writer and editor

Ayesha Mattu

Writer and editor

Maha Elsinbawi

Research Project Manager

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Erum Ikramullah

Research Project Manager

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Katherine Coplen

Director of Communications

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Rebecka Green

Communications and Creative Media Specialist

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

Advisors

Dr. Kyle T. Mays (Saginaw Chippewa)

Ph.D. Associate Professor

Department of African American Studies, the Department of American Indian Studies, & the Department of History

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Jennifer Graber

Professor and Associate Chair of Religious Studies

Shive, Lindsay, and Gray Professor in the History of Christianity, and Assistant Director of the Native American & Indigenous Studies Program

University of Texas at Austin (Texas/Tejas)

Leah Salgado (Pascua Yaqui)

Chief Impact Officer

IllumiNative

Photography by iDigiMedia + Swish Marketing Agency

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