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Stolen Relations: Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in the Americas

A tribal collaborative project that seeks to understand settler colonialism and its legacies through the lens of Indigenous enslavement and unfreedom.

This community based project, housed at Brown University, is a collaborative effort to build a database of enslaved and unfree indigenous people throughout time all across the Americas in order to promote greater understanding of the historical circumstances and ongoing trauma of settler colonialism. Please note that this site is under construction, and the database does not yet have a public portal. We are actively working on this project, however, and and are looking for volunteers and scholars to contribute materials. We invite you to visit our About page to learn more about the project and how to contribute.


The concept:

Stolen Relations (formerly the Database of Indigenous Slavery in the Americas) is a community-centered database project that seeks to illuminate and understand the role the enslavement of Indigenous peoples played in settler colonialism over time. As we scour the archives, we are seeking to document as many instances as possible of Indigenous enslavement in the Americas between 1492 and 1900 (and beyond, where relevant). Long overlooked by scholars and almost completely unknown to the wider public, the enslavement of Indigenous peoples was a persistent and destabilizing aspect of settler colonialism that tore apart communities and families and aided settler colonial expansion. The enslavement of Native Americans was a hemispheric phenomenon, perpetrated by every European colonial power in their invasion of the Americas. Scholars now estimate that between 2.5 and 5 million Natives were enslaved in the Americas between 1492 and the late nineteenth century – an astonishing number by any measure (even compared to the approximately 10.5 -12 million Africans who were brought as slaves from Africa in this same time period).

Our project seeks to recover the stories of individuals as well as educate the public on the reality of these processes. We are focused primarily on New England for now, and are working in close partnership with approximately thirteen regional tribes, nations, and communities. While this project seeks to bring greater understanding to the past, it is important to recognize that these Indigenous nations are still here, in New England and all across the Americas, and have vibrant communities and cultural traditions. They, too, have oral histories regarding settler colonialism, displacement, indigenous enslavement, and ongoing survival into the present that need to inform our understanding of the past; archival materials alone are insufficient. In combination with tribal input, DISA will allow the slow centralization of biographical information related to enslaved indigenous people and place it online where historians, researchers, students, tribal members, and families can use the information to reconstruct histories, chart networks, and make connections in ways that have never before been possible. These are hard realities and difficult histories, but they need to be told fully so we can start to be more honest about the history of this country and think more clearly about how to make amends moving forward.