'Black Indian' tells enlightening tales of culture, history
by Robert Redding Jr.
February 10, 2000
George Arnold Tooks was named Circling Eagle more than 25 years ago because he refuses to sit still.
"It was a name that was given to me in 1973 by a Cherokee Shaman who said that I was like an eagle who circles the earth," said Tooks, who calls himself a "black Indian."
He said the term was given to a slave named York in 1805 during the Lewis and Clark expedition. York was one of the few on the famous trip to be nice to the Indians, said Tooks.
It is under the label black Indian that he has been traveling across the country six months out of the year speaking to everyone from students to seniors about the importance of retrieving their heritage. Next week, Tooks will share his tales at community centers in Landover and Glenn Dale.
"For the past 15 years, I have dedicated my life to reaching out to families about teaching our real history," said Tooks, who creates songs and dances and tells stories to communicate his message. "I tell them to stop the hate and respect each otherís history."
Tooks, 60, a resident of Asbury Park, N.J., has a deep ancestry, which began with his grandmother, Biddie Johnson Arnold, half Apache and Cherokee; and his grandfather, Fredrick Arnold, an African-American Mohawk.
He credits his grandmother for opening up his eyes to his heritage and teaching him that people knowing their roots is important.
"My mother died in an accident when I was 6 years old, and I was raised by grandmother in Altoona, Pa.," he said. "It was there that I learned that black Indians are not featured in the history books, movies or music."
Because black Indians have received little acknowledgment from historians, Tooks said he is on a mission. Tooks is ranked in the "Who's Who of Contemporary African-American Playwrights" by Bernard Peterson for his work with his deceased brother, Lawrence Edward Tooks. The Tooks are also known for writing, composing and producing 1994's "Drums of the Black West," an off-Broadway musical.
Tooks has taken his life's travel and experiences and turned them into visions that he uses to inspire audiences to think about their roots.
"In my lectures out in California, I met Chinese Indians that came over to this country to work on the railroads . . . And when they came to this country the government would not let them bring Chinese women with them so they fell in love with Indians," Tooks said. Puerto Ricans are "direct descendants" from Taino and Arawaks, he said.
He has used his knowledge to assemble an entertaining show that appeals to all age groups.
"I do two programs: 'Black West Pioneers,' which celebrates lives and accomplishments of our black heroes and 'sheroes' and 'The Building of the Real West.' "
He pointed out that many celebrities have also begun to endorse their past.
"The term 'black Indian' has also been embraced by Hollywood
by people like Tina Turner, LL Cool J, John Amos, Morgan Freeman, Phylicia Rashad, Little Richard, Debbie Allen, Alice Walker and Langston Hughes," said Tooks.
He recommends that people who want to know more about their history do more research. He suggests reading William Lauren Katz's "The Black West" and "Black Indians."
"I also urge them to check into their history," he said.
He believes that parents and grandparents should preserve their history for future generations. "I encourage people to write down all they know about who they are and where they come from, and they should share as much they can,î he said. "It is something that they need to know and something that no one can ever take away from them."
Tooks believes that around 90 percent of African Americans have an ancestry filled with Native Americans.
"I tell people to seek out their oldest surviving relative and ask them about their history and to start their journey into looking back ... It has been such a deep dark secret that some families don't want to talk about for a long time.
"We should all know where we come from and who we are," he added.
Tooks believes many of youths' problems stem from a lack of knowledge about their roots.
He plans to change that by working on 61 projects which include a miniseries, two novels and one nonfiction book, and children's and adult CDs.
He also takes his son, Neil Tooks, 29, with him on tours to ensure the continuation of knowledge.
"He drives me where I need to go," said Tooks, who injured his legs and back in a train station accident in June 1994.
Although he stays on the road with a bad back and busy schedule, he is determined to perform.
"If I have to do it from a sitting position then I do it. The important thing is getting the message out about who we are and where we have come from," he said.
"Our clients have been pleased to present the show to their audience and most of them have rebooked his show," said his agent Nancy Sies. ìThis is a show that offers insight into a part of history that most Americans don't know.î
Tooks will be performing at the Columbia Park Community Center,1901 Kent Village Drive in Landover on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and at the Glenn Dale Community Center, 11901 Glenn Dale Blvd. in Glenn Dale on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m.
For more information about Tooks, call 703-548-6973.