Anti-blackness & Indigeneity: finding solidarity between Black & First Nations Indigenous Peoples
Everywhere, we are seeing calls for solidarity right now. The Movement for Black Lives, and Black Lives Matter is on the top of nearly every media feed. Black & Asian Solidarity. Black and Immigrant solidarity. Solidarity with Black Trans, Non-binary & Gender Non-conforming folks. This is beautiful and terrible.
Would that violence against black bodies was not required for people to decide to stand in solidarity.
Would that our deaths did not need to be viral videos to stoke outrage.
Would that a pandemic did not need to kill us more than anyone else for people to look at the injustices and failures of our medical systems in healing black bodies.
One aspect I believe we need to address in the Movement for Black Lives, that hasn’t been as vocal, is solidarity between Black people and Native peoples on this Turtle Island. But to do this we are required to address the idea and reality of modern indigeneity, what it really means, and the way it is frequently weaponized to perpetuate anti-blackness all while in an effort to recognize the people called the original caretakers of this land.
Lately, I have come to resent the way “Indigenous” is now used colloquially to only mean people with First Nation ancestry, and how land acknowledgements in the western United States don’t also acknowledge the black diaspora who also have been caretakers of this land. Black people worked the soil and plants for hundreds of years here, developed medicines here, and have been and are currently physically displaced regularly: from Africa and from connection to this land we cared for. Black bodies in the Americas were literally genetically engineered by white supremacists as a unique multi-ethnic group of mixed African indigenous and European peoples for the sole purpose of exploited labor for European wealth. Our ancestors were removed from our mother lands and then enslaved here for hundreds of years — enslaved to this day — so that we mostly cannot actually leave, and if we did have resources and agency to leave, there is no land and no tribe to claim us or to return back to. And I wonder why our ethnic groups, who is very much Indigenous to this land practically speaking, witness daily that our Indigeneity gets erased and so we are then considered Indigenous to nowhere, and landless.
I have heard the call for reparations for First Nations peoples (often by others who are not Native) to be paid by everyone who occupies this land, and even cried that Native peoples be given their land back — for people who are not Native to physically leave as reparation. Besides the fact that this isn’t actually possible without collaboration on a worldwide scale (which is unlikely more and more given the United States’ position in world politics and pandemic in 2020), this type of very oversimplified solution seems like folks have forgotten about the 14 million or so black descendents of enslaved peoples who were trafficked here against our will, made to work the land and build the wealth of this USA nation for everyone BUT ourselves, “freed” but still enduring genocide, mass incarceration, forced labor, and violent oppression to this day. No one ever says what happens for Black diaspora in that reparations “go back where tou came from”, or “pay what you owe” scenario.
Here is the hypocrisy: these same folks will speak loudly for DACA recipients (who were either brought here voluntarily by their caregivers or came alone) and demand they have a right to stay as “this is their country too”. “They have lived here for 20 years!” go the cries. “This is their home just as much as it is ours,” I hear people say.
Why are we not including Black folks in the discussion of who has claims and ties to land? I can answer that. Anti-blackness.
What does reparations look like for Black folks who built the wealth of this nation without any reciprocity for hundreds of years? Is the plan that despite being trafficked here, building wealth for white people — who largely could repatriate to a European country with this unearned wealth, and sometimes do — to tell us, that unfortunately because the colonizers who stole and raped and exploited and killed us and forced us to work for their profit did so on stolen land, all that forced, uncompensated labor is a wash — and now, impoverished and without resources, we are to cobble a path back to a continent where we cannot claim any particular country or tribe, where we do not genetically match, that we have been disconnected from for hundreds of years, to resettle as unwanted “hybrid” refugees. And to expect the 50 or so nations of Africa who have also had their resources depleted by European and Chinese colonization, to accept millions of traumatized & haphazardly repateiated black folks, perhaps dividing families (because genetics isn’t linear or predictable). How does this safeguard Black refugees from Turtle Island from being considered an under-class in African countries as well? That is what reparations for black people looks like? First Nations people get their land back and we get forcefully relocated with nothing, AGAIN? How is that justice? How is that reparations? How is that kind of violent and dehumanizing antiblack injustice acceptable?
DACA youth & adults are frequently portrayed as omid-brown youth of color are welcome, but black folks who fought for the civil rights DACA and other non-black people of color benefit from every day, who fought for First Nations rights, who are still fighting for our own rights — - we get to be human trafficked again as our “reparations”? What does that trafficking repair, re-member, or indemnify for black bodied people?
It doesn’t. Because it is not reparations. It is simply put: anti-blackness.
What does reparations look like for Black folks who built the wealth of this nation without reciprocity for hundreds of years?
The truth is EVERYONE is Indigenous to somewhere. Every single body on this earth is Indigenous. As a Black person of [now] unknown mixed African tribal ancestry and forced mixed European ancestry, and still potentially other ancestry unknown, I am Indigenous to Turtle Island / this/ these continents as well! If not for this land, and the institution of chattel slavery which was particular to this land, our ethnic group — which is unique to any others in the world —would not exist. This embodied reality in the form of millions of black human beings cannot now be unmade, due to the inconvenience of our existence for fully righting wrongs done by the people who made us. And in the midst of these wrongs, we were made HERE.
Black people who are descended from various now unknown tribes of trafficked Africans & colonizer Europeans are a unique and distinct ethnic group who were genetically engineered by European settlers ON THESE CONTINENTS.
Black people on Turtle Island have ancestral blood ties and energetic ties to this land that cannot be erased, broken and should not be diminished. The land held us, cared for us and welcomed us. Not all land is so receptive. I believe that energetic land-welcoming is how we even survived the experience of brutal chattel slavery here for hundreds of years. Black folks who escaped slavery did so by partnering with the land much like Native peoples did during the same time period (see Harriet Tubman).
Consider how much time and energy black bodies poured into the soil for farming on plantations! Our ancestors how to partner with land when we came here. Much like Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island, we came from entire complex, varied, and magnificent Indigenous civilizations in Africa. We were a people with exceptional skill. That is why Europeans stole us — - we were good at partnering with land, building, healing & medicine, farming, teaching, and all manner of creativity already, and our labor, magic and resonance with this land made the European colonies exceptionally financially profitable. So profitable that they within 300 years built enough wealth, skill and strategy to win wars of independence against the countries who sent them here and originally financially sponsored their settlements.
Black land ties are deep and lasting! The land loved us and helped us survive! And the land does so still to this day.
How many of our black lives have been snuffed out with our bodies and breath pressed into the earth? Imagine the intense reciprocity the earth shows as it recieves our life force when we have been dominated-to-death so regularly, to have us thrive as deeply resilient, creative, and powerfully adaptive here. You have likely seen the viral videos of black body domination-to-death by the white body. How much of our blood has dripped or poured like rivers into the water, land and growths of these continent? How many of our cries for relief have been carried on the wind, in the currents of the air that feeds this land and permeates these waters? How many of our sighs and cries and retreating steps were muffled by the marshes and trees of the eastern colonies? How many of our souls were given up in defeat or defiance in the Atlantic oceanic caves and waves between here and the original motherland of Africa? To many to count. Great multitudes!
Because we are of mixed ancestry like many of the today Native peoples (post European colonization) we share together a history of having our genetics forcefully violently tampered with by European colonists during the same time frame, and also being [albiet forced, but also loving and magical] caretakers of this land quite well for hundreds of years, without any reciprocity from anyone but the earth. We too developed sacred medicines for ourselves that were passed intergenerationally. We created food and herbal medicine practices and song and laughter from and on this land.
As a black queer American femme descended from trafficked Indigenous Africans originating in various tribes and nations who were forceably enslaved and exploited for capitalist wealth building in the US, I have become deeply conscious of ways I, Black Indigenous Americans, and many non-black Americans particularly are reinacting our intergenerational collective trauma of colonization and slavery, and oppression on a loop. I don’t think this experience of looping trauma is limited to Americans, but this is the only experience I’ve had that I can speak to. I also believe any of us who have ancestry connected to slavery and colonization of the Americas who still live on this land are participating in this loop — its not just Indigenous Black and Native Indigenous people. But I’m aware that most non-black people assume this work is ours (black folks) alone to heal.
I learned from a book that like other trauma responses, epigenetic trauma’s changes to DNA are meant to ensure the survival of our species, changing our descendents (egg/sperm) DNA in minute ways to equip us to more skillfully navigate the environments and situations that traumatized our predecessors.
In a great irony, although the institution of chattel slavery & Jim Crow in the Americas sought to intentionally genetically engineer an entire ethnic group of black people with mixed European and multi-ethnic African ancestry into docile, compliant, spiritless beings whose labor could then easily be extracted for profit of non-black capitalists, never intending directly or fully to acknowledge our humanity or the pain and suffering and exploitation happening themselves, human evolution outsmarted that entire system with epigenetics. Evolution overpowered capitalism and white supremacy, instead creating a large ethnic group of black Indigenous people who are deeply resilient, creative, determined, industrious, grounded our dignity and defiant in our humanity, deeply subversive and specifically genetically prepared to thrive and find liberatory practice and existence inside a profoundly oppressive environment. With every generation these capacities grow. And we see evidence of that evolution because Black Indigenous American people are still here in droves, Uprisings are breaking out all over the United States and the world, and black ciswomen in particular tend to live longer than most other people in the USA. Even in my own family, I’ve witnessed all my female bodied grandparents and great grandparents live or are still living beyond 94 years old (something that actually scares me to think about at only 30 something!).
That was a very powerful realization — -to think of the hundreds of years of trauma and epigenetics and evolution that specifically prepared me to skillfully navigate today’s world with more liberation than anyone before my present generation. And that my journey will enhanced the ability of the next generation to find liberation as I am seeking it for myself. And I have found tastes of liberation that my ancestors never were able to find!
I’ve had the honor and joy of sharing my resilience strategies with my maternal grandmother, seeing how similar they are to her own resilience strategies over her lifetime through ber stories shared with me. I was able say to this grandma — who was born in 1920s Jim Crow North Carolina, whose own mother was the first generation post-emancipation in the USA and say, “Grandma, look what you made possible,” referring to myself, my siblings, and my cousins who have had choices and opportunities that my grandmother could not have dreamed or imagined for herself. Our lives have been hard too but we have had more opportunities and choice because of the labor she and others of her generation did in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s-70s. I realized what a gift and responsibility I have as a future ancestor to continue this healing journey for my people, and how so much can change for Black Indigenous Americans and our ability to thrive and be liberated within ourselves, even if the outside world itself does not change that much. But, our presence and liberatory practice will change the world eventually because the current systems are going against the very flow of the natural world, and those natural laws will eventually overcome these systems.
I also had a breakthrough within myself in relation to my intergenerational imposter syndrome trauma.
I once saw a 400 year old tree in coastal Virginia where I was born, and in it’s leaves and branches I saw the history of my people and our survival through struggle as something magnificent and magestic. Our medicines are powerful. It’s not like Massa was calling the doctors for us, except for the unconsenting experimentation of western medicine that so often killed and kills us today. We had to learn how to heal ourselves in partnership with this land and this water and these plants that we touched our bodies to every single day.
Millions and millions of our Black ancestors are burried in this land and in the treacherous waters of the Middle Passage in unmarked, forgotten and desecrated graves.
Our blood, sweat, tears, labor and love is literally in the atoms of this sacred earth, and in the cool but warming waters and in the trees. To “repatriate” black people here now would require us all to be dismembered and sent to the far reaches of the planet. I say that in such a gruesome way because that is how it feels in my body to have the very strong and sacred ties I and we have to these continents and their outlying islands erased by excluding us from American indigenaety. I experience and witness it as a form of anti-blackness and Indigenous erasure.
Photo credit Pixabay
I have been sharing this in many groups and calling for us to say in introductions, when we use the word “Indigenous” to also state a location to where we referring. Because otherwise we are actively erasing black people. I call us to recognize that we cannot and must not erase black people in the Americas who are descended from enslaved peoples from many different Indigenous groups (including various western Europeans through rape, and hundreds of disperate and unknown African tribes through forced “breeding”, as well as various tribes from these continents) as Indigenous to this land as well.
Again I urge: we are not a people without claims and ties to land. I feel it in my body when I am in my ancestral lands of coastal North Carolina.
Our myriad languages and cultures were stolen from us too, and so we created new ones from the ashes of the old, ON THIS LAND. This is where rap and reggae and jazz and rock and roll were invented by peoples descended from enslaved Africans. This sacred land where soul food, and shade humor and Capoiera were created to nourish and enliven and protect our black bodies and minds from white supremacy. Those energetic ties cannot and should not be ignored either.
Last year a Native person in Seattle told me that to truly know myself, I needed to go back to Africa. Where in a continent of 1.2 billion people and 54 countries, many of them new, that they thought I should go to “know myself truly” was a mystery to me! Due to the nature of chattel slavery this knowledge is impossible. Although the ports of ecit were in west Africa, people were sold and stolen from all over the continent. And Europeans colonized much of Africa as well so the indigenous cultures a d countries and tribes there in the 1500–1700s are no longer there for the most part. Even the languages have changed. The people we were stolen from were lost to history, never to return the way they once were. And since in the Americas, much like Native peoples our languages were forbidden, and many trafficked Africans spoke different languages anyway, we cannot now rediscover the dozens of tongues I may have spoken. This person said this to me after complaining that a white person had told them to “go back to Mexico”! I could not for the life of me understand how this person didn’t see how what they said to me was th same violent echo of the white supremacy and antiblackness they experienced from a white person. And this Native person was nearly white-passing, but did not acknowledge their obvious and significant mixed European ancestry.
Native and Black people cannot build shared solidarity on antiblackness and erasure of black indigenaety. It is impossible. Contrary to popular belief, Black Americans are not a floating, landless people. Our bones and blood are in this soil and we have suffered and died in the caretaking of these lands, and we STILL ARE to this day.
This is complicated and it is not the work of white folk or anyone else besides our peoples to recognize our shared and different struggles and to in true and generative ways, come together in solidarity to support each other in the struggles of our people that are so intertwined they cannot be untangled.
I know this is not the standard conversation around these things. However, expanded critical dialog is necessary because unless we reckon with the way we are in the present moment, all that happens is white supremacy weaponizing our Black & First Nations pasts to have us at each other’s throats instead of dismantling the systems killing us all together.
I speak as someone who claims indigenaety to the lands of. the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond and Monacan, in Virginia as well as the Algonquian, Bear River Indians, Cape Fear Indians, Catawba, Cheraw, Cherokee, Chowanoc, Machapunga, Moratok, Natchez, Occaneechi, Saponi, Shakori, Tuscarora and Waccamaw tribes of kand now known as North Carolina where both lines of my ancestors labored on the land and died for 300 years.
Neurodivergent Accessibility statement: I wrote this with passion felt deep in my bones and my neurodivergent self is not always mindful or concerned about spelling in this colonized language, which is the only one I have.
Evvie Ormon is a Black, queer, non-binary healer, transformation coach and herbalist. Evvie hails from coastal Virginia and North Carolina, is formerly homeless, currently disabled, and is living on the road in their RV.
If you would like to pay reparations or pay Evvie for their labor in this piece, their Venmo is @fightthesystem and Cash App is $Emergent_Phoenix