Stories articles Black History Month

Garden Walkthrough by Jared Lank

Garden Walkthrough by Jared Lank

March 2, 2023

Reimagining Brilliant Black and Indigenous Futures

Tracy Rector

Growing up as a child of the 70’s in the western United States, families like mine were rare. We were a spectrum of skin tones, languages, histories, let alone the lived experiences inherent to being people of mixed heritage. Our reality was constructed over multiple centuries, circumstances and regions. We were different, and we were special — special because we were encouraged to embrace all our ancestors. I was raised to feel pride in the stories of Black resistance, Indigenous knowledge systems, and to know that this interweaving of our multiple backgrounds helped our family to survive.

My family was unique, but we were not — and are not — alone: Black, Indigenous, Black-Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous histories, liberation, and futures are inextricably linked.

The Doctrine of Discovery, a papal bull issued by the Catholic Church, sanctioned theft of lands and territories from Indigenous Peoples across Africa, the Americas, and beyond. It also ties Black and Indigenous history together, both via the impact of colonization and a centuries-long collective resistance to it. First enacted during the colonization of West Africa, this decree stated that land not inhabited by Christians could be seized by Christians. European colonizers were thus able to acquire the lands they "discovered" via conquest and claim, stripping Indigenous Peoples of their rights. Conflict between Europeans and Indigenous Peoples tore Indigenous communities apart and fractured Indigenous nations. People were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands, and the sequestered land became the private properties of European colonizers, in particular, plantation owners. Following the Doctrine of Discovery, millions of African and Indigenous Peoples were enslaved and displaced. A true count of those who died as a direct result of this devastating decree may never be known.

The specter of this doctrine remains embedded in federal legislation even today. We see the legal and cultural successors now in the way that laws across the U.S. continue to control the history, land, languages, traditions, and contemporary lives of Black and Indigenous Peoples stemming from stolen lands, forced assimilation, encouragement of violence as a means of control, broken treaties, and more. Learning about the history and modern manifestations of the Doctrine of Discovery is painful. It’s also key to understanding what we need to dismantle within our current systems so that we can reduce the harm that’s been done and begin the critical work of repair.

Despite historical divisions that have long impeded collaboration, the number and reach of Black and Indigenous solidarity movements is expanding. The people propelling these efforts know not only that Black and Indigenous liberation and sovereignty are uniquely interwoven across time; they also shed light on the shared histories, traditions, medicines, and cultures of these communities. By coming together in reciprocity and kinship, Black, Black-Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, and Indigenous communities are fueling a collective movement to reimagine brilliant Black and Indigenous futures.

The land itself holds the history of the people, as land helps inform culture, language, and community. Therefore, one way to move forward is to amplify and uplift all efforts towards Indigenous guardianship, land back, sovereignty, and self-determination. This includes reclaiming access to farmland and subsistence living, and dismantling redlining of districts. It also requires creating greater access to land and home ownership, as well as the restitution of land and property to Indigenous and Black Peoples. Together, this builds a strong movement towards social and climate justice.

There are no better authors to write collective stories and futures than the Black, Black-Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, and Indigenous Peoples who are already telling them. Working together, they have the tools, the knowledge, and the experience to implement traditional as well as innovative solutions, methods of advocacy, and community care to build a society that benefits all—human, more than human, and the Earth.