Sovereign Lands and Liberated Peoples: How Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty Movements Are Building Better Worlds.

Guest blog by Aya ƛapisim/Clappis, a Somalinimo-Nuučaan̓ułʔatḥ writer and researcher living on the unceded homelands of the W̱SÁNEĆ and Lekwungen peoples.

After a year of mass demonstrations, protests, non-violent direct actions, vigils, and the creation of mutual aid networks, Black and Indigenous communities have been experiencing immense grief, rage, anger, beauty, love, solidarity, and creativity that has fuelled dynamic and collaborative resistance. 

As I bore witness to and engaged myself in this transformative work, the focus became less about an individual injustice and more about collectively building a world we want to live in and the relationships that will sustain us to carry out this work together. 

The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.” – Maya Angelou

During my time spent at two occupations with Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en at the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum resources and the B.C. legislature on Lekwungen territory, I was struck by the deep commitment of Indigenous and Black youth who gave their love, time and support to these actions. Despite a constant police presence, and the ways Black and Indigenous bodies are made hypervisible under settler colonialism, these youth put everything on the line to ensure our collective safety. This process of relationship-building amongst Black, Indigenous and settler accomplices was paramount to holding B.C. government officials, the RCMP and Coastal GasLink accountable for the violence committed against Wet’suwet’en peoples and their yintah. 

Gathering in such a collaborative way created ample space for conversations about Indigenous laws and teachings. These laws and teachings —  centred  around Indigenous values of family, justice, and responsibility — became the foundation for how we can work together now and in the future. It is a practice of drawing on deep wells of ancestral knowledge and pulling them forward into the present. 

 The foundation from which cross-cultural connections between Indigenous peoples and the Black diaspora occurs is a space that puts teachings into practices, which can be built upon to actualize more just and equitable ways of being and co-existing. When we do so, we reject and break through the barriers created by colonialism that would see Black and Indigenous communities and movements as existing in silos.

As an Afro-Indigenous woman of Nuu-chah-nulth and Somali descent, I am an inheritor of a continuum of dreams and responsibilities carried forward by my ancestors. This represents a lineage carrying out  an undying desire for our lands and bodies to one day be free of colonial violence, oppression, displacement, and dispossession. In my body, I know Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty are inherently linked. Under colonial domination, we are all subjected to layered forces of oppression which impact us various ways. To deny either as a path towards change would be dangerous, as it would further ensnare us in the trap of individuality and exploitation that pays no mind to the harms inflicted upon our bodies and lands. To truly address the nuanced ways oppression manifests within colonial frameworks, we need to see each other as accomplices to another’s struggle. We need to work to uplift and support each other whenever possible. It is fragmentation and disconnection that we must actively work against.  

If you have ever visited Nuu-chah-nulth territory, you may have heard variations of the phrase “hishuk cawak”. It means “everything is connected” or “everything is one”. This single phrase, grounded in natural law, embodies the ways in which our collective liberation is tied to one another’s. It is a rejection of how colonialism has weaponized divide-and-conquer tactics to obscure our shared values, cultures, histories and experiences under colonialism. Conversely, it can also be representative of the ways we have been conditioned to participate in systems of oppression through anti-Blackness and anti-Indigenous racism at each other’s expense. 

Our connectedness can be our greatest strength, or our greatest weakness, depending on the direction and methods we pursue. 

In conceptualizing this, I often rely on my Nuu-chah-nulth teachings surrounding the canoe. Out on the water, everyone pulls together as a family. The ability to reach any destination requires us to be vigilant of changing weather, winds, and tides. When we paddle as one, we honour our responsibility and connectedness to one another. Every person involved in preparation and carrying out the journey is equipped with a role and a gift: no one is disposable. We rely one each other entirely because our survival and ability to reach distant shores depends on it. If a portion of the canoe decides to paddle counter to the rest, we would spin in circles and become stagnant. Made vulnerable to the elements, some may decide to swim to shore. When a canoe is out of balance, our ability to reach our destination is severely limited. 

To never lose sight of our dreams of other worlds and to remain in balance amongst our Black and Indigenous relatives is crucial. I cannot rest until all our families and communities are no longer targeted by police violence and state surveillance. Nor do I dream of a world where we continue to be pathologized and dehumanized to ensure the survival of the colonial project. I dream of liberated bodies and lands that know peace, love, justice, healing, and joy. I dream of a world of connectedness without colonial borders and which allows us to return to our homelands and kin near and far. I hold these dreams as responsibility and as deep commitments to the many ancestors whose struggle and dreams ensured both my own and our collective survival.

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