Linked Histories: Land, Power, and Black Indigeneity
From the Washington Post. Protesters in Lagos, Nigeria, on Friday shout slogans against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The police unit was accused of harassment, bribe-taking and other abuses. (Akintunde Akinleye/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock). View complete article here
I am not writing this as an expert on colonial struggles or black indigeneity. What I can do, however, is speak to my experience, how I feel, and what I know to be true.
Some of the greatest contemporary minds to think about race, indigenous struggles, and their connections to environmentalism are currently teaching at the University of Oregon--Kari Norgaard, Sara Wald, Gerardo Sandoval, Laura Pulido--and so my first introductions to environmentalism upon starting my master's degree in 2018 did not go without conversations of race, power, and privilege. For that I am thankful.
Because I am currently schooling in the United States, it is understandable that conversations about indigenous struggles focus on the lives and histories of the original inhabitants of this country, and for a while, I felt it was almost a disrespect to speak on indigeneity when there were Native Americans in the room. It was, of course, their history, and I was afraid I would be speaking out of place. It was not until sometime earlier this year I realized that, being from Nigeria, I too am an indigenous person, though we rarely identify ourselves as such.
Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day, I am asking myself, what does it mean to be indigenous? According to Marriam-Webster, indigenous means "produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment".
I guess that's me. So why did it take me so long for me to realize indigenous history is my history? And now that I know this, how does this change the way I understand power and land struggles? Briefly, here are my thoughts:
In America, race takes the cake. It was the racialization of indigenous Americans that created the justification for European settlers to take their land and resources, whether that be through treaties or genocidal force. But what about in Nigeria, where British colonization has without a doubt casted a dark and ugly shadow, but where the population is, more or less, racially homogeneous? It was the colonizer's instigation of intertribal conflict that began our demise. We hated eachother, and ourselves. Now we have widespread poverty, unchecked government corruption, and terror groups like Boko Haram and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), but race is not a factor. Is that why our indigeneity is rendered invisible? For both mainland and diasporic Nigerians, how have our connections to place been severed? What are the commonalities between our histories and the histories of indigenous Americans? What are the differences? Why, on Indigenous Peoples Day, is my TL seemingly flooded with only one kind of indigenous identity, while at the same time the blood of SARS victims is crying out from the earth, the same earth that has been rendered a sacrifice zone by the entire global north? This whole piece feels like an incomplete thought. Maybe you can help me finish.
I am currently residing on stolen Yuchi and Cherokee East land. The abuses and violence that resulted in the dispossession and erasure of these peoples are the same ones that plague my country today.