Somewhere Between Lenape and Wakanda: Reservations, Reparations, & Afro-Indigenous Futurism.

*In 1758, the Lenape Nation (of what is now the eastern coast of both southern Canada and the northern US) was one of the first nations placed on reservation in the US. Today, private property on reservations is rare. Since 1619, Africans from multiple nations were forced to cultivate private land they did not own. Today, the legacy of redlining sees many African Americans without property. In a capitalist country, land ownership is often key to building wealth. 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been exploring the concept of justice in various forms through the lens of the old proverb (29:18): “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It’s partly why I was so taken with the work of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association when I was in undergrad. 

“Africa for Africans” was such a bold vision that when combined with the racial climate of the day, may explain why–a century later–it remains  “the largest mass movement in African-American history.” That was the other reason I was taken with the movement. Regardless of what you think of Garvey’s vision, the fact that it remains the largest single movement in African American history I’d never heard of remains astonishing. 

Likewise, the first time I saw Wakanda on the big screen, I was reminded again of the power of story to capture the hearts and minds of people. The history of Africa’s fictional “hidden gem,” with no interference from colonial powers, and the resulting combination of tradition and tech embodies everything I love about the power of story. Chadwick Boseman’s role in bringing the story to life will enshrine him as a King forevermore. May he rest in power. 

Be it Marcus Garvey’s vision to take African Americans back “home,” MLK’s dream of racial accountability and solidarity, or Ryan Coogler’s artistic interpretation of Wakanda, story moves us beyond pragmatism and affords us a glimpse of a life limited only by our imagination. 

Justice doesn’t have to be strictly pragmatic, but it will take funding to explore the possibilities. It took funding to bring those aforementioned visions to the collective imaginations of the people. If it takes funding to share a vision, you KNOW it’ll take funding to bring it to fruition. I’ve made it no secret that I want to see reparations as a means to both. 

The bigger the tent—the more space we create for everyone’s liberation—the closer we come to the mark. As I consider white supremacist-patriarchy’s impact on the African diaspora, I am coming to understand that there’s something in the story of Indigenous Nations that may hold the key to Black liberation and viceversa. 

There are so many historical narratives between Indigenous Nations and the African Diaspora that mirror each other, I can’t help but ask if “the case for reparations” couldn’t/shouldn’t be broadened to include willing Indigenous peoples. 

I say this because…

I want to live somewhere rooted in the highest ideals of pre-colonialism and sustained by the best that all-inclusive civil engineering, green infrastructure, and general innovation has to offer.  

I want to live in a place where matriarchy is a legitimate form of government–not patriarchal-ly mocked as “the power of the pussy” with a nod and a wink.  

I want a fuller life that distinguishes insulation from isolation.  I want shrines to practice collective silence joining the spaces of praise and worship.

I want restorative justice to be a foregone conclusion and universal health care taken for granted. I want policies born of our morality instead of moral posturing per policies mandates.

I want to see my ancestors in the way my grandchildren move through the world. 

I want help to see and be seen.

Because I’m tired…and I’m FAR from alone. There are whole communities suffering from generational exhaustion. 

I’m tired of subsidizing the white-body-supremacist fantasies personified in the mediocrity, callousness, and cruelty of this so-called leader.

My hands grow ashy from drying the tears of my daughter’s understanding of the Blackness she embodies. 

From the projects and tenements to the reservations and trailer parks…I know a ghetto when I see one.  From Warsaw 1940 to pick-a-spot, USA 20-now, “it is,” as the president says, “what it is.”

And as so many have asked before, how long must we wage a hearts and minds campaign? How long must we continue to disproportionately suffer while those in power play their inglorious game of thrones? 

In the meantime…

How many children have been lost between us…?  How many parcels created, carved, and sold away between us? How many languages, histories, stories died on the lips of our ancestors. 

How many of us have known the pain of sending our children to school knowing they’ll receive an education that does nothing to fill in the blanks? How many of us know the pain of wishing we were someone else’s children only to hear our own say the same–the multi-generational curse of self-hatred to either be overcome or internalized?

How many of us know the pain of seeing our representation being narrowed to tropes for the consumption of fragile white egos whose one-dimensional ethnicity relies on a superior/inferior paradigm. 

How many of us have languished in the indignity of poverty in the midst of great wealth–even as we watch our cultural productions commodified and mass produced. 

How many of us have known the indignity of whimsical autonomy–forced to live where we’re told, only to see what we build again burned to ashes…again. 

How many of us know the pain of journeys long in the making that we never wanted to take–from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Trail of Tears? 

We’ve known terror. We’ve known trauma. We’ve known erasure. 

Maybe there’s something to be gained by swapping stories. Maybe our children would benefit from learning who they are–together. 

Maybe there’s something to be gained from healing through celebration and commiseration. 

Who knows…

Maybe we can build something new together. Maybe we take the pain of systemic violence and turn it into a commitment to living in greater harmony with each other. No community thrives without a story to rally around. And we have one helluva story to share. 

And maybe, just maybe, there’s a place where conversations about reparations and reservations begin to blend. Where the questions about autonomy in the past provide answers about autonomy in the future. 

With enough resources amassed, two of the most isolated and impoverished communities in the US can become one of the cleanest, greenest, most educated, peoples in the world.  

Since there’s a shared history, maybe it’s worth exploring a shared future? This upcoming season of my new podcast Dive In-Justice, I’ll be exploring that very question–examining what’s been done, and asking what more we could do. 

The Dive In-Justice (DIJ) podcast is created by and for those who’d see justice in the world but don’t always know what it is or how to get it. DIJ explores what we mean by “justice,” and “community,” and why it’s often SO hard to work with the very people we want to liberate…including and especially ourselves. 

Join us for Sseason 1, where we’ll look at justice through the lens of Black/Indigenous solidarity movements past, present, and possibly future.  What’s worked? What hasn’t? What were the goals? How close did they get? And, perhaps most importantly, when things fell apart, “why?” 

Delma is a Senior Fellow with CWC. His focus is on facilitating system change on campuses and in institutions through transformative practice and the power of story. He received his undergraduate degree in African-American Studies and Psychology, and his Masters in Liberal Arts with a concentration in American and African American Studies at the University of Michigan. He regularly lectures on a variety of socio-political topics with a special emphasis on intersectional approaches to social justice.