Sowing seeds of resilience (Part 1)

Dominique Daye Hunter is an Afro-Indigenous author, poet, fashion designer and advocate. She recently published “Seeds: Stories of Afro-Indigenous Resilience,” a collection of poetry and short stories that explores her Afro-Indigenous lineage and gives voice to the trauma, healing and resilience of her ancestors.

By Darci Palmquist, Forrest King-Cortes February 29

Dominique Daye Hunter is an Afro-Indigenous author, poet, fashion designer and advocate. She is the program manager for Indigenous East, an initiative of The Landberry Foundation, where she is working to create a connected network of Indigenous-led protected areas spanning the eastern United States. She served on the planning team for an inaugural Indigenous Land Conservation Summit supported by the Alliance and held last September before Rally: The National Land Conservation Conference.

Daye Hunter recently published “Seeds: Stories of Afro-Indigenous Resilience,” a collection of poetry and short stories that explores her Afro-Indigenous lineage and gives voice to the trauma, healing and resilience of her ancestors. Here in Part 1, Daye Hunter discusses the inspiration that led her to write “Seeds” and how her family history helped shape how she writes about the various themes that carry through the book, themes like food sovereignty, water rights, environmental racism and systemic racism. You can find Part 2 here.

Darci Palmquist and Forrest King-Cortes: Tell us about “Seeds” and what inspired you to write it?

Dominique Daye Hunter: In 2018, I printed a small batch of booklets by the same name. In 2021, while working on my upcoming book, “Black Tea and Honey: the Bittersweet, Spicy Confessions of an Afro-Indigenous Woman,” I felt that the story of “Seeds” was not yet done with me. I was living in Arizona then, and each time I visited our homelands of North Carolina, I felt the land call out to me. I began having more dreams and knew the ancestors were urging me to share their stories, our stories. “Seeds” became both a safe space to empower the voices of my ancestors who were silenced for generations and a journey back to home, back to self. In unearthing their stories, I was able to reevaluate the propaganda embedded by colonization and see our identity and purpose through the lens of self-determination.

DP/FKC: In “Seeds” you share poetry and stories of resilience, resistance and healing from the Afro-Indigenous diaspora in the southeast United States. What does this mean to you?

DDH: Most think of storytelling as a primitive pastime entertained mainly by those Western culture deems as inferior: Indigenous people and children. But our very identity is founded in storytelling. In “Un-F*ck Your Brain,” author Dr. Faith G. Harper explains that we are storytellers not just because we want to be, but because we are wired to be. Our brain’s default is “storyteller mode.” This is how we envision future events and communicate with others. The patterns our brain sees create stories that determine vital decision-making around safety, security and creativity. Therefore, it seems that storytelling isn’t primitive after all. In fact, it is essential to human evolution. Recalling good memories, reframing experiences and reinforcing identity, belonging and worth are all storytelling tools that bolster our resilience, help us cope with loss and create neuropathways for healing.

I descend from two first-contact Native American tribes, meaning our people were some of the first to have contact with British colonists soon after they landed in what we call Turtle Island. History is told by the “winners.” Our stories were often misrepresented through the lens of colonial values; our voices were distorted and then erased because of genocide and the idea that we no longer existed. In fact, southeastern Indigenous communities, which often became bi- or tri-racially mixed with West African or European parentage to survive, were present for every major event in U.S. history. From fighting in the Revolution and the Civil War, coping with land theft and the domestic terrorism of white supremacy, adapting to the commercialization of corn and tobacco and industrial farming methods, prohibition, Jim Crow segregation, the Great Depression and so forth, southeastern Indigenous communities have always been here and have survived because of their ability to adapt, covertly exist between the lines of race and hold tightly to their identity by way of their connection to land and place.

Each historical moment allowed us to advocate for our own narratives of survival, resilience and resistance. Each opportunity to share our stories and challenge the status quo expands cultural norms and creates safe spaces for Black, Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous folks to live and thrive.

DP/FKC: Some of the themes that carry through the book are food sovereignty, water rights, environmental racism and systemic racism. Some consider these topics separate or unrelated, but the reality is that communities are living them in an interconnected way. Can you speak to how these themes are connected?

DDH: The goal of colonization is to dissect life into smaller and smaller parts to control and commodify them. We see this in mainstream science and medicine. Parts to a whole are focused on and isolated until they hold lesser and lesser meaning in the name of discovery; Western medicine focuses on targeting the source of illness versus returning the body to homeostasis. Indigenous peoples around the world have a fundamental understanding of the universe and the natural world. We are all related. One member of our ecosystem affects and is affected by another. How can a society be just when people do not have access to food that is designed to keep their bodies healthy? How can people grow heritage corn when they have no access to land or clean water? Where would people plagued by institutional racism and police violence find the resources, time and energy to engage in land rematriation? Each of these layers is also deeply interconnected to communal and personal physical well-being and mental health. Until both the historical and current disparities facing BIPOC communities are addressed, there can be no real diversity, equity or inclusion.

DP/FKC: How do relationships with land and access to land fit into the picture?

DDH: I’ll answer this question with two stories. As I mentioned, my maternal grandmother’s family were enslaved West Africans brought to Alabama by way of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Longing for a home they would never see again, they adapted by establishing kinship with their local environment. Sweet memories of dates were replaced with peach trees; savannah grasslands and jungles were replaced by wetlands and swampy meadows. This connection, however, was bittersweet and fraught with intergenerationally traumatic memories. The abuse and torture they suffered in that land and the fact that they were kidnapped and forcibly relocated to it colored these relationships. The very trees they looked to for strength and wisdom were also used by white plantation owners to murder their children and other loved ones.

When non-human and human relatives in our environment are used against us as tools to oppress, persecute and mutilate us, when we have no true sanctuary, how can we feel safe enough to call a place, or any place, home? My great-grandmother escaped sharecropping on the cover of a northern-bound mule wagon. She worked as a welder and caretaker and eventually earned enough money to pay off her family’s sharecropping debt and relocate her four children and 12 siblings to Buffalo, N.Y. We are told that our family still owns property in Alabama, that taxes are paid on it. But whenever we ask elders for more information, they reply by begging us not to “go down there.” These elders experienced lynching, rape and violence as young as five years old. Even in 2023, nearly a century later, the fear is fresh and the collective trauma runs deep. We hold relational and legal ties to the land but are unable to return due to fear of the terror of white supremacy.

My maternal grandfather’s family was originally a part of the Yesáh Indigenous community of Red Mountain, present-day Rougemont, N.C. For generations, they survived on tobacco and corn farming as well as subsistence living just as those who came before them. They had their own school and church and leaned on each other in times of need. In the 1940s, the military removed them from the land to build a training facility. Members of the community scattered to surrounding areas such as Durham, Oxford and Roxboro. What was once a thriving community that shared resources harvested from the land with consent and respect became dozens of smaller families fending for themselves while surrounded by white supremacist groups like the Klu Klux Klan.

Today, my (great) “Auntie” Helen, who is 88 years old, tells us how they were never able to return due to the damage and exposure of artillery and chemicals to the land. A quick Google search, which is inaccessible to her, reveals that there are many white homeowners and businesses in Rougemont. Still in the research phase, it is yet to be seen whether these areas are simply not a part of the affected area my family was removed from or if residents have instigated, or simply benefited, from a clean-up that cost more than what my family could afford to do the same. How can you return to the land that you were banished from when you don’t have access to the education or resources to do so, namely because this very knowledge and these very resources were usurped by those who displaced you?

About Dominique Daye Hunter

My name is Dominique Daye Hunter and I transmute trauma into empowerment through storytelling and the creation of safe spaces. I am an Afro-Indigenous author, poet, fashion designer, and advocate for BIPOC mental health, land rematriation, and those with chronic disabilities. The CEO of D. Daye Hunter Designs, LLC, my written and visual work explores the complex connections between historical trauma and healing in Black and Indigenous communities.

My maternal grandmother’s ancestors are from West Africa and were brought to occupied Mvskoke territory (i.e., Alabama) by way of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Through my mother’s DNA testing, we’ve discovered that we largely descend from Togo-Benin, Mali, Cameroon and the Congo. Like many Black Americans, this uprooting from our homelands makes reconnection to land and place complicated and fraught with barriers. My maternal grandfather’s ancestors are Afro-Indigenous with Yesáh, Nansemond, West African and European lineages. We are born from the High Plains of North Carolina, the swamplands of southeastern Virginia, and, before contact, the mountains and mound culture between the Ohio River Valley and North Carolina where I now reside. My father’s family are Scotts-Irish and Polish immigrants who fled their homes due to colonization, famine and war. Though my feet have not yet touched down in Togo-Benin, Northern Ireland or Poland, my DNA cries out for ancestral memory and yearns for the day it can once again be cradled by rolling green hills and coastal crags; by red clay and palm fronds.

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