Sowing seeds of resilience (Part 2)

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 March 4

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. 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 2, Ms. Daye Hunter continues to discuss “Seeds” and the connections to her history and culture, but we also move beyond the book to talk about her work with Indigenous East and her other artistic outlets including fashion design. You can find Part 1 here.

Darci Palmquist and Forrest King-Cortes: You work across geographies and cultures with Indigenous East to help land conservation become more historically and culturally informed. Can you tell us more about this group?

Dominique Daye Hunter: The Landberry Foundation is a 501c3 organization founded by Dr. Alexandra Sutton Lawrence that provides philanthropic support for African American family land retention and Indigenous land rights. At Indigenous East, one of Landberry’s programs, we are creating a connected network of Indigenous-led protected areas spanning the length of the eastern United States. This includes accelerating the protection of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and other critical lands for people and nature through an approach that is collective, creative and inclusive of all eastern Native communities and their respective perspectives and relationships to the land. Our steering committee, which includes Dr. Sutton Lawrence (African American and Saponi Nation of Ohio), Dr. Daisy Purdy (Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation) and Dr. Crystal Cavalier Keck (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) works to increase Indigenous communities in various ways:

  • Their capacity via heightened awareness of conservation programs.

  • Their access to state and federal funding for landscape protection efforts.

  • Their planning for climate resilience.

  • Their insight sharing between federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribal leadership.

  • Their awareness of the benefits and tradeoffs of various conservation strategies including purchase-based acquisition, designation-based oversight and community-based protection.

As program manager, I develop relationships with and connect land rematriation projects to opportunities for land ownership, stewardship and protection. Through advocacy and technical support, my responsibility is to uplift the voices of these projects and assist them, so they feel safe in the land reclamation, rematriation and reconnection process.

DP/FKC: In “Seeds,” you reflect on your journey to reconnect with the history and culture of your Yesáh/Saponi and African roots. Has this journey impacted your perspective on land/nature and your approach to conservation?

DDH: The journey is rooted in the land. History, culture and language are all shaped by the natural environment and would never have come into existence apart from the land. Likewise, my healing journey has not occurred in a vacuum but because of an awareness of and reconnection to our ancestral lands of Akuncuk.

The Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) anthropologist Dr. Keolu Fox once said that “when I say the land is my ancestor, that is a scientific statement.” The food my ancestors ate became a part of their DNA. When they died, their bodies fed the land, which now feeds me. In this way, I’ve come to understand that, as Indigenous people, not only does the land not belong to us, we belong to the land, we are the land. We are the beaver, fish and deer, and they are us. How we treat them reflects how we treat ourselves and one another. The patience with which I hold my mother and family, who are healing from intergenerational trauma, is the patience I cultivate for the re-emergence of heritage seeds and eastern woodland bison. We are all related.

Yet, there are layers. I’ve had to cope with the collective loss that affects many Indigenous peoples, including first-contact tribal communities east of the Mississippi. As author Patty Krawec (Anishinaabe and Ukrainian) asserts in her book “Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future,” — “Land theft is not only the taking of land; it is the profound alteration of it through extraction rather than relationship. Land theft includes extracting water, extracting lumber, extracting minerals and animals and people.”

In returning to and restoring our ancestral lands, our communities have had to contend with the fallout of historical extractive forces such as the draining and clear-cutting of the Great Dismal Swamp by George Washington, and current extractive forces such as fracking and oil and gas pipelines. Urban heat islands don’t only prevent people of color from connecting with the outdoors — they interfere with wildlife migration and exiles and endanger keystone species. Reconnecting to the land brings with it the awareness of how much has been lost and how much is still at risk, and the responsibility of healing my own learned extractive colonial mentality to bring balance back to the land and all who call it home. Land is not something you own or possess; it is a relative you care for. The better you care for her, the better she can care for you and many generations to come.

DP/FKC: How has your artistic work — from poetry to fashion design — shaped your journey to reconnect with the land and your Afro-Indigenous roots?

DDH: Expressing myself through poetry was my first form of self-soothing, healing and reconnecting to self. At 13, my chaotic family life revolved around alcoholism and domestic violence. Like the bird written about by the late Maya Angelou, poetry returned my voice to me even while caged in a cell of pain and fear. I believe this gift was given to me by the Creator to help me find my way back to myself, to my ancestors, to home. Poetry shaped my life by giving me the strength and hope to stay alive amidst a 30-year struggle with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. My response to danger was often to freeze; my body felt like a foreign thing that I wanted to exit or distance myself from. Throughout the healing journey of my late teens and early 20s, I began to become more present in my body, sometimes painfully so. The healing of my emotional wounds was both welcomed and at times excruciating. Healing isn’t a straight line.

My emotional pain often descended into self-mutilation and then later into chronic physical pain. As I allowed myself to become more visible and present, I celebrated my liberation by creating clothing that represented and empowered me and other BIPOC people. I challenged body norms and European beauty standards by shaping clothing and fashion around our identity instead of contorting ourselves and our bodies to fit molds that were not made with us in mind. Clothing that embraced a variety of body shapes and sizes while soothing bodies in chronic pain and distress became my mission. Phrases on tees like “Never Forget Who You Are and Where You Come From” and “Hená: Momma” serve as important reminders and representations. The reclamation of our languages has the power to transform lives and communities.

In her book “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground,” author Alicia Elliot (Mohawk) shares the statistic that Indigenous communities with 60% or more fluent speakers have a steep decline in suicide rates. Words are powerful. In the first five years, I sold clothing and performed poetry because my conditions barred me from regular employment. It was about healing and survival. My business was as environmentally friendly as it could be with the limited resources I had. In 2025, the D. Daye Hunter Designs clothing line will relaunch with a commitment to plastic-free, biodegradable and eco-friendly products and packaging that are sustainable for people, animals and planet. My journey of reconnection has shaped my art and in turn, I hope that my artistic endeavors can continue to positively impact my communities.

DP/FKC: Some of the poems and stories in Seeds use language in the oral “call and response” folk tradition, as well as African American Vernacular English and southeastern regional Native American Vernacular English. Can you tell us more about that choice and process?

DDH: Many poems in “Seeds” are inspired by my own experiences and skills of code-switching between African American Vernacular English, Native American Vernacular English and standard American English. Many others, especially those using “call and response” were ancestrally inspired via dreams or meditation.

I wanted the words to be easily digestible to the minds to whom those words and concepts belong. The use of African American Vernacular English and southwestern regional Native American Vernacular English, along with many poems that are visually and auditorily repetitive, make these poems not only more accessible, but they fall in line with Black Southern and Southeastern Afro-Indigenous oral folk tradition. There are even poems that have been adapted from original folk-inspired songs written by me. There are also esoteric and abstract poems as well. However, I intentionally kept these and academic terminology to a minimum, not because I don’t think our people would understand, though some to whom these concepts are foreign may struggle with them at first, but because I wanted this to be an enjoyable and soulful experience.

The undertone of this book asks the question: What if we gave more authority to the Indigenous pedagogy that teaches Indigenous (whether African or Native American) concepts through Indigenous styles of learning rather than via Western teaching methods? It challenges the notion that Black and Indigenous perspectives are only expert and academically valid when relayed or seen through a colonial lens.

DP/FKC: What lessons do you hope that readers learn from “Seeds?”

DDH: I hope this book is a beacon of light and hope. I hope it nurtures folks as they heal and combat colonization, systemic and environmental racism, microaggressions, anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity. I could not say it any better than my dear friend, Shereá D. Burnett, J.D. “This phenomenal work guides you through various forms of expression and quietly reassures you that — whatever form of expression you choose — it is needed in this world. Dominique gives us all permission to bask in our full selves while recognizing that we are all seeds — whether we are blowing in the breeze or firmly planted in the earth — our presence speaks to growth, to reaping and sowing, to survival.”

I hope Seeds can be all of this and more for readers on their journey of healing and liberation.

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