12 minute read


In the 1600s when enslaved Africans disembarked en masse and travel weary to this land mass, they arrived in a place where hundreds of Indigenous groups lived since time immemorial.1 Since that moment The majority of the interactions between Black people and Indigenous Peoples living in the so-called United States occur(red) in the bloody context of settler colonial imperialism. Black people were kidnapped, trafficked, enslaved, segregated, imprisoned, and assassinated by individuals and a system that did not value our personhood, but sought to exploit our bodies and souls.2 Indigenous peoples were (and continue to be) exploited, infected, schooled, silenced, relegated, and murdered by individuals and a system that did not (and does not) value their personhood, but sought (and seeks) to erase their bodies and souls.3 In the 21st century, both remain tolerated but targeted, appropriated, and tokenized.4

In response to lived conditions, feminisms developed in various Black and Indigenous communities as part of resisting settler-colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism and classism, and other forms of oppression. Feminist movements in Black and Indigenous communities have been proximate, overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, but also at times in tension with one another. Though both expansive areas of collective work, Black feminisms and Indigenous feminisms tend to center different aspects of the struggle for liberation. Some strain between movements comes from the inadvertent solidification of the settler state that can happen as some Black feminists struggle for their freedom and self-determination within the settler state without explicitly articulating an analysis of settler colonialism. Other tensions come from some Indigenous feminists’ refusal of participation in solidarity politics in a way that weakens ‘BIPOC’ coalitions facing repression, and various expressions of uninterrogated antiblackness. This paper posits that the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), a 15th century set of religious and state decrees that facilitated Christian European global exploration and expropriation, is a ripe site to analyze together for both Indigenous and Black feminist organizers because it allows for the incorporation of an analysis of settler colonialism without de-centering issues that are essential to Black feminist theory and practice. As a Black feminist organizer with some experience organizing alongside Indigenous feminists, this set of four blogs will:

  1. Examine the absence of a settler colonial analysis in two moments in the theoretical lineage of US Black feminism–the Combahee River Collective statement of 1977 and the Allied Media Conference AfroFeministFutures panel in 2022.
  2. Explore opportunities presented for the inclusion of a settler colonial analysis
  3. Analyze how engaging the Doctrine of Discovery can be a way Black feminists incorporate an analysis of settler colonialism without de-centering the issues that are essential to Black feminist theory and practice.
  4. Imagine a future in which Black and Indigenous Feminisms make common cause, for the purpose of healing our lineages, and practicing the liberatory politics we aspire.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Making Common Cause: Imagining Shared Futures

Creating spaces like that of the AMC AfroFeministFutures panel will allow Black feminists to reflect on the legacy of Black feminism, and what futures can look like. They are a place to practice articulating a Black feminist analysis of settler colonialism as one of the interlocking systems of oppression. No doubt in the future other oppressions will be explicitly added to the list of race, class, gender, and sexuality. These panels are also spaces to reflect on how the liberal multicultural settler state is trying to entice us. As we expand our vision to unapologetically and enthusiastically also center indigenous women and land we actualize Frazier’s vision of braiding our human experiences together as Black and Indigenous feminists. Frazier here uses the image of braiding as a metaphor, but it is also a material fact and practice that is precious to both Black and Indigenous cultures. Braiding each other’s hair or other organic material are key sites of knowledge sharing, laughter, and affirmation between women, girls, grandmothers, etc.

Building on Frazier, Ransby-Sporn interpreted the Combahee River Collective’s statement “if Black woman were free…” not as one that narrows the scope of “what freedom means and for whom”, but as a framework that points us towards putting our attention on the margins.5 For her, the Collective’s statement was about the undoing of state violence, revolution and transformation, from the margins. Since the people writing the statement, Black queer socialist feminists, were highly marginalized at the time of writing, the statement is about whomever is at the margins, making sure they are centered in the discourse and political struggle. Examining who’s at the margins “is not a one-time event…it’s an ongoing process that we have to always be engaged in. [What Combahee gave us] is a vision of collective freedom for all of us.”6 Since “the logics of white possession and the disavowal of Indigenous sovereignty are materially and discursively linked” Black and Indigenous feminists can leverage their distinct yet connected positionalities to create a nuanced analysis with shared language and conceptual frameworks and offer it to broader activist movements for collective freedom.7

This work is necessary as the state becomes simultaneously more violent and more diffuse, offering green capitalist techno-solutions to the climate crisis of its own making (while the poor, Black, Indigenous, and other people bare the disproportionate burden of the crisis others created in attempts to endlessly benefit themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else). What leaps into revolutionary action will emerge from this generation of Indigenous and Black feminists being in rigorous conversation with one another? There are other methods in addition to using the DoD that have created generative relationship and have nurtured Black and Indigenous feminist collaborations.8 These include creating ceremonial spaces and remembering joint projects of rebellion, enjoying sacred laughter and honoring grief in the process of creating rituals, sharing stories, and conversing together. Academic, activist, spiritualist, and internet-media savvy communication approaches are all important for building the friendships of understanding and embodied solidarity that we need for our collective future. 

Return to Combahee

Though the Collective members never went to the site of the Combahee River raid together, the place itself would be a significant one to re-Source the Black feminist and Indigenous feminist movements and help us to relate to one another as relatives.9 A return to Combahee in 2027, the 50th anniversary of its writing, provides an opportunity to bring the people working on these multiple approaches together. As an exercise in futurity, I conclude with a visualization.

Envision a group of Black feminists gathered along the Combahee River near the Santee Delta recreation area. They have invited Indigenous feminists to accompany them to this place for a ceremony of renewing the influential Black feminist statement for this generation. Everyone is flush(ed) with excitement to meet one another and curious how our entangled pasts might lead to shared, collaborative, intentional futures. In preparation for the moment, words from the original statement have changed, shifted, been removed, and added to: words such as “free, bottom, isolation, revolutionary, and all systems of oppression” have taken on new intensity and depth as an analysis of settler colonialism refracts them. The group of Black and Indigenous feminists who did the (re)writing are celebrated, since words create worlds. Bellies full of tasty food prepared lovingly, the gathered crowd remains hungry for this world we are creating anew.

It is April, and most of the group traveled to the drenched soil mouth of the river by way of Charleston. The tears on their cheeks barely dry from their streaming during a visit to Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a site where white supremacist settler colonial death struck unapologetically in 2015.  The murderous act of business as usual that day created cruel reverberations across time and space that can be felt in our bodies. The crowd is determined to dance harder because of it, and the vibrations and ululations fill the sky as a murmuration makes its way north. Some people arrive later, and make their way toward the sacred fire, stopping periodically to bring up pictures of their babies on the phone. A full carload of others in active conversation pull in to the public parking area and hop out of the car asking, “how do we actually Indigenous and Black feminist solidarities? What are the impediments to this collective building?” Being in the same space together certainly helps, everyone agrees and hustles to the designated spot.

Before any statement is spoken or dances danced though, the river itself is honored. Gifts placed along the loamy banks. The Combahee, Kusso, and Yamasee people are centered, and as many stories of the place as people wish to share, are shared. Layer upon layer is added, and stories connected to those stories are told. In the air there is a sense of plenty of time and a sense of spiritual urgency. The place of Combahee receives the stories about it and reflects back its glorious centrality to the story of liberation from slavery, of teamwork and strategy, of choice, of Harriet Tubman, of community nourishment. Tiffany Lethabo King’s refrain “I trust Black freedom dreams when they consider Native freedom” is repeated throughout.10 There is also time for silence, through which we encounter each other on our own (beyond English) terms. Time enough to wipe the dust of colonial cacophony from our ears in order to hear our original sounds.

Bats, mycelium, and stars observe. B. Anderson, Kailea Frederick, Sister Sadada Jackson, Shanya Cordis, Xhercis Méndez, Waltrina Middleton, Tao Leigh Goffe and their team from darklaboratory.com make offerings. As they do, the group intones with them. After the festivities, everyone returns from where they came, rearranged on the molecular level by the encounter. Copies of the reworked Combahee River Collective statement, written on tiny pocket scrolls are passed out as souvenirs–phylacteries we carry and can touch as we cross thresholds, sharing the message with our children of spirit and blood–prayers for a sovereign shared future and free spirits. We depart with the hope that in another 50 years, a generation will return to reflect and rework our words, as the world-making continues.


  • AfroFeministFutures For the World We Want. Allied Media Conference, Allied Media Project, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYM0Jf4mWjE 

  • Arvin, Maile, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill. “Decolonizing feminism: Challenging connections between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy.” Feminist formations(2013): 8-34.

  • Beloved Community, Asheville, North Carolina. https://becomingbelovedcommunity.org/doctrine-of-discovery

  • Black Women Radicals www.blackwomenradicals.com

  • Byrd, Jodi A. The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. U of Minnesota Press, 2011.

  • Collective, Combahee River. “The Combahee river collective statement.” (self-published in 1977), cited in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall (New York: New Press, 1995), 233.

  • Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Vol. 21. Univ of California Press, 2007.

  • Hayes, Kelly. “How to Talk about #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective.” Truthout, October 28, 2016. Retrieved from: https://truthout.org/articles/how-to-talk-about-nodapl-a-native-perspective/.

  • hooks, bell. All about love: New visions. Harper Perennial, 2001.

  • Indigenous Feminist Power Panel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HnEvaVXoto.

  • King, Tiffany Lethabo with brontë velez, “On the Black Shoals: Part 2” For the Wild. December 14, 2022, https://forthewild.world/listen/tiffany-lethabo-king-on-the-black-shoals-316.

  • Kivel, Paul. Living in the shadow of the cross: Understanding and resisting the power and privilege of Christian hegemony. New Society Publishers, 2013.

  • LANDBACK Manifesto. https://landback.org/manifesto/.

  • Lawrence, Bonita, and Enakshi Dua. “Decolonizing antiracism.” Social justice4 (102 (2005): 120-143.

  • Miller, Robert J., et al. Discovering indigenous lands: The doctrine of discovery in the English colonies. Oxford University Press, 2010.

  • Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. “Writing Off Treaties” Chapter 4 in The white possessive: Property, power, and indigenous sovereignty. U of Minnesota Press, 2015.

  • Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. 2012. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society1: 1-40.

  • Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of genocide research4 (2006): 387-409.

  • Doctrine of Disovery Papal Bulls: Dum Diversas 18 June, 1452, The Bull Romanus Pontifex (Nicholas V), January 8, 1454 and The Bull Inter Caetera (Alexander VI), May 4, 1493. Later expansions of these bulls include the Treaty of Tordesillas, June 7, 1494, the Patent Granted by King Henry VII to John Cabot and his Sons, March 5, 1496, The Requerimiento, 1514. https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/.


  1. There are numerous timeframes in which to locate the beginning of settler-colonialism. Tarren Andrews, for example, dates it to the Medieval era. 1492 represents a particular type of rupture as well. I choose 1600 because of the sheer volume of “commerce” moving across the Atlantic in toxic triangles and quadrilaterals by this point in time. Furthermore, there are numerous ways to name both Indigenous connections to place while recognizing shared evolutionary history, without destabilizing Indigenous connections.  Indigenous Peoples are connected to their homelands in an indissoluble, irreducible way, and in ways very different than European settler-colonists. I do not see this as a contradiction to the shared human evolutionary history of ancient migration of everyone from the Great Rift Valley in what is now called eastern Africa. People walked from there all over the world, and became some of the first humans to relate to all sorts of different lands and waters, to become indigenous to those places. As the timescales are vastly different (10,000 years ago vs. 1000 years ago), and “time immemorial” refers to “the time we collectively remember”. Numerous indigenous groups on Turtle Island, for example, do not have a collective memory of the trek from Africa and their stories begin with them located en situ. Though the collective trek happened, sharing that information with Indigenous Peoples whose origin stories state otherwise should not be used to displace their claim of being aboriginal to their homelands, instead, only used to recognize the ultimate kinship among humans (homo sapiens) making all people deserving of mutual recognition as persons. Personhood, and relatedly, belonging through kinship or social circumstances, has not always been afforded to people of African descent, both within and outside of some Indigenous communities. 

  2. Hayes, Kelly. “How to Talk about #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective.” Truthout, October 28, 2016. Retrieved from: https://truthout.org/articles/how-to-talk-about-nodapl-a-native-perspective/

  3. Ibid. 

  4. As an author who primarily identifies ethnically as a person of African descent, I will use personal or collective pronouns when speaking about Black people and our experience. Like many “African-Americans”, I have ancestors who are “Native-Americans.” That history and those connections were not kept alive in my immediate or extended families. Therefore, I employ the third person singular and plurals when referring to indigenous people and their experiences. 

  5. Frazier, AfroFeministFutures For the World We Want. 

  6. Ransby-Sporn, AfroFeministFutures For the World We Want. 

  7. Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive, Introduction. 

  8. King with velez, “On the Black Shoals: Part 1”. 

  9. In the Indigenous Feminist Power Panel, Kim TallBear expressed an interest in relating to Black leaders in a people to people way, not mediated by white supremacy. 

  10. King with velez, “On the Black Shoals: Part 2”. This paper is a work of mutual co-arising. As I was about to turn it in on December 15, I scrolled on Instagram and saw that this conversation on For The Wild just became available to the public. So exciting! I notice that their resource lists do not cite Combahee or the AMC panel. I have reached out to brontë share this vision of what a confluence of these streams of Black feminism may look like…how she and I might work together to actualize a vision of 2027. 


Sarah Nahar, "Part 4: Making Common Cause: Imagining Shared Futures," Doctrine of Discovery Project (11 May 2023), https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/blog/river/imagining-shared-futures/.

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