A map depecting native lands on what became the United States

The History of Systemic Theft of Indigenous Lands

In 2020, it should be first knowledge with everyone that the Western Hemisphere is the land of the people indigenous to this hemisphere.  And, that the reason these folks are not in possession of these lands today is because of a systemic, violent, and uncompromising process to steal these lands from them.  All of this is ill-refutable, yet widely unknown.  Shamefully, there are often efforts advanced today to even deny and/or dispute the rightful claim of the Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere to their just homelands.

The attacks against clear truth and justice as it relates to Indigenous people happens for several reasons.  The myth of white supremacy has contributed towards creating a toxic environment around any questions of justice.  Every institution in every country in the Western Hemisphere – from Canada down to Chile, including the Caribbean – is guilty of institutionalizing this white supremacy myth.  The myth has been systematized in all schooling, faith worship, and foundation “values” in these countries.  Consequently, Europeans believe, by and large, that the wealth and advancements in this hemisphere, particularly in the U.S. and Canada, reflect superior work, faith, and value accorded to the descendants of the European Judeo Christian mythology of greatness. In other words, these Europeans believe they are entitled to this wealth, land, etc.  They refuse to believe the truth, that all of it is stolen.  They are programmed to negate the clear reality, referring to themselves as Americans (the core buy in to white supremacist propaganda), believing that these countries in their current capitalist format are following the dictates of God and/or scientific forward progress. These very same people who call the police on us just for walking down the street, because they have been led to believe our very existence is some threat to them, will totally dismiss the legitimate claim that the actual textbook definition of looting is the European theft of lands and resources from the Americas, Africa, etc.  The overwhelming majority of Europeans believe those lies, even many of those who claim to be soldiers for justice.  Since this myth is so institutionalized, they have no choice.  Its not as if mass revolutionary political education is widespread where people are taking it upon themselves to learn the actual history of all peoples.  A history that would obliterate the white supremacy myth with ease.

And, for us, there is deep shame about the complete ignorance so many of our African people possess around this question of Indigenous lands.  We have been so overwhelmed by capitalist propaganda designed to eliminate our understanding of and connection to our mother – Africa, that many of us resort to making up historical lies in order to provide us a sense of pride in ourselves and our history.  These lies include variations of African people being indigenous to the Americas.  Or, to suggest that we built these countries and therefore have some stake here.  The purpose of these positions is to connect us to this country so that these people can claim that we have some undeniable rights to the wealth that exists here.  None of these people can demonstrate any concrete analysis of actual African history.  That’s why they believe in fantasies lies instead of the actual proud and distinguished history of Africa and our unquestionable resistance to European colonialism and slavery.  Again, since there is no desire on behalf of so many of us to engage in the necessary organized political education required to rebuke the type of foolishness that masquerades as legitimate history, you can say pretty much anything today in this environment where accountability is absolutely non-existent.

Its this dysfunctional backdrop that has made every effort to dissolve the history of how these lands have been stolen from their rightful caretakers.  Every one of the 50 states that make up this empire implemented some version of homesteading laws that stole Indigenous lands as policy.  There were federal laws that were enacted to expedite the theft of Native lands.  In 1862, Abe Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act which was designed to accelerate the theft of Indigenous lands.  The law permitted people to file claims for up to 160 acres of land for nothing more than a filing fee.  Although newly freed Africans were technically permitted to apply for this land, there are no records of any of us being granted land parcels.  At least beyond a negligible level.  Of course, Indigenous peoples were denied since it was they who were systemically kicked off the lands and forced onto the reservations.  This law stayed into effect for 124 years, until it was repealed in 1976.  During that century, 10% of U.S. lands – or 270 million acres – were claimed through this immoral process.  Over 4 million homestead claims were filed and 1.6 million deeds in 30 states throughout the Western U.S. were granted.

Along with that savage thievery, there were always a number of complimentary policies that were enacted to further ensure Indigenous lands were seized from Native peoples.  During the Franklin Roosevelt presidency in the 30s and 40s, he signed federal legislation designed to offset the impacts of the great depression.  This legislation provided for the federal government creating and funding 92 livable communities across the U.S.  Communities were families were given parcels of land, houses, agricultural training and equipment, all free.  Of course, these lands in question were Indigenous lands, meaning the Native peoples were systemically kicked off and relocated to reservations.  Also, it goes without saying that Africans were prohibited from participating.  Many of these communities still exist today.  Novelt, Penn, is one of them.  A town of 892 people – all white –  it serves as one example of thousands of European families who received everything they have free, at the direct expense of the terror inflicted upon the Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere.

We are revolutionary Pan-Africanists which means to us, Africa is primary to any discussion about African forward movement.  This is true regardless of where Africans live, what language we speak, what God we do or don’t worship, etc.  Consequently, we may live in the Western Hemisphere, but to us, Africa is our mother.  She’s our home.  And all she needs is liberation so that her vast mineral wealth can be redirected away from multi-national capitalist corporations, and towards the masses of two billion Africans.  Where it rightfully belongs.  Since that is our vision and objective, we don’t have any issues recognizing that these lands belong to the Indigenous peoples.  They have every right to define their struggle as they see fit, but we can’t help, but admire the words and writings of long time political prisoner Leonard Peltier.  When asked how many Indians exist in the U.S., Peltier stated that there are millions if you count the Indigenous people who commonly refer to themselves as Latinos, Mexicans, etc.  In his words, they are one people.  Since this analysis mirrors our Pan-African perspective, it makes sense to us, but again, this is something the Indigenous people will work out without outside interference.  Whatever pathway they chose to embark upon collectively, etc., our role is to support them in efforts to move past relying on European morality to recognize broken treaties.  To move to a direction of complete Indigenous self-determination and organization to fight for their lands back.  Our work to liberate Africa of course makes their work easier just as their work for reclamation of their stolen lands weakens this imperialist empire, thus making our work easier.  This is the type of real solidarity that will become more and more solidified.  And, this reality is the reason that our enemies continue to intensify their efforts to keep our two peoples divided and ignorant about our own histories as well as the histories of each other.  Regardless of what our enemies do, their abilities to continue their tricks are operating on borrowed time.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.