“Freedom Is a Place”: Long Traditions of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Turtle Island

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Article published in The Funambulist 20 (November-December 2018) Settler Colonialism in Turtle Island. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

The project of anti-colonial place-making has a long tradition in Turtle Island that can be traced from the creation of maroon colonies of escaped slaves to contemporary Indigenous-led uprisings, such as the camps at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The first non-Indigenous people to permanently live in the North American continent were not Europeans, but, in fact, were former African slaves. Brought here as unfree people to a free land, that unnatural condition has been resisted by the formation of communities of fugitive slaves that were sometimes abetted by Indigenous allies and relatives.

Estes Funambulist2
Water Protectors march up a hill named “Turtle Island,” to protect an unmarked burial site being defiled by cops. / Photograph by Nick Estes (2016).

For example, in 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, a Spanish conquistador, founded North America’s first European colony, San Miguel de Guadalupe, in what is currently the state of South Carolina. With him he brought a hundred African and Indigenous
Caribbean slaves as well as hundreds of Spanish settlers. The slave plantation was the first bordertown, a European-dominated settlement trespassing into sovereign Indigenous territory, which paved the way for later Anglo iterations of settler colonialism, such as the infamous Plymouth Plantation. Within a year, the enslaved had joined with the original people of the land, the Guales, to extirpate the Spanish colonizers. It was the first successful anti-colonial slave revolt and Indigenous uprising on the continent. The self-emancipated Africans joined their Indigenous comrades, making kin and living with the land without dispossessing, displacing, or eliminating the original people like Europeans would do for the next five centuries. They became the first permanent non-Indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island. The colony, however, was also a preface to the apocalypse that gave rise to the first nation born entirely as a capitalist state: the United States.