How Gumbo took the Land Back

When I think of Land Back I think of my Ancestors. I try to remember them each day. How they came together in the midst of war, slavery, genocide. Things we don’t like to think about somehow bound them together. All that grief spilling off that Trail of Tears would form an unbreakable bond. Amidst grief, a new homeland for some, and an unrecognizable one for others, would emerge.

Cane River, Louisiana.

This is where we planted roots – the Gens de Couleur Libres. This is where countless stories would take shape about Louisiana’s free people of color. Where healing traditions would blend into one. Where people would change and adapt alongside the will to be free—just like the River. And with time, we would be called The Forgotten People.

Today, I remember my ancestor CoinCoin (phonetically KoKwē) who healed her mistress and was set free. And soon enough, freed her children and grandchildren, obtained Land and became the wealthiest woman across Louisiana.

In so many ways, oral tradition paints her in mysterious clothes. Like the more you know, the less you know. Some say her people were from Yorubaland, others Turtle Island and some say both. It is also said that she was the granddaughter of a King.

When I think of Landback, I wonder… Can they give us our Kingdoms back too?

No matter, she built one anyway. Born a slave, ascended a healer, descended a Queen. This was the journey of CoinCoin.

Matriarchs of the Lands First Nations would join in union with her descendants. And so it came to be, that CoinCoin, raised by Eʋe parents, formed unbreakable bonds with the Caddo, Chitimacha, Canneci, and Natchitoches Tribes. A bond that flows through my veins today, like the River where my ancestors sat down and wept for families stolen away.

When I think of Landback, I wonder… Can they give us our families back too?

I pray for my Ancestors. I send them much of my strength each day grateful for the strength they return tenfold. I try to remember them. It’s a tricky act. I look for them in books, grateful for the puzzle pieces left behind. And with great diligence, I re-member each piece of the puzzle and the memories they hold.

Can they give us our memories back too?

We should never forget the Great Ancestors of Cane River who passed down many stories and lessons. Subtle wisdom taking many shapes and forms.

Like how my Grandma Mary took the Land Back. How she stirred Indigenous beings together with just her ladle and big Gumbo pot. Okra from Yorubaland. Filé from Choctaw Nation. Flour from France. The forgotten wisdom inside Grandma’s gumbo filled my belly, my heart, and my mind with dreams of Lands intertwined. Her Gumbo wrapped us around each other like vines and sometimes tangled roots.

This was the medicine left behind. What washed our grief away. What transformed suffering into feasts. This was Grandma’s magic. This was her peace. Something that could not be taken away.

When I think of Land Back I think of my Ancestors waiting there with the Land today. Waiting for their people to take that journey back home across the Trail of Tears like Sister Hummingbird migrating each Winter. I dream of their reunion. And I also realize I am that reunion. I am that dream.

When I think of Land Back I am filled with a loss I could never explain. Something eternal. And yet, my people would never be the magical beings they became without loss. And so, all I can do is feel grateful that Spring follows Winter. Grateful that life follows death. That Grandfather Sun chases Grandmother Moon.

We need ways to honor this ongoing loss for our Black, Native, and Refugee kin. Ways to give back to the Land all it lost. Ways to give the Land Back the people it lost. Ways to reunite them with their plant, mineral, and animal kin.

But we’re in a new world now and the Three Sisters we once knew are taking new shapes and forms. We have new technologies, new webs to weave, new dreams to stir together in Grandma’s big Gumbo pot.

Here in Gumboland, our movement is fast like the River, powerful like a Storm, but behind dams we wait with Brother Salmon. We wait to come back home. We wait for more hands to stir the pot. And here lies the magic in being Creole. We have many hands, we have many homes.

And all of this brings me to the question that inspired this post: What does Land Back mean to you?

So what does Land Back mean to a Gumbo being like me? It means a lot. It means acknowledgment from the French, Spanish, British, Belgian and German government for the enslavement and colonization of my Ancestors and the Land they once called home. It means Reparations and Land Rematriation for their descendants. And I hope one day, it could mean healing. I hope it could feel like closure. Like Gumbo.

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