Supporting the #Landback movement this Indigenous Heritage Month can help fix the planet

Supporting the #Landback movement this Indigenous Heritage Month can help fix the planet

November is Native American Heritage Month and the perfect time to fill in the many gaps that most Americans have when learning about Native history and supporting Native dreams for the future. The histories of Indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world are much richer and much darker than most of us have been exposed to. Learning the story, one thing is clear: the West has taken an untold mass of wealth from the Americas and its peoples. We can right this wrong by returning the land to its historic stewards. It’s not only the right thing to do, but stewardship of Indigenous lands has significant proven benefits for people, the economy, and the planet. Through invasion and conquest, over 90% of North America’s land was forcibly taken and then sold, with the shared resources of the Americas being divided among the colonial powers. It is often taught that Native Americans had no concept of land ownership when Europeans first arrived. This was sometimes true, but this idea blurs important nuances and overlooks the fact that perspective is so much broader than legal and financial ownership. For many groups, such as the Diné for example, there is a whole system of knowledge and relationships that supports good ecological management.

We would benefit as American immigrants (as in anyone who arrived after 1492) not only to learn from these systems, but also to create opportunities for them to continue to thrive under native stewardship. How this type of investment in our future can be made – and why – is the subject of this article.

What is Indigenous Land Stewardship? How can this help?

The history of land management in the United States has often been about replacing people and subjugating the natural world. The Declaration of Independence calls the natives “ruthless Indian savages” and does everything possible to minimize their presence and relationship to the land. For example, in the early 1870s, the government attempted to cull the bison and poison the land as part of official policy. Then again, much of modern land management has focused on manipulating a few variables to maximize and standardize agricultural yield. By filling the massive plains with just a few crops, they are more susceptible to disease and widespread weather events (two things that are only expected to get worse with climate change).

Indigenous land stewardship offers a radically different approach, better suited to the complexities of our rapidly changing ecosystems. The concept of stewardship is deeply linked to the idea that the earth is not a static and immobile thing, but consists of a complex network of organisms that all depend on each other and can therefore decline or thrive. mutually. There have already been tremendous benefits of returning stewardship to Indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (often abbreviated TEK or ITEK) has helped to support important recoveries of wildlife populations, such as the American bison, a vital part of the ecology of the Great Plains of Colorado and Montana in Missouri and Illinois.

The US National Park Service website includes an extensive section on TEK, detailing myriad instances where Indigenous understanding of the land and ecological care have far exceeded Western scientific knowledge. Of course, that’s not to say Western science as we know it doesn’t have a place, but when it comes to saving the planet from human impact, Indigenous cultures are thousands of years old. in advance.

It should also be noted that many of the foods that the world depends on today are the result of thousands of years of cultivation by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Corn, peppers, many beans, tomatoes and much more come from native ingenuity. It’s hard to imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes or English cuisine without potatoes. These resilient and nutritious foods of the Americas were so important that without them it would have been nearly impossible to reach the planet’s current population of 8 billion. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that the world as we know it wouldn’t exist without millennia of Native American effort. It is common for other Americans to downplay the struggles of Native Americans, with some suggesting that casinos or reservations should be more than enough to offset the historic theft. A critical element of this conversation that is missed, however, is that these land grants were not gifts given out of the goodness of the heart of the US government. They were secured by treaties with the US government, and they had to compensate for the massive loss of land – and the lack of freedom and increased food insecurity that comes with such loss. The United States made tiny reservations of land for Indigenous peoples and retained control over many other elements of Indigenous life. Almost all tribal lands are actually held in trust by the government, which means the tribes have no agency or sovereignty over the lands that belong to them. They have all the liabilities of land ownership, without the benefits or leverage it should bring (eg the ability to access finance).

But despite praise for indigenous practices in some areas of government, and the cherishing of food on our plates during Thanksgiving and beyond, it has been an eternal struggle for the government to recognize many of the core tenets of its agreements. : Tribes still routinely defend treaty rights in court. The Cherokee are still trying to get the U.S. government to fulfill its obligation to seat a congressional delegate (that’s right – as part of an 1853 treaty that started the trail of tears, the U.S. government promised the Cherokee a seat in Congress). And there are many fights to protect what indigenous peoples hold from mining and drilling companies in the United States and throughout Central and South America.

Support the #LandBack movement

While many in the United States may never have encountered a Native American, Native Americans are still around, totaling over 5 million and 2% of the American population. And if we as a society are lucky, some of these Indigenous peoples will be poised to restore their historic stewardship of the lands and greatly improve the resilience of these areas in the process. Much of this work has been cataloged under the hashtag #LandBack, a succinct term that attempts to capture the wide range of issues facing Indigenous communities in promoting the broad strategy of returning land to Indigenous control.

Many indigenous groups, like the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, have begun working with corporations to redeem their ancestral lands. Others have worked with municipal governments like the city of Oakland to return land stewardship to native hands. The Shuumi Voluntary Land Tax was started by non-indigenous people in the Bay Area to support land re-matrimentation efforts, in partnership with the indigenous women-led Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. Candide Group, my company, is based in Oakland and grateful to be such a taxpayer. This is in addition to the city’s laudable steps toward reparations (for Native Americans and descendants of formerly enslaved peoples).

In the short term, this means that the people of Ohlone will be able to access, occupy and congregate on the land, which is currently owned by the city. In the long term, the space will become a public resource for sharing history and culture, and for natives to gather for ceremonies with their guests.

This is one of many honor tax models that have been launched for several tribes, such as the Real Rent Duwamish project in the Seattle area and the honor tax for the Wiyot Nation of Northern California.

Can you pay honor tax? It might be available in your area, or you might help build it. There are plenty of resources to help you find out which groups are from where you live, if there’s an honor tax you can pay, or teach you how to run a similar program in your local community. There are also political measures to be taken. You can call your representative and ask them to officially support the registration of a Cherokee Nation delegate to Convention. The Seventh Generation also has a great, comprehensive guide on how to be an ally – learning history, talking to others, taking action in the community, meeting the survival needs of native people, and more. Although we cannot undo the past, we can at least participate in building a very different future. All people and the planet depend on it.

Additional thanks to Starkey Barker for their significant contributions to this piece and for sharing some of their lived experience.

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