Air Date 8/10/2022
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall take a look at the origins of the European colonial land grab, the need for the Land Back movement, and the benefits to society and the environment in the context of the climate crisis to return stewardship of the land to Native peoples. Clips today are from AJ+, The Breach, A People's Theology, Above the Noise, Andrewism, and PBS Origins, with additional members-only clips from AJ+ and the PBS NewsHour.
Why It’s Time To Give Native Americans Their Land Back - AJ+ - Air Date 10-9-20
[00:00:35] WINONA LADUKE: What we are talking about...
[00:00:36] NICK TILSEN: We're talking about...
[00:00:37] MORNING STAR GALI: We are saying...
[00:00:38] WINONA LADUKE: The return of land territories that are ours, that are guaranteed under treaties that have been illegally taken by federal, state, and county governments and individual landowners.
[00:00:49] NICK TILSEN: It's everything that was also damaged and taken in the process.
[00:00:53] MORNING STAR GALI: It's not a new concept, but it's newly being introduced through the process of land acknowledgements, through an understanding that these lands were not empty, that they are lands that have always been stewarded and cared for by indigenous peoples.
[00:01:12] WINONA LADUKE: Land justice and land restoration looks like, if you stole it, you should return it.
[00:01:16] MORNING STAR GALI: We are not saying that everyone needs to leave.
[00:01:19] NICK TILSEN: We're talking about shifting the decision making power that was taken from our communities back into the hands of our people and of our communities.
[00:01:27] MORNING STAR GALI: There is a way that we lived in balance and harmony with the land, not plowing through our sacred areas and sacred sites.
[00:01:38] NICK TILSEN: If you look at the history of the United States, Canada. Mexico, Puerto Rico, indigenous people today in this part of the world are living in most extreme poverty. We have the lowest social determinants of health and health outcomes. We have some of the lowest education outcomes for our systems, and these things are systemic. This is generational poverty.
[00:02:04] MORNING STAR GALI: I think that there's a lot of finger pointing that happens about why tribal communities are so poverty stricken or why there aren't the high rates of diabetes and other health issues, but it really needs to come into play of the holistic viewpoint of why it is that our communities are continuing to suffer, and why it is that they are at such a disadvantage.
[00:02:26] WINONA LADUKE: Nationally native people have about 4% of our original land base, that's the land we have left as reservations, and inside that a lot of land, we don't even hold inside our own reservations. And in a broader picture, Native people in the United States have about 50 million acres of land, but the federal government, just the park service alone, controls 80 million acres of land.
[00:02:48] NICK TILSEN: There has been a system in place designed for not only the stealing of our lands, but the maintaining of the stealing of our lands, and that lands and Indigenous people's actual sovereignty has been used as a natural resource. When you look at where nuclear waste is stored throughout America, it's stored on Indigenous people's lands.
When you look at where pipelines are being built throughout the nation, they're being built through Indigenous people's land. There's an entire relationship with how corporate America and the policies that support it have actively been going after Indigenous people and Indigenous people's lands.
[00:03:27] WINONA LADUKE: The United States and Canada both have egregious practices to Native people. I mean, you cannot say that the United States is worse than Canada.
[00:03:35] NICK TILSEN: People who are focused on trying to tell a positive story of the way that Canada has dealt with Indigenous people are disconnected with the reality that Indigenous people in Canada are facing.
[00:03:47] MORNING STAR GALI: If you were to ask our relatives up there that are constantly battling right out on the front lines, constantly being harassed by RCMP, they will tell you that they are not receiving any sort of better treatment.
[00:04:01] WINONA LADUKE: Canada discusses reconciliation, has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but still over a hundred nations have water advisories and you cannot even drink the water.
[00:04:10] NICK TILSEN: Canada is a colonial government that continues to oppress Indigenous people today. The movement for healing and reconciliation, it stops short of actually providing justice and liberation for Indigenous people in Canada.
[00:04:24] WINONA LADUKE: They make lip service in Canada, but the practice of Canada is genocidal towards Native people, as it is in the United States.
[00:04:31] NICK TILSEN: We're everyday warriors that are just setting up for our people and our community. And we don't deserve to be attacked by the military, we don't deserve to be attacked by the police, and we don't deserve to be over criminalized by a system in the name of justice. I should not be facing 16.5-17 years in prison for standing up on something that even the Supreme Court said was stolen lands. That is egregious.
[00:04:57] WINONA LADUKE: Indigenous people represent about 4% of the population of the world, but we are the people who protect about 80% of the world's biodiversity. Land restoration is also about protecting and acknowledging the biodiversity of mother earth and the need to have those lands protected. Indigenous people are obviously the best stewards.
[00:05:15] NICK TILSEN: This is a long line of Indigenous people who've had enough. A long line of Indigenous people who are tired of our people being beaten, our land stole, tired of the suffering of Indigenous people.
[00:05:30] WINONA LADUKE: Protection and recognition of our rights to land, control, of our economy, religious freedom, language restoration.
[00:05:38] NICK TILSEN: Defund the military industrial complex that was used for the stealing of Indigenous people's lands and the over policing of our people today. Dismantle the system of White supremacy that was created in the first place for the stealing of our lands, whether that be the dismantling of certain parts of the court system, certain parts of bureaus of land management that not only played the role of stealing our lands, but maintain the theft of them. And then the actual physical returning of public lands.
[00:06:08] WINONA LADUKE: The only compensation for land is land, and there's not amount of payment, as evidenced in the Black Hills case, where the Lakota were offered $106 million for their land and they rejected the settlement, which is now worth billions. Money is not the answer. The answer is land.
[00:06:23] NICK TILSEN: There is a role for everybody in the Land Back movement that we're building. For the white folks out there who think that we're a bunch of Indians wanted to storm the mountains and burning a lot of your cabins, that's not what we're trying to do. The Land Back movement is about building collective power and collective liberation, and building a world that works for everybody.
Work there with us. Work side by side with us to dismantle imperialism, colonialism, and a system of white supremacy and racial injustice. collaborate with us, be our relatives, be our, co-conspirators, be our accomplices for dismantling these systems. Don't be scared of us for dismantling them.
Canada, it's time for Land Back - The Breach - Air Date 6-2-21
[00:07:02] DR. PAM PALMATER: Over the last few years, we've begun hearing the cry of a powerful slogan in Canada: "Land Back." While the slogan is new, the demand is not. Native youth have elevated a truth that we've long understood: a just path forward is impossible without the return of stolen land.
Settler governments have always wanted our lands and they've taken them by whatever means necessary. In the Atlantic region, Governor Cornwallis issued a proclamation in 1749 offering a bounty on my ancestors' lives. In the prairies, the Canadian government pushed us off our lands using the violence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, by withholding food rations to starve us into submission, and by deliberately mistranslating treaties.
Attacking native bodies and spirits was a central part of this process of dispossession. Residential schools, Christianity, patriarchal control, and sexualized violence all function to attack our laws, relationships, and economies, in order to break our connections to each other and to the land. Vast native territories that we managed according to our own governance systems were reduced to a tiny patchwork of reserves. Today, Indian reserves account for just 0.2% of the land.
Think Canada's treatment of First Nations was far more humane than the United States? Consider this: the Navajo Nation's reservation is larger than all of the reserves in Canada put together. Nearly all of Canada is considered crown land and technically owned by one foreign family: the monarchs in Buckingham Palace. How did the queen become the landlord? The racist legal fictions that no indigenous laws existed in North America, and that only the crown could properly own land. For generations, the government has rented, sold and leased this land, usually at bargain basement prices, to multinational companies who make enormous profits.
So you can see, First Nation poverty isn't an accident; it's an intentional and direct result of this dispossession. We have never accepted Canada's genocide of our peoples and its theft of our lands. And for generations we've demanded our land rights be respected. The government's own Royal commissions have supported this call for Land Back.
Even the Supreme Court of Canada has handed down several historic rulings that confirm aboriginal title, which means First Nations own the lands, should be the ones governing the lands, and deciding who gets to benefit from those lands. But the Canadian government has time and again refused to respect and implement these court decisions, breaking its own laws.
And land theft isn't something of the past. It's still happening today, driven by the endless drive for growth and profits and the racist denial of First Nation jurisdiction. When we go out into our territories to stop unwanted projects or hunt and fish, Canada pulls out the big guns. But who's the thief, and who's being robbed? Canada pursues us relentlessly in fevered attempts to get us to extinguish the rights to our territories, rivers, forests, mountains, farmlands, and everything underneath, under the duress of poverty, forced removals or incarceration.
It's long past time for a reset. Would land back mean putting non-native people on boats, back to their countries of origin? No. What we should be imagining is what Canada could look like if we started returning so-called crown land back to First Nations.
Who would you rather control these enormous areas? Corporations who only see in the land dollar signs over the next financial quarter? Or First Nations who've been taking care of the lands for generations? Instead of getting a permit from the government to destroy the land, companies would need a permit from our nations to responsibly use the land.
As the rightful caretakers of the land, First Nations could insist on sustainable logging, eco-tourism, and responsible development. In place of dams, mines and pipelines, lands returned to First Nations could host solar and wind farms helping power a new post-carbon economy.
If First Nations lands were still used for sustainable and responsible resource extraction, then First Nations would be the ones to decide how and where and who benefits.
For the lands and resources that have been irreparably damaged or sold to third parties, they would pay us reparations for the loss of past and future use. It's worth remembering that even though indigenous people's make up less than 5% of the world's population, we protect 80% of global biodiversity. More land in First Nations control means a safer climate for everyone.
This redistribution of resources and power would usher in a change in Canada's outlook. First Nation jurisdiction over lands and waters would not only be a matter of justice, but a pathway for Canada to a more sustainable relationship to the natural world.
If Canada's interested in a real nation-to-nation relationship, Land Back is how we do it.
Mark Charles: An Indigenous Liberation Theology - A People's Theology - Air Date 7-7-21
[00:12:51] MARK CHARLES: The Doctrine of Discovery, very quickly, it's a series of papal bulls, edicts of the Catholic Church written between 1452 and 1493. It says things like "invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever." Reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, convert them to his and to their use in profit.
It's essentially the church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe, wherever you go, whatever lands you find not ruled by white European Christian rulers, those people are subhuman and their land is yours to take. So this is the doctrine that let European nations colonize Africa and enslave the people 'cause they didn't see their humanity.
It's the same doctrine that Columbus, who was lost at sea, claimed to have "discovered" North America. Our book starts, the first chapter, the first sentence is: "You cannot discover lands already inhabited." You can steal those lands, you can conquer those lands, you can colonize them; you can't discover them unless your understanding is that the people who are there are not fully human.
So this doctrine is a dehumanizing doctrine that centers the European Christian male. Now this doctrine gets embedded into our foundations. Our Declaration of Independence referred to Natives as "merciless Indian savages," our Constitution never mentions women specifically, excludes Natives, counts African just three-fifths of a person.
We have legal precedent, referenced as recently as 2005, referencing by name the Doctrine of Discovery as the legal precedent for land titles, basically stating that -- as actually literally stating that -- because Natives are savages, we only have the right of occupancy to land, and Europeans, who are "fully human," they have the right of discovery to the land. So therefore they have the fee title and they're the true title holders.
I gave a TEDx Talk on a Supreme Court case in 2005, the Oneida Indian Nation versus the City of Sherill, New York. And, it's the last Supreme Court case to reference the Doctrine of Discovery by name. I identify as one of the most white supremacist opinions written by the Supreme Court in my lifetime.
[00:15:07] MASON MENNEGA - HOST, A PEOPLE'S THEOLOGY: Wow.
[00:15:08] MARK CHARLES: And that opinion was written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And so this is the challenge. It gets embedded into our foundations and it literally leads us into -- because we have the understanding that Natives are not human, it is a part of the justification for the genocide of Native peoples.
I mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the writing process, I had to deconstruct the myth of Abraham Lincoln. One of the biggest, the two of the hardest chapters to read in the book are the two chapters -- I think that are either nine and 10 or 10 and 11 -- that is dealing directly with Abraham Lincoln.
Most people will say, well, he is our nation's savior, right? He brought us from a nation that enslaved people to a nation that abolished slavery. That actually isn't what he did. The 13th amendment doesn't abolish slavery. It redefines and codifies it under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
[00:16:06] MASON MENNEGA - HOST, A PEOPLE'S THEOLOGY: Mm-hmm.
[00:16:06] MARK CHARLES: Just this week, the US Senate passed a bill declaring Juneteenth a national holiday, now has to go to the House. But they're claiming Juneteenth, the 19th of June, as the day slavery was abolished in the US. That's not true. Chattel slavery was ended, but slavery was merely redefined and codified and put under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
We have not abolished slavery as a nation. And that was part of Abraham Lincoln's legacy. He was a blatant white supremacist who literally in 1862, he signs the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act to complete the transcontinental railway. Within two and a half years of signing that bill, he has literally ethnically cleansed the states of Minnesota, the states of Utah and Colorado and the territory of New Mexico of Native nations and Native peoples to make way for the three primary routes of the transcontinental railway. He is one of the most genocidal presidents in our nation's history. And yet we celebrate him as a hero, not in spite of what he did, but actually because of it. He's the president who helped us complete Manifest Destiny. He is the president who dealt with the merciless Indian savages identified in the Declaration of Independence.
And so this dehumanizing Doctrine of Discovery, not only does it have this horrible legacy of oppression, enslavement, and even death for people of color, but it leads white people to literally celebrate genocide.
And this is why we call the book Unsettling Truths, because we don't know, whether it's whether when we're celebrating Columbus Day or the 4th of July or even Thanksgiving, if you read the proclamation that Abraham Lincoln gave to essentially establish our modern version of Thanksgiving, and you look at the things that happened in the country the year before he wrote that proclamation. Again, he is literally calling for a national day of Thanksgiving as the nation gives thanks for the fruits of the genocide his armies were actively committing the year prior.
[00:18:34] MASON MENNEGA - HOST, A PEOPLE'S THEOLOGY: One thing that I loved about your book, and I think is an incredible insight, is that it's not necessarily offering a way for reconciliation, but conciliation. Can you talk about why that distinction is so important and what conciliation looks like for you?
[00:18:54] MARK CHARLES: Yeah, so, you know, one of the challenges and with our nation, one of the things that I identify in the book is that American exceptionalism is the coping mechanism for a nation that's in deep denial of its genocidal past, as well as its current racist reality.
So in other words, our nation, the majority culture, white America has to clinging to this mythology of exceptionalism, which is rooted in the lives of white supremacy. Because if they're not exceptional, If they don't have a manifest destiny, if they don't have a land covenant with the God of Abraham, if they don't have a special relationship with the God of the Old Testament Bible, then they are merely another white supremacist colonial and an oppressive group of people. And that thought's unfathomable. So they cling to this narrative of exceptionalism.
And so one of the things that you have to do, especially if you're a person of color aspiring to run for political office, one of the most unifying themes in US politics is the theme of American exceptionalism. So we had in 2016, Donald Trump saying, make America great again. Hillary Clinton responded and said, America's great already. In fact, in one of the debates, she expanded and said, America's great because America's good. Donald Trump stopped, looked directly at her and said, I agree with you. I agree with everything you just said. So they both agreed our past, our foundations, our history were great.
They disagreed if we were great in 2016. At the Democratic National Convention, president Obama jumps into the fray. He says, America's already great. Corey Booker, African American Senator from New Jersey, he's giving a speech endorsing Hillary Clinton. In his speech he acknowledges that the Declaration of Independence calls Natives "savages." He acknowledges that women are excluded from the Constitution, and that there's a three-fifths compromise for African people. And at the end of that section of his speech, he says to the white majority of the Democratic base at the DNC, he says, "But these things do not detract from America's greatness."
He would never say that in a room full of people of color. He would never say that to a room full of black people or a room full of Native people, even a room full of women. The only reason he said that is because if you want to get the support, the money and the vote of white landowning men, you have to tell them how exceptional they are.
And so the language we use is peppered with this exceptionalism. So the use of the term "white privilege," right? White privilege makes it sound like white people have been given a blessing that they just have to learn to share better. That's not true. What they have is the fruit of oppression. It's a racial oppression that they're benefiting from. That's not something to be shared, it's something to be confronted.
The same thing with racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation implies there was a previous harmony. That's not true. Race is a human construct. In the US, race was constructed for the purpose of oppressing and dividing.
Racial reconciliation is a myth. It's a misnomer. It's not accurate. So once we recognize that -- and again, it leads to this notion of exceptionalism, while we used to have this great foundation, now we're having some problems, we have to go back to where we were before -- that's not true.
[00:22:46] MASON MENNEGA - HOST, A PEOPLE'S THEOLOGY: Right.
[00:22:46] MARK CHARLES: And so I've learned to -- and I've had other Native leaders tell me to my face -- I used to use the word "racial reconciliation" and I've had Native leaders tell me you can't use that word; it's not accurate. You can't use that word. And so finally I'm like, okay, so what can I use then? And I looked at the root of reconciliation, which is conciliation. If reconciliation means to restore a previous harmony, conciliation is merely about mediating a dispute.
They both can bring us to a better place, but one is more honest about our history, where the other allows the myth to perpetuate itself.
And so I began using the term -- this was probably back in 2015 -- I began using the term "racial conciliation." And as I began gaining a vision that we needed a national dialogue on race, gender, and class, a conversation on par with the TRCs, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, Rwanda and Canada, I decided, yeah, but we can't call it that. Because again that affirms this myth of exceptionalism. So we would need to call ours a Truth and Conciliation Commission.
And so I've learned because of the myth of how American exceptionalism is so peppered throughout our worldview and the way we think and express ourselves, I've learned to be very concise and clear with my language.
I almost never refer to it as "white privilege," and I do not use the term "racial reconciliation." I always use the term "racial conciliation."
Can Indigenous People Lead the Fight Against Climate Change? - Above the Noise - Air Date 4-20-22
[00:24:27] CHEY BAREFOOT: Indigenous people reclaiming land isn't a novel idea. And the Land Back movement has been around for a very long time. But it's really gained a lot of traction in recent years. You're probably wondering, why do indigenous people need a movement like Land Back in the first place? And why are national parks part of the discussion? Spoiler alert: it's not pretty. And it involves a lot of old white guys.
So back in the late part of the 19th century, when the government started creating national parks, they couldn't see native peoples and nature coexisting. John Muir, who people often considered the father of the national park system was flat out racist.
[00:25:04] CORRINA GOULD: As human beings we're not supposed to be away from land the way that we are in urban settings. That's where human beings need to be. We need to be reengaged with the land, to have human hands interacting with land again, is really what needs to happen.
[00:25:17] CHEY BAREFOOT: That's Corrina Gould, co-director for the Sogorea Te Land Trust, a woman-led organization in the Bay Area that works to return indigenous land to indigenous people.
But you know, this whole idea of human beings belong in nature really didn't mesh well with the settlers. So they removed indigenous people anyway. And they did this using every technique under the sun: starving tribes by destroying their food sources, tricking tribal leaders into signing treaties, and murdering entire indigenous communities, which by the way, was legal and people were often paid to do this.
[00:25:52] MYLES BESS - HOST, ABOVE THE NOISE: Wait -- for real?
[00:25:53] CHEY BAREFOOT: Yeah, seriously. Like between the 16 hundreds through the 19 hundreds, the US government paid people the equivalent of $12,000 in today's currency per the scalp of each indigenous man, and half of that for each indigenous woman. As a matter of fact, in New England alone government payments for 375 human scalps were uncovered, which equals millions of dollars in today's currency.
And because most American schools primarily teach the positives of the national parks, a lot of people don't really know this side of the history. Let me help you understand the scope of what we're dealing with here.
Most, if not all, of the 84 million acres that span between the 423 national park sites were home to indigenous peoples. When Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872, it was intended as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
Of course, on a guess, the government's definition of "people" didn't include all of the indigenous people they forced off the land.
This idea of "the land exists to serve people" is so different from the other indigenous perspectives that I've heard. You see, it wasn't just indigenous people's colonizers tried to get rid of when they came. They also tried to get rid of collective cultural knowledge.
Bear with me as I try to explain this next part as best I can.
There are two big differences between the indigenous and colonizer relationship with nature. Historically, the general vibe of colonizer culture, as modeled in the Bible, is that nature is something to control and dominate.
Take this verse from Genesis: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
Indigenous peoples, however, accept that there exists a cosmological relationship of all living things existing together.
[00:27:50] CORRINA GOULD: Now we remember our place in this circle of life, that we remember that we are the younger brothers or sisters, the human beings. And we are the only ones that took ourselves out of that circle. When we took ourselves out of that circle, the world became unbalanced. And as human beings, we need to come back into that circle and to see everything that was created as equal to us, and that we are not above it.
[00:28:16] CHEY BAREFOOT: This means all land, including sacred sites, and all living things, are worthy of protection. Not only the areas white people designated as national parks.
Before colonizers came, indigenous peoples managed the land for millennia. They used the knowledge that had been passed down from generation to generation to both feed themselves and protect the land.
For example, some tribes of Yosemite valley managed land using fire. They burned underbrush and created pasture lands to provide nutrient-rich forage for deer and to help support the growth of woodland food crops. So the idea that national parks were untouched for thousands of years is a complete myth.
Indigenous people have been advocating for the return of stolen lands since the very beginning, and the global Land Back movement is fighting to make this a reality. After the height of the No Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, the movement has continued to gain momentum and support from people outside of the indigenous community.
And in response to protests at Mount Rushmore in 2020, the indigenous organization Indian Collective created the Land Back Manifesto, the reclamation of everything stolen from the original peoples, and officially launched a formal campaign on Indigenous People's Day of that year.
[00:29:31] CORRINA GOULD: So this Land Back movement in the Bay Area is about creating a place for indigenous people to be able to feel safe, a place for us to pray and bring back language, a re-engagement with the land and the waterways as our ancestors have always told us we are supposed to be, encouraging us to make relationships with our relatives, the plants, and the food ways. Sharing those out to community members, whether they're indigenous or not.
[00:30:00] CHEY BAREFOOT: And of course for us, land isn't an isolated thing you can own. It's all connected to all of these larger issues Land Back seeks to heal and reclaim: languages and ceremonies, governmental sovereignty, food and housing security, equitable access to healthcare and education -- all part of a larger goal to dismantle white supremacy and uplift BIPOC groups.
To some, the idea of returning land back to indigenous communities, especially the national parks, is absurd.
[00:30:30] CORRINA GOULD: You look at the broader Land Back movement and you know, you hear academics and activists and protectors and "give it all back." And then you see people in the general public freaking out about what does that mean, right? What does that mean, give it all back? It really does mean give it all back because it was stolen land.
[00:30:51] CHEY BAREFOOT: People have told me it's impossible. There's so much land. And how will the government divide it up among the different tribes? Or why transfer park management away from the government if they're doing a good job? Well, there's so much more at stake than just paying for maintenance or facilities cost.
The moral argument is that this is stolen land and these resources should go back to tribes to manage. The success stories popping up here in the US are giving us a glimpse into a possible future where stolen land is managed by indigenous peoples once again.
Here's just one example: The Esselen Tribe purchased 1,200 acres in Big Sur, California after 250 years to be used for educational, cultural and conservation purposes. And recently, governor Gavin Newsome proposed to give a hundred million to tribes to purchase back ancestral land. This is seen as a big win. But if you really think about it, it's kind of messed up because they had to purchase the land back that was stolen from them. And that's like buying back your stolen bike from the flea market.
But these stories aren't only limited to the United States. Land Back is happening globally. And get this: the indigenous way of managing land also helps to combat climate change. For example, research shows that lands managed by indigenous communities in Brazil, Australia and Canada are equally, and sometimes even more, biodiverse than special conservation lands managed by the governments.
In the end, this isn't just about repairing the harm done to indigenous people. It's so much bigger than that. It's also about healing the land itself, especially land that's been trashed. And current scientific evidence advocates for indigenous land stewardship practices to reduce the impact of climate change.
LandBack: The Indigenous Liberation Movement - Andrewism - Air Date 1-6-21
[00:32:35] ANDREW SAGE - HOST, ANDREWISM: To understand Land Back and Water Back, we need to understand settlerism and colonialism, or more simply, settler colonialism. Settler colonialism is an ongoing project by settler states like the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Israel, and others. It involves external colonialism, also called settlerism, which is when of colonizing power exports settlers, resources, knowledge, plants, metals, weapons, and/or animals to increase its wealth and land, like when the European empires shipped millions of armed colonists to settle North America, many as indentured servants.
And it involves internal colonialism, which is marked by the violent management of colonized people and lands within the borders of the imperial nation through ghettos, reservations, police schools, prisons, that sort of thing. A good example of internal colonialism will be the residential schools in the US and Canada up to the 20th century that stole Indigenous children from their families and stripped them of their cultures.
Settler colonialism can be best summarized as the empire and the colony existing in the same geographical space. Settler colonialism is a process of destroying to replace. Indigenous versions of governance, land management, cultural practices, et cetera, are destroyed through colonization and replaced with a settler version of those things, which are often radically different. The land stolen from Indigenous peoples was then worked by people's stolen from their own lands.
Interestingly, it took the subversive collaboration of Indigenous peoples, runaway slaves, and runaway Europeans for settlers to invent and propagate the racial hierarchy in order to create divisions among the exploited. In colonial Virginia, the lives of English, Indigenous, and African indentured servants and slaves were quite similar at first. They were owned by their masters and they worked shoulder to shoulder in the tobacco fields. Still, they sought relief from their grueling labor and difficult work conditions. So they'd run away, sometimes together. Yet when they were court, their punishments were much different.
In July 1640, 3 servants were captured in Maryland. Two were white and they were whipped and had four years added to the indentures. The third was a Black man and he was made a slave for life. That was the first legal distinction between Europeans and Africans made by Virginia courts. See, it's all connected, settler colonialism isn't some simple historical moment or period, it's an ongoing structure that maintains and impacts everything in a settler state.
Settler states like the US are built on settler colonization and slavery. That's not something that we reformed away, and the initial acts of settle colonialism are what laid the foundation for its current acts. It took, for example, the eviction of Oregon's Indigenous peoples to give precedence to evictions as a whole in Oregon, something even non-Indigenous peoples are dealing with today. Fighting settler colonialism involves a whole complex process of decolonization, which is deserving of it's own video. Land Back is just one part to that process. Land back.
Land Back, a contraction of land and back, so let's start there. What is land? Well, it isn't just a plot of dudes. Humans grow out the earth and our history remains rooted in our use of land and territory, from ecosystem management to resource extraction, to expansionism. And with that expansionism comes the erasure of Indigenous peoples and dispossession of their lands. The various powers of Europe are quite famous for this. In 1800 Western powers held roughly 35% of the Earth's surface. By 1878, they held 67%, and by 1914, European powers held a grand total of 85% of the Earth as colonies protectors, dependencies, dominions, and commonwealths.
But don't get it twisted, Asian powers like Japan and China don't have their hands clean either. Yet, despite those claims Indigenous peoples never completely lost the connection to lands and waters. Colonizing powers used violent occupation, repeated displacement, and forced assimilation, all in an effort to eliminate the political alternative that Indigenous peoples represent. But they couldn't and can't hide the land, so they have to resort of breaking the collective consciousness. Worse yet, they get to brush off this violence as unfortunate history, if they acknowledge it at all, while ignoring the very present violence. Say, for example, the Wetʼsuwetʼen nation, who we're facing eviction from their lands and poisoning of their water by the Coastal Gasoline Pipeline Company.
[00:37:01] INDIGENOUS PROTESTERS: People get confused about what we want as Native people. It's like, what do you want? It's just like Land Back, simple as possible. Don't need any reconciliation. I don't want money or I don't want programs, or funding, or whatever. Just Land Back. Land Back. It's funny though, when I said that to my dad, to get in Wetʼsuwetʼen people, if you tell them about Land Back, they're like we never lost the land anyway, which is true.
[00:37:29] ANDREW SAGE - HOST, ANDREWISM: When such discussions about Land Back are had it's simplified to, "oh, they just want to own land." Land is more than just land, more than just property or a means of accumulating capital. It's a stark contrast between settler colonial and Indigenous people's conception of land. In settler colonial societies, the relationship to land is based on ownership and exploitation. Private property is accumulated and dominated by individuals, the bourgeoisie, to be exploited, but Indigenous people see land as a whole social relationship, to which all living and non-living beings belong rather than own. Settler policy seeks to replace those relationships and the full sovereignty of indigenous peoples with domination via municipal puppets, corporate development, and patriarchal politics.
Indigenous connection to the land goes deep, as though the land owns instead of just the land is owed. That connection can't be taken, stolen, or given back, and it's a connection that settlers, people who engage in settlerism, do not have. Land Back, more significantly, is about how we relate to the land, how we relate each other through it, and how it defines us. Land isn't just a place.
So what about the Back part of Land Back? Well, it isn't simply signing some documents and giving Indigenous people's legal rights over the land as private property. Like I said, those concepts didn't exist prior to colonization. The Back part also can't mean returning to precolonial conditions, either. As Frantz Fanon discusses in The Wretched of the Earth, there is no way to return to pristine precolonial time. Decolonization isn't about going back to the pre-colonial and isn't just focused on Indigenous peoples either, the colonized. Decolonization must also involve the colonizer deconstructing the cultures and ideologies that maintain that domination and colonization. It's not that colonizers have to be deported, it's that they can't continue to engage in the whole settler colonial system. The Back part means a realization of sovereignty and consent. No more pipelines, no more police, no more fraud treaties, no more colonial institutions. That's what it'll take to eliminate the settler state, the complete and total dissolution of the colonization that props it up. Land Back is about ending the violence inflicted not only an Indigenous peoples, but also in mother earth.
Only 5% of the world's population is composed of indigenous peoples living on their ancestral lands. But these people protect 80% of the planet's biodiversity, the heart and health of the earth itself. These people and the non-human life they exist with are under threat by state and capital. Land Back seeks to challenge that, reasserting lands from the colonizing entities. Land Back is a method of direct action.
Even now such battles are being fought across the world, from Chiapas to Rojava to Tibet to Palestine, to all over the so-called United States and Canada. The various movements associated with Land Back each deserve the respective of a video of their own, but to summarize, quoting the Land Back manifesto, "It is a reclamation of everything stolen from the original peoples. It is a relationship with mother earth that is symbiotic, and just where we have reclaimed stewardship. It is bringing our people with us as we move towards liberation and embodied sovereignty through an organizing political and narrative framework. It is a long legacy of warriors and leaders who sacrificed freedom and life.
It is a catalyst for current generation organizers, and centers the voices of those who represent our future. It is recognizing that our struggle is interconnected with the struggles of all oppressed peoples. It is a future where Black reparations and Indigenous Land Back coexist. Where BIPOC collective operation is at the core. Is acknowledging that only when mother earth is well, can we, her children, be well. It is our belonging to the land."
Land Back is about land, yes, but it's also about freedom. Land and freedom. Tierra y libertad, the rallying cry in the Indigenous fight against settler colonialism during the Mexican revolution. Land and freedom, they're interdependent concepts, each transforming the meaning of the other.
Land linked to freedom means a habitat to be freely interrelate with, to shape and be shaped by, unburdened by imposition or ideology. Freedom linked to land means a self-organization of all activity that is vital to our humanity, which we direct to achieve sustenance on our own terms, not as isolated units, but as living beings within a web of wider relationships.
Land Back really starts in the mind. It starts with decolonizing, your own psyche. You were colonized, are colonized, and thus responding to life circumstances in ways that are limited, destructive, and externally controlled. It starts with questioning the dominant narratives in power structures you were indoctrinated into accepting, and then creating, restoring, and birthing. Creating various strategies to liberate yourself. Restoring your cultural practices that were taken or abandoned but you now need for survival. Birthing new ideas, thinking technologies, and lifestyles that contribute to the advancement and empowerment of colonized peoples. It's deeply personal, so it'll look differently for different people, but I see the ongoing process in many fellow colonized people these days, and that gives me hope.
With every tradition remembered and language relearned, colonized people begin to heal. And with that healing and learning comes the next step in the Land Back process—direct action. Tactics will need to be varied, of course. Dragging colonizes and gentrifiers on social media is a part of it, as it's going after hated and unpopular banks, slum lords, and governments. It builds a larger narrative and grows our support. Raising funds to buy the land and pressuring the legal owners to cede the land can also help. There's also protests, blockades, disruptions, and other Minecraft stuff I can't divulge here.
Most vital to Land Back praxis is, of course, seizing and effectively defending the lands and peoples from further violence, yet none of these methods can stand alone. A lot of these methods leave the structures of capitalism intact. Even the most radical method, seizing the land, still allows legal owner to maintain their claim and eventually muster state support for a violent crackdown. Do seize the land's held ransom by the settler state though, and when we have it, we can build relationship with it. Undermining the long history of dispossession, enslavement, and exploitation, that seizing, that expropriation, is not just material, it's also spiritual, it's transformative. It takes land outta the realm of property and into a world of community, where capitalist value has no meaning. Refusing to recognize the commodification of land and totally rejecting the social contract of capitalism changes a person. As land is seized, strong networks are built, resources and experiences are shared, and perspectives are broadened. We're fundamentally transformed for the better.
Settler structures need to be dismantled completely, and that starts somewhere and everywhere, even if that somewhere is your mind. Land Back is one arduous step by one drooling step forward to free land, and eventually the whole world, from the grips of domination. The tactics of our rulers change is the centuries plod on, but the overall colonizer strategy remains the same—a consistent war on our minds and bodies to wear us down in the long run, and remove the challenge to their legitimacy that our resistance, and especially Indigenous people's resistance, represents.
Think of how it must feel to be constantly told there will be no restitution for centuries of oppression and genocide. That's an emotional assault that we need to fight back against. All of us need to support Indigenous peoples in this fight for Land Back, in any capacity they need. Truth is, you're either for liberation and all the various forms it'll take or you're against it. Are we in this together or not? Land Back is less of future to achieve and more on action to take on today.
Solidarity forever. Peace.
What We Can Learn About #LandBack From These Native American Comedies - PBS Origins - Air Date 6-13-22
[00:45:46] KIANA TAYLOR: Let's get a historian's take on how Native peoples are taking back their narratives and their land through film and TV.
[00:45:56] ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES CLIP: You have taken the land, which is rightfully ours.
[00:45:59] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: The most prominent Native American character that I grew up with wasn't actually Native American. It was Wednesday Adams.
[00:46:05] KIANA TAYLOR: Meet one of the writers and actors from Rutherford Falls, a Native American comedy show.
[00:46:11] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: My name is Taietsarón:sere "Tai” Leclaire. I am Mohawk.
[00:46:15] ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES CLIP: Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations.
[00:46:20] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: She is asked to play Pocahontas in this play and delivers this incredible monologue about the reality of what it was to be Native American and burn the place down.
[00:46:28] ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES CLIP: And for all these reasons I've decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.
[00:46:38] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: It was truly shocking to see a White person say the reality of the situation. Native American representation growing up was very limited, especially for me, a kid in the nineties, it was Indian in the Cupboard, Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, but Dances with Wolves wasn't allowed in our house. Anything that was sort of like a big Hollywood production with a lot of Nativess, that was very much from the lens of the White gaze was very much not playing on the VHS.
[00:47:05] KIANA TAYLOR: Hmm. What did Native representation used to look like?
[00:47:14] LIZA BLACK: We see Native people in so many westerns.
[00:47:18] KIANA TAYLOR: Meet our historian and scholar of Native American representation in film and TV.
[00:47:24] LIZA BLACK: I'm Liza Black, I'm a citizen of Cherokee Nation. Westerns have, I think, come to define how America sees Native people. Films of the 1940s and 1950s taught Americans that Native people were meant to be conquered and very much told a story that White nationalism is about defeat of Native people. In the 1960s and 1970s, you see young people of all walks of life rebelling, and trying to create something new. For Native people, that was a full scale rebellion against the federal government.
[00:48:07] ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: If they're gonna start giving land away, they should start with the American Indian people.
[00:48:10] LIZA BLACK: You see that in the takeover at Alcatraz where you have, um, young people from tribes all over the country, who have been relocated to cities by the federal government, rise up and take back the land. You see this relationship developing between Native people who have been advocating for their own rights to participate in the culture industry, specifically the film and television industry, pairing up with these activists.
[00:48:34] JANE FONDA: People are not listening to the Indians. They're not trying to help. There's no, there's no way that the Indians can make themselves heard. So they're occupying these pieces of land, uh, which are theirs by right of treaty.
[00:48:46] LANADA WAR: The reason why we took Alcatraz, I could mention the Sioux treaty of 1868 within, there's also congressional enactment within the last part of the 1800's that gives us title to the land as well.
[00:48:58] LIZA BLACK: Beginning in like the 1960s, the American Indian Movement made some national strides in terms of protesting the American government. One of those leaders, Russell Means actually sort of got so much media attention that the film industry started hiring him for movies, like Last of the Mohicans. Russell Means broke out in that film, as did Wes Studi, who is the only Native actor to receive an academy award.
[00:49:25] WES STUDI: I'd simply like to say: it's about time.
[00:49:31] LIZA BLACK: I think that if we hadn't had these shifts, however small, in the 1960s, we wouldn't be where we're at today. I'm really, really excited about Reservation Dogs and Ruthford Falls, these two television shows that broke out in 2021 during the pandemic and generated just a tremendous conversation on where Native people stand today.
Landback cold open - Reservation Dogs S1 E3 Uncle Brownie - Air Date 8-16-21
[00:49:54] RESERVATION DOGS CLIP: What do you suppose that means?
You see the graffiti on that sign back there.
Oh yeah. Yeah. I think it said "Land Back", didn't it?
Well, what do you suppose it means?
Well, I reckon Indians did it.
Well, sure they did, but I don't understand.
They mean the whole damn thing? They want the whole damn thing back?
Well, I suppose so.
That's just not possible. I could see some of it back. You reckon that's what they mean, some of it back? Or all the damn thing?
I mean, the Whites did kill an awful lot of 'em and took the land. So, America ought to be ashamed of itself.
Well, they got the casinos. I hear they get paid a thousand dollars a month just to be an Indian.
Well, you quit being a shit-ass?
Well, that's romantic.
This ride is not fun anymore. And no, they don't and whatever they get, they deserve.
Well, let's not get into a political discussion here. Let's just enjoy the Sunday drive.
You know, I am part Indian.
Yeah. And I'm part millionaire.
Yeah. You wish.
Return to What We Can Learn About #LandBack From These Native American Comedies - PBS Origins - Air Date 6-13-22
[00:51:01] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: We're getting to just like lift up the curtain a little bit and see all these wonderful, beautiful people and stories.
[00:51:09] LIZA BLACK: They're directed by Native people. They're written by Native people. The crew members are often Native people. That's never really happened before.
[00:51:18] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: There are over 500 federally recognized tribes, and that's only the federally recognized ones. There are over 600 nations in Canada. Some of us are suburban Natives. Some of us are city Indian. Some of us are res kids.
[00:51:30] RESERVATION DOGS CLIP: Indian mafia have been telling everybody they at war with ya'll. I told them ya'll was the reservation dogs.
[00:51:36] LIZA BLACK: Reservation Dogs is explicitly about that kind of divide between reservation Indians, or people who grew on the reservation, and Indians who didn't. Sort of taking Americans into the world that many Native people inhabit, which is what people call "res life".
Rutherford Falls is about a modern American town. The town is set near a reservation and near a Native casino. Terry, the tribal casino manager, he is really kind of tapping into this cultural zeitgeist of the moment, which is Land Back.
[00:52:17] RUTHERFORD FALLS CLIP: We're gonna sue Nathan Rutherford.
What do you want?
Something that was ours to begin with.
[00:52:23] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: That part of the story was very much inspired by a lot of our, uh, nations and tribes relations trying to use the law to get land back to essentially honor these treaties and land treaties that were signed 300, 400 years ago, which, all of which have been broken both within the United States and in Canada.
[00:52:41] RUTHERFORD FALLS CLIP: I won't rest until my nation gets every single thing that was taken from them.
[00:52:47] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: What Terry's trying to take back, and what I think I more personally affiliate lend back with, is we have a connection to the Earth that not many Western cultures do. Land is sacred.
[00:53:01] RUTHERFORD FALLS CLIP: Have you ever heard of the seven generations?
[00:53:03] LIZA BLACK: It talks about the seven generations. This is an embodiment of Native values.
[00:53:07] RUTHERFORD FALLS CLIP: It's a practice to ensure that the Earth and our language and our people will not only exist, but thrive, seven generations from now.
[00:53:16] TAIETSARON: SERE TAI LECLAIRE: It was a practice that I just, uh, blindly assumed everyone followed. Cuz like how could you not do something for the seven generations from now? Because that is truly the, it's the continuation of your people.
Meet the native Hawaiians fighting U.S. occupation - AJ+ - Air Date 3-3-17
[00:53:28] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: This is the Hawai‘i most visitors never see, an hour from the luxury hotels and shops in the farthest corner away from Honolulu. It's the Hawaiians' Hawai‘i, working class and proudly Native, where locals will tell you Hawai‘i is occupied by the U.S., that it has been for 124 years, and that it'll one day be free.
We came here to see the Native sovereignty movement in action.
We are driving through Waimānalo, which is a stronghold of the sovereignty movement here in Hawai‘i and we're headed to a village in the hills that was established by a sovereignty group called the Nation of Hawai‘i. The village is called Refuge of Waimānalo, with a population of roughly 80. The state handed the group 45 acres of land in the nineties after it occupied a popular beach for over a year.
Bumpy Kanahele is the group's leader and head of the village.
Do you have your own passport here in the Nation of Hawai‘i?
[00:54:28] BUMPY KANAHELE: We have things ready to print out for the passports.
[00:54:32] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Can I apply for when they are banning Muslims in the U.S.?
[00:54:35] BUMPY KANAHELE: We're taking in citizenship applications now. So any of you disgruntled Americans wanna come on by, come to Hawai‘i, come visit us in O‘ahu and we'll be more than happy to accommodate. You gotta learn about us though, our history.
[00:54:50] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: And for Native Hawaiians, it's a painful history. In 1893, armed U.S. Naval forces helped American sugar plantation owners overthrow Hawai‘i's queen. The provisional government that was set up after ceded Hawai‘i's sovereignty to the U.S. Then it embarked on a campaign to squash Native culture.
What's one word you would use to describe what happened here in 1893?
[00:55:15] BUMPY KANAHELE: Genocide. That was their intent, to make life hard for us in such a way would cause our own destruction. And that's what happened. It's still happening. It's more passive. It's like genocide in paradise.
[00:55:30] ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: It's made official at the white house President Eisenhower congratulates the new congressional representatives of Hawai‘i, adding the 50th and southernmost state.
[00:55:40] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Hawai‘i officially became America's 50th state in 1959. In 1993, the U.S. formally apologized for its involvement in the illegal overthrow of the sovereign Hawaiian kingdom, 100 years after the fact. That's where the story of how Bumpy wrangled these lush foothills begins. In that Apology Resolution, the U.S. admitted that Native Hawaiians had never relinquished their sovereignty. Armed with that fact, Bumpy and 300 others occupied Makapuʻu Beach. They set up tents and blocked the area for 15 months.
Hawai‘i's governor asked bumpy to end the occupation in exchange for a 55 year lease on this land. Part of the agreement was that if and when a sovereign Hawaiian nation is established, this land would become part of it.
Along with the renewed fight for independence came a cultural shift throughout Hawai‘i. Native Hawaiians began reclaiming traditions that were once actively suppressed. That meant teaching youth language and dance, getting traditional tattoos using ancient techniques, and fostering traditional farming and food making.
But in reality, not much has changed. Everyone we talked to during our week there repeatedly stressed that Hawai‘i continues to be occupied illegally.
[00:56:55] LOCAL MUSCIAN 1: [music, singing] Military conflicts gave us our conflicts. [unintelligible] post-traumatic syndrome. 124 years have gone, but we are still here, standing strong.
[00:57:15] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: At a gathering of musicians and activists in Honolulu, the inherited pain was palpable.
[00:57:21] LOCAL MUSCIAN 1: We all come from very deep hurt. A crime has been committed, still being committed.
[00:57:27] LOCAL MUSCIAN 2: That is part of our struggle to maintain rights, but more importantly, what are those rights rooted in? And those rights are rooted in a country that had its sovereignty and recognition stolen by the United States.
[music, singing] ...business ends. Sugar barons, they wanted to soak up the land...
[00:57:51] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Bumpy sees his village as a model for self-determination. But for now it's still partially on the grid. The village runs off 200-amp boxes, with houses sharing power.
[00:58:01] BRANDON MAKAAWAAWA: Nobody can, like, have a hot stove going, you know, like one of those hot plates. Or like a blow dryer. They gotta watch all of that. It's like everybody's in the same house.
[00:58:10] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Cause you guys are off the grid. So what does it mean for running water?
[00:58:13] BRANDON MAKAAWAAWA: We're currently working on getting water from the mountains.
[00:58:16] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Brandon is Bumpy's nephew and one of the village leaders.
[00:58:19] BRANDON MAKAAWAAWA: We're not politicians, we're not lawyers. We're not like, you know, these highly schooled individuals, were just Hawaiians exercising our rights over here.
[00:58:29] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: Twenty year old Pilipo was born and raised here.
[00:58:32] PILIPO KUPAHU: Yeah. Going to school, I had to leave here, had to go school, had to get an education cuz that's the law, the required law, but I could have been homeschooled, but I'd rather go out, make friends.
[00:58:42] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: When people ask you, where do you live? What do you say?
[00:58:45] PILIPO KUPAHU: If people ask me where I live, I tell 'em I live in Pu'uhonua o Waimānalo, or we just call it Sovereignty.
[00:58:52] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: You call this place Sovereignty?
[00:58:53] PILIPO KUPAHU: Yeah.
[00:58:54] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: For some Native Hawaiians on the outside, sovereignty movements like bumpies are beyond symbolic. They have a real impact.
[00:59:00] KELOA WORTHINGTON: Overall. You need those type of people. If we don't shake up things Hawaiian language would've never been approved to be taught as a foreign language. We wouldn't have, uh, Native Hawaiian agencies to provide us with better health and wellness and nutrition education. So we fought for a lot to receive a lot.
[00:59:20] DENA TAKRURI - HOST, AJ+: What's your message to Americans in the United States who might not know much about Hawai‘i's history or what you're doing here?
[00:59:25] BUMPY KANAHELE: I dunno if I want to talk to the people of America. They like battling with each other right now. Right? And so all I can say is we've been there, you know? We've been there, America, and we still have a lot to settle with the United States. It's not done.
Why Native Americans are buying back land that was stolen from them - PBS NewsHour - Air Date 10-16-21
[00:59:43] KIRA KAY: On the foggy banks of the Klamath River in Northern California, members of the Yurok Tribe are casting their fishing nets. The salmon harvest is finally good again, after a worrying spring – almost 90 percent of the juvenile salmon died from a parasite caused by overly warm and poorly flowing water upstream.
Salmon fishing is central to the Yurok's identity and survival, as are the forests that cover almost half a million acres around them. But these assets became attractive to settlers.
[01:00:15] FRANKIE MYERS: As America grew, as we prospered, its appetite grew as well, its need for lumber, for building supplies.
[01:00:24] KIRA KAY: Frankie Myers, the tribes's Vice-Chair, says an 1887 law changed everything.
[01:00:30] FRANKIE MYERS: We had timber resources, we had salmon resources, but we also had the Allotment Act, which privatized tribal land. The vast majority of our land was immediately transferred to timber barons after the act was passed. 9,800 acres, the next day.
[01:00:50] KIRA KAY: In recent years, a growing movement has begun to form around the slogan "Land Back", to demand the return of appropriated land to tribal jurisdictions. There have been some successes: in December, Congress passed legislation that restored all 19,000 acres of the National Bison Range in Montana to ownership by the Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
But much of the appropriated land ended up in private hands. In the Yurok's case, it was eventually owned and logged by Green Diamond Resource Company. Thirteen years ago, the Yurok began negotiations to try to get it back
[01:01:25] FRANKIE MYERS: We tried to, at first, to have discussions about the wrongs that had happened, the atrocities that we went through, the theft of our land to see if there was a way that we could simply have the land transferred back to the tribe. That met with not a positive reception.
[01:01:46] KIRA KAY: Finally, in what Myers describes as "a nexus of doing good and making a profit", Green Diamond agreed to start selling plots of the forest back to the tribe. Over the past decade, the Yurok have bought back more than 70 thousand acres of their original territory.
Myers took me on a 6-hour dirt road trip through the regained forests, land on which he once trespassed, by cutting through gates.
[01:02:11] FRANKIE MYERS: I think one of the hugest benefits that we've seen to date is having our members being able to go to their traditional hunting grounds. I can openly raise my children now to come out here to harvest, to practice. They're not criminals, and I'm not a criminal for showing them.
[01:02:32] KIRA KAY: At the end of the road: the pristine and sacred Blue Creek.
[01:02:36] FRANKIE MYERS: Blue Creek has some of the densest diversity in the entire nation. We have four runs of salmonids. We have bear, bald eagles. We have a diversity of plant species. We have beautiful redwoods. This is a true jewel.
[01:02:55] KIRA KAY: To help The Yurok buy the land, an environmental group called Western Rivers Conservancy raised government grants and donations. But the tribe still had to take out a 21 million dollar loan. To pay it back, the tribe pushed to join California's carbon cap and trade market. Now, they get paid for each metric ton of carbon dioxide their forests convert to oxygen on behalf of companies emitting more than their cap allows.
[01:03:20] FRANKIE MYERS: This could be how we could meet our needs. We wouldn't have to log all of our land. We could implement our land management and we could also at the same time pay our debt that we had for it.
[01:03:33] KIRA KAY: But some environmental groups question both the efficacy and the ethics of carbon offset.
There are critics though.
[01:03:40] FRANKIE MYERS: Absolutely.
[01:03:41] KIRA KAY: It allows polluters to keep polluting. How do you feel about that?
[01:03:47] FRANKIE MYERS: I was a critic of the carbon offset program. I had questions about the morality of carbon offset. I questioned whether or not it was really going to make an impact. We think that the good outweighs the negative. And we work diligently to make sure that our partners are truly making a difference, that are truly making a change.
[01:04:11] KIRA KAY: They won't reveal how much they make, but the income is enough to pay down their loan, put money towards more land purchases, invest in local businesses and their school, and implement conservation efforts that meld current technology with Indigenous practices. This includes improving the habitat for the four types of salmon so crucial to Yurok life.
[01:04:32] FRANKIE MYERS: It's just like us. You know we have a better home. You have a better life. You have a better family. You feel better. We're doing that same thing for salmonids. But that starts with the data, we got to figure out what's here. We have a world-class fisheries design team. They rebuild the creek to create new habitat, to create new channels that will benefit our salmonid population.
[01:04:53] KIRA KAY: Meanwhile, the Yurok are sustainably logging their regained forests, thinning to allow more mature trees to flourish, and to reduce the risk of uncontained fire. The Yurok were encircled with forest fires this summer, along with much of the Pacific Northwest.
[01:05:08] FRANKIE MYERS: When we talk about fire, there is a conversation that happens with the assumption that fire is bad. That's not our view as Indigenous people. Fire is no worse for the environment than the river that runs through it, or the rain that falls. What we want on the ground is nice, slow, cool-burning fire, as opposed to high intensity, canopy-catastrophic fires.
[01:05:41] KIRA KAY: Today, Frankie Myers can take his son Sregon salmon fishing on the Klamath River, knowing that part of their ancestral land is back in their hands. The tribe is now exploring buying more parcels. But underpinning this success is the reminder that the land wasn't donated back, or even won through a legal battle.
Is there a risk, though, that you're disincentivizing the handful of organizations or people who may have wanted to just give it back? If there's money to be made, why do the right thing?
[01:06:12] FRANKIE MYERS: I think that's a good question. I think after 150 years, if we haven't been given the land back yet, they're not going to give it back to us. End of the day, this is still America. There are still profits that need to be made. We did have to have a lengthy internal discussion about whether or not it was okay for us to buy land that was stolen from us. My elders, the people who came before me, they gave us direction: "Get your land back". Whether it's right, doesn't matter.
[01:06:52] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with AJ+ giving an explainer on the importance of Land Back. The Breach looked at the fight for and benefits of Land Back in Canada. A People's Theology spoke with Mark Charles about the Doctrine of Discovery and racial conciliation. Above the Noise explained the history of national parks and the environmental benefits of native management of lands. Andrewism looked at settler colonialism and the long process of decolonization. And PBS Origins discussed native representation in media, and two of my favorite new shows, Reservation Dogs and Rutherford falls. And I also slipped in a clip from Reservation dogs in the middle of that clip as.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from AJ+ visiting the Sovereignty Movement on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and the PBS NewsHour reported on a story of natives purchasing the land that had previously been stolen from them. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to your new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And just a quick note, now that you're informed and angry, you should check out the activism segment of the show notes today. We've included a link to a resource from the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous led research and education center based in Toronto. The document "Land Back: A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper" lays out how Canada dispossesses Indigenous peoples from the land and what communities are doing to get it back, as well as tools and resources.
Obviously much of this information can be applied beyond Canada as well, but we've also linked to the NDN Collective Project landback.org, which offers educational programs, media, and more focusing on activism in the United States. Read up and listen to Indigenous communities and movement leaders to see how you can support these efforts.
And now, we'll hear from you.
Definition of power and organizing - Pat from Chicago
[01:08:59] VOICEMAIL: PAT FROM CHICAGO: Hey Jay and team, this is pat from Chicago. The 1500th episode was really good, providing some common frameworks and clear definitions that really benefit us all. It made me think about two topics that you mention regularly—power and also organizing. I'm wondering what your definitions of those words are, and also if we, as progressives, are using those words in different ways that could be limiting our ability to actually make change.
So, for example, what is your personal relationship to power, Jay! or anyone else on the team? I think that many people, including progressives, aren't clear on how we feel about power and when we lack clarity it benefits people like Mitch McConnell, who are very clear about wanting power.
I got this understanding when I was trained in community organizing as part of a grassroots power building organization, and it helped me get clear on my desire to build progressive power. So I'm wondering if you've ever attended an organizing training or been encouraged to be more power hungry yourself.
I find this model to be deeply challenging in a positive way, but I don't hear this idea of being power hungry or building power discussed explicitly in the media, and maybe that's why you aren't addressing it directly on your show that I'm aware of. But if you have attended this type of training, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this power building model, and if not, I'd encourage you or anyone else to find a group that does relational organizing and attend the training. Progressives, we know, need to build more power and get more organized, so this would be a good step for anyone looking to achieve those goals.
But thanks a lot and keep going towards show number 2000. Bye.
Final comments on why the left doesn't fight hard enough for political power
[01:10:57] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at 202-999-3991, or write me a message to [email protected].
Thanks today to Pat for that call that we just heard. First, my thoughts on the definition of power: uh, frankly, I hadn't been asked that question before. Hadn't thought of it in that way, which makes me think that people like Pat, who ask that type of question, actually themselves have a much more interesting answer than I would.
So I would love to hear more voices on that particular question, either from Pat or someone who's taken a training and has an interesting perspective. As for how progressives feel about power, I do have some thoughts on that. And these sort of became clear to me not that long ago. I heard or read somewhere, no idea where, but from a progressive commentator saying that part of the problem on the Left is that we are somewhat allergic to power.
We don't really want it at a sort of core level. And I think a lot of us, myself include, don't realize that that's the case. We feel like we're fighting for power, or it seems like we're, you know, active and trying to take control so that we can put our policies in place and whatnot, but like way deep down, it's not actually super appealing to us, at least to me. And I think I might be a little bit representative, or at least I felt very seen when I heard this commentator sort of describing how it turns out I felt. So, for instance, close to 20 years ago, when I first started getting interested in politics, but I was so green I didn't even know of the existence of professional organizers, nonprofit organizations, and then all the activists that sort of swirl around in that community and channel political energy through that community, I was asked, you know, before I knew about any of those people, I was asked, Okay, so you're interested in politics, what kind of job do you think you might want to do in politics? And my answer was, I don't know, I'll figure out how to become a congressional staffer or something like that. And my takeaway now, from that answer I gave then, was that whether I realized it consciously at the time or not, I was kind of repulsed by the idea of being the person with power myself, the actual elected person. That was not attractive to me, then or now. I thought, I wanna be helpful. I want to, you know, help move policy in a particular direction, but like having power? Ugh. No, thank you. Not for me. And then within the next couple of years from that, I had moved to DC, but then I fell in with the organizers and the activists whose job was to be on the outside of the halls of power shouting in. And I thought, I have found my people. This is where I'm much more comfortable. So even more comfortable than helping a person in power, like a congressional staffer would, I thought, No, I wanna be away from power, but yelling at the powerful people. So, yeah, I don't know. I don't think I'm perfectly representative of all progressives, but there may be something to that, and it may be a more widely shared sentiment on the Left than we generally think. And then when it comes to actual policy making, I think the same problem may pop up, but in a variety of ways. I think a big part of the problem is the story we tell ourselves about the steady march of progress, which allows us to sort of live in denial about those who are actually able and willing to put in the hard work for decades, with a view toward building enough power that they are able to take the country backwards. To us progress, seems on one hand so inevitable and, on the other hand, so obviously positive, that it's hard to believe that those who would strip bodily autonomy would actually be able to accomplish that, for instance, or that authoritarianism could be on the rise again and pose a genuine threat to democracy. Like, it's 2022. What are we even doing having this conversation, right? So people on the Left, and I love how at odds this description is from how the Right frames us right now, as the real authoritarians, we really just want public policies that are pretty boring and don't stem from wanting to control anyone in particular. We want a stable system of government, so we want protections for democracy and for that democracy to actually reflect the will of the majority. Terribly radical, I know. We want stable public discourse that doesn't threaten societal cohesion, you know? So like with an eye toward things like the media, social media, companies like that, trying to figure out how to have us not shake ourselves apart. Boring stuff. We want a stable climate and environment for the sake of future generations. Yawn. We think it'd be good if we collectively had the best possible understanding of history, you know? Not a single educational proposal, holiday renaming, or monument removal the Left pushes for has anything to do with changing history. It's about wanting more history, as in lots of history has been whitewashed or suppressed, and we just want more of it. I mean, what sounds more boring than more history? We think that everyone should be treated as equally human and worthy of equal rights. You know, I mean, I write a sentence like that and start to nod asleep because it's such an obvious and boring point to make. All that, and then we're just generally against oppression, economic oppression, military oppression, groups being singled out for oppression based on intrinsic personal traits. I mean, who isn't opposed to oppression? Why do we even have to say that this is a thing we are in favor of? So basically almost everything we're in favor of stems from that super boring list of really obvious stuff.
And since all those things are so obvious, we think, Eh, I'm sure it's getting done, someone must be on the job. Only the radicals on the Left looking to, you know, do radical things like overthrow capitalism, realize that there's work to be done, cuz that's not gonna happen automatically. And the same goes for those who hold really unpopular views, like that, uh, corporate profits are more important than environmental protection, or that someone else's religion should have say in what healthcare you and your doctor are allowed to decide is best for you. If you hold views like that, then you know it's never going to get done if you and all of your very unpopular friends don't get to work. Which brings us to how progressives need to feel about power, which is obviously that we need to want it. We need to work for it, fight for it and win it because the stability of our public discourse, our climate, and our democracy is in no way guaranteed and interest in oppressing many groups of people in a variety of ways is basically at the top of the priority list for those hardworking, havers of unpopular opinions. So, as absurd as it sounds, we actually have to put in work to make those boring things happen, just so we don't shake ourselves apart and cook the planet in the process.
And then, so, I wrote the notes, you know, bullet points of all those things I just said, and then, uh, completely randomly stumbled on a quote from Timothy Snyder that sums it all up much more succinctly than I did. And he just said, "We allow ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability. The sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy. We imbibed in the myth of an end of history. In doing so, we lowered our defenses, constrained our imagination, and opened to the way for precisely the kinds of regimes we told ourselves could never return." But seriously, Pat or anyone else with some personal insights on political organizing and the definition of power, please share your wisdom.
I rarely feel better about the potential for positive change than I do when listening to an on-the-ground organizer talk about the strategy required to pick effective targets for a pressure campaign that they have had and then demonstrate how that leads to success through, like, thoughtful organizing rather than random yelling.
As always keep the comments coming in at 202-999-3991, or by emailing me to [email protected]. That's going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Brian, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting, and thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at BestoftheLeft.com/Support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And if you'd like to continue the conversation, join us on our Best of the Left Discord community to discuss the show or the news or other podcasts or interesting articles or memes or videos or books or whatever it is you wanna talk about. Links are in the show notes to join. So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly. Thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.