What is Land Back?
"Land back", also referred to as land return, is a movement in support of returning colonized lands to the Indigenous groups native to those lands.
Why is it important?
The lands that make up what is currently known as the United States of America and Canada have been inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. These groups were driven off of their lands by Europeans settlers, forced onto reservations or into nomadic status, with no access to their traditional homelands.
The return of these lands to the indigenous tribes is a step towards justice and reparations. In addition, the ability of indigenous peoples to manage their own lands in accordance with their traditions has proved to have positive environmental effects for local ecosystems and the fight against climate change.
Who are the local indigenous groups/land trusts in the area?
Amah Mutsun Land Trust (South Bay/Northern Monterey Bay) - https://www.amahmutsunlandtrust.org
Sogorea Te' Land Trust (Oakland/East Bay) - https://sogoreate-landtrust.org
Muwekma Ohlone Preservation Foundation (SF Bay Area) - https://muwekmafoundation.org/
Muwekma Ohlone Tribe Website - http://www.muwekma.org/
Tamien Nation (Santa Clara Valley): https://www.tamien.org/tribal-territories
How does Land Back relate to environmentalism?
In many Indigenous cultures, it is taught that the relationship between people and the land is one of reciprocity: the land gives people resources they need to survive and flourish; in return, people care for the land and treat it with gratitude and respect, not taking more than what they need.
It is understood that humans are not separate from or above nature: like everything else on Earth, we are part of the ecosystems we inhabit, and our actions have an effect on that ecosystem. This means not only must humans be mindful to not have a negative impact on their surroundings, but that human stewardship and interaction with the ecosystem - including harvesting and cultivation of plants and animals for food and other resources - can help the ecosystem thrive.
There is significant evidence that the Indigenous ideas of land stewardship can help mitigate the effects of climate change, an increasingly pressing environmental concern.
Where has it been successful?
Conservation and Stewardship
Often, Western environmentalist movements focus on conservation (for instance, by the creation of reserves and parks) to preserve and protect ecosystems. However, the creation of these protected areas often includes blocking Indigenous people of the region from access to their traditional lands, and practice of their lifeways on those lands.
The national parks are monuments to the beauty of the natural world, but they were created in the aftermath of violence, as the tribes who had inhabited those lands were removed, often by force.
Many Indigenous activists advocate for the return of protected lands like national parks to Indigenous stewardship, both as reparations for past harms and so that the Native peoples of those lands might return to them and manage them according to their long-standing traditions.
What Can You Do?
Learn about the land you reside on, and the peoples native to it
Volunteer - local land trusts often have a way to sign up for volunteer days
Pay shuumi (land tax), or otherwise give support to local land trusts & indigenous orgs
Show up - support actions and movements by your local tribes
Current events example: Protect Juristac! https://www.protectjuristac.org/
The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band is campaigning to oppose the Sargent Quarry Project, a proposed open-pit sand and gravel mine that would be created in Juristac - lands near Gilroy that are sacred to the Amah Mutsun. The mine would have profoundly negative cultural and ecological effects on the area. As of April 2023 this is an active campaign.
The City of Mountain View is holding a vote on a resolution to oppose this project at their city council meeting on Tuesday, April 25th. You can show support by coming to the city council meeting to stand in solidarity with the Amah Mutsun.
Resources to Learn More