Most, if not all, of them were inhabited by Indigenous people, and often created after their forced removal. In 1851, for instance, gold rush merchant James Savage led white settlers into Yosemite Valley — originally known as Ahwahnee Valley — where they murdered members of the Ahwahneechee Tribe. Many survivors were forced to live on reservations.
Although Natives have fought to reclaim their land since colonizers first made landfall, Land Back memes created by Dene artist Nigel Henri Robinson and Niitsitapi artist Arnell Tailfeathers emerged around 2019. The phrase became a hashtag and a rallying cry at protests.
On Indigenous People’s Day in 2020, NDN Collective launched the LANDBACK Campaign, which is fighting for the return of Mount Rushmore — carved into the Black Hills, sacred to the Lakota — and other public lands to the original Indigenous stewards.
Percentage of biodiversity Indigenous people protect, despite making up less than 5% of the population
Since Indigenous people know best how to take care of their land, returning it to them could help mitigate the impacts of climate change and preserve natural habitats.
Tribes like the Yurok and Chumash had practiced traditional burning of forests in present-day California for millennia before Spanish, and later, American, colonizers prohibited it. Now, the state is finally starting to recognize it as an effective method for managing devastating wildfires.
Land Back is also about dismantling the white supremacy that drove settlers to steal land from Indigenous people in the first place, and oppresses them to this day.
According to NDN Collective’s LANDBACK Manifesto, it’s about not only the liberation and sovereignty of Indigenous people, but the recognition that their struggle is linked to that of all oppressed peoples. It imagines a future that centers BIPOC collective liberation.
We never say ‘This belongs to us, this Earth, or this land.’ ... We never have an entitlement to it. We always were like, ‘Ok, we can share this.’ But there is respect that has to come with sharing, and we have not received that respect.
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“They still believe we’re some wild people that are coming to scalp you in the middle of the night,” Lonewolf says. “Anytime we speak up against anything that is wrong, that’s the number one narrative they like to push.”
In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that around half of Oklahoma is Indigenous land.
Later that month, the Esselen tribe bought back 1,200 acres of their land near Big Sur in California.
In September 2019, the United Methodist Church in Upper Sandusky, Ohio returned land that includes a mission church and cemetery to the Wyandotte Nation.
Learn about the history of the land you live on and the Indigenous people who’ve traditionally inhabited it.
Donate to land tax and land return efforts, like the Shuumi Land Tax, which supports the Sogorea Te’Land Trust’s efforts to create a land base for the Ohlone people of California’s East Bay, as well as ceremonial spaces, community centers, and urban gardens. You can learn more about this and similar programs here.