Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday that has taken the place of Columbus Day in some parts of the United States as a response to the bloodshed that began when colonizers landed on our soil in 1492. On July 3, we, alongside 19 other Land Defenders, were arrested at Mount Rushmore as we protested President Trump’s arrival on the sacred land for a campaign event without the free, prior and informed consent that is guaranteed in the 1851 & 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties and through the UN. Now, we’re facing a slew of charges for defending our own land. But our fight is just beginning.
In this time of mass mobilization for racial and social justice, Indigenous voices must be at the table of policy conversations — and in order to work towards repairing the harm that has been done to us for centuries, we need people fighting for change everywhere to center our demand for LANDBACK: a global movement demanding the return of all public lands to Indigenous people, and to undo the many structures and systems that allowed them to be taken in the first place. The United States’ deeply entrenched systems of corporatism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, patriarchy and white supremacy all began with the taking of Indigenous lands. We have to go back to the starting point to undo the inequities and violence we’re dealing with now — or we will just continue perpetuating colonization forever, no matter how hard we fight.
While “LANDBACK” has been a rallying cry among Indigenous people for generations, it has only recently started to catch attention outside of our own communities. Since this is a new idea for many, we want to be clear: when Indigenous organizers say “LANDBACK,” we’re not just saying all public lands need to return to Indigenous stewardship. We’re talking about reclaiming our identities and relationship with the land.
This will take defunding the mechanisms that enforce white supremacy — police, military, border patrol and ICE — and continue terrorizing our communities here and abroad; dismantling white supremacy and the institutions that continue centering voices willing to destroy everything around us; returning all public lands back to Indigenous hands and for us to reclaim rightful stewardship; and moving into a new era of Indigenous consent when decisions are made that impact Indigenous lives and land.
LANDBACK means dismantling the systems that made stealing our land possible in the first place. We mean reclaiming the culture, language, traditions, health, ceremony, language, and knowledge of the land that was stolen from us when we were forcefully removed and dwindled down to a fraction of our people by the violent forces of this so-called nation.
Right now, we’re in a moment of upheaval across the country. People everywhere are rising up against police violence toward our Black relatives, scrambling to address the racism that has made up the foundation of organizations of all kinds for years. We stand proudly with the Movement for Black Lives, as we mutually recognize that our liberation is bound up in each others’ struggles.
We’re also facing a growing climate emergency, as wildfires, hurricanes, unseasonably early snowstorms, and earthquakes are threatening the livelihoods of people around the world — even as the U.S. government continues working in cahoots with oil companies to install pipelines through sacred land. Indigenous people and our lands have been used to further extractive relationships with the Earth for years, which is why we are on the frontline of the environmental justice and climate movements. We’ve been exploited and intentionally left out of decision-making processes. Now, we are taking our power back.
As we take action, we’re also calling for a reckoning with the erasure of our history. We need our children to be provided with a culturally competent education that uplifts our values and provides the honest story that this nation was built by attempted genocide, on top of stolen land by a stolen people. We don’t want you to freeze and reflect quietly. We want you to feel our fight in your own bones. We want the truth of the United States’ history to run hot through your own blood, so you never lose sight of why decolonization is the only answer to our society’s many sicknesses.
At the end of the day, the LANDBACK movement is about changing the power structures that created the possibility of our genocide and oppression in the first place. It’s a notion that has lived in Indigenous hearts and minds for generations. It’s a fight that transcends age, race, borders, ability and gender. It’s the only way that we will undo the forces that keep all of us down. To create a world where we can all truly live freely and without fear, we must all decolonize our minds, lives and movements — starting today.
Krystal Two Bulls is the NDN Collective LANDBACK Campaign Director. Nick Tilsen is the NDN Collective President and CEO.