This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, We Don’t Need Celebration. We Need Our Land Back.

We’re fighting to return public lands to Indigenous people and undo the structures that allowed them to be taken in the first place. Join us.

Krystal Two Bulls and Nick Tilsen

(Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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.

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