Land Back: Settler FAQ

A lot of people are saying #LandBack. The idea seems to be settlers should give back the land their ancestors stole. I hear about it more from Canadians than Americans, but the idea is circulating in both countries.

I’m listening, politely I hope, but I’m not really sure about what I’m hearing. How far do they want to go? How much do they want to take? What happens to the people who live on the land now? How can we settlers all go back to Europe? We wouldn’t all fit now. How could we decide which European country has to take us when many of us are mixed? How can they say all White people are settlers when many of us have been here for 12 or 13 generations? How can they judge who is a settler and who is indigenous when some of us are mixed, in varying degrees? And come to that, how do we know #landback wouldn’t be just replacement of one elite with another? (And on, and on.)

These are all concerns I’ve heard from friends at just the slightest mention of #LandBack. It all sounds very alarmist, doesn’t it? Or in some cases, dismissive. It would be easy to go off halfcocked.

I’m thinking we need to do more listening first. There’s a core element of justice here. The land really was stolen. Let’s not lose sight of that. And you don’t have to be a historian to know that evolving ideas of justice always sound radical against a comfortable status quo. Our Revolutionary War ancestors heard voices condemning slavery and maybe sympathized a bit, but not enough to begin dismantling the institution of slavery.

I haven’t yet found the careful, thorough, and nuanced breakdown I’m looking for. I’m guessing that’s because the idea of #landback is still evolving among Indian communities. If we could really hear, I think we’d hear a variety of voices and opinions.

One of my early encounters with the idea of #LandBack was Nick Estes, “The Battle for the Black Hills,” High Country News, Jan. 1, 2021. (Took me awhile to go back and find the article for this post. I follow him on Twitter, so I was pretty sure I remembered correctly he was the author but it took me longer to figure out it had to have been in High County News.)

I already knew about the legal battle for the Black Hills, but I didn’t know about the NDN Collective and the LandBack Campaign. Seems like the perfect resource. I looked at their website. One of the four demands listed in their Manifesto is “All public lands back into Indigenous hands.”

Specific and predictable, albeit controversial, but then it goes further. Estes quotes Krystal Two Bulls, Head of the LandBack Campaign, as saying “Public land is the first manageable bite, then we’re coming for everything else.” Seriously? I’m back to thinking #LandBack is a moving target.

I’ve continued to listen. Recently I came across an issue of Briarpatch Magazine devoted to #LandBack–September/October 2020. (Yes, it was published before Nick Estes’ article, but I didn’t find it until a few days ago.)

In particular, there’s an interesting summary article: “What is Land Back? A Settler FAQ” (David Gray-Donald, Sept. 10, 2020). It’s easy, short, and provocative. It raises more questions than it answers. I like that. I’m going to start recommending it to my friends as a place to start. (And here’s a hint for you: there’s plenty more in that issue of Briarpatch–if you’re minded to explore a bit.)

%d bloggers like this: