Land recognition is often an empty gesture, say some Indigenous people
But while land recounts are generally well-intentioned, some Indigenous scholars and leaders say the way they are sometimes performed by non-Indigenous people can seem hollow, performative and ultimately problematic.
âIt feels like a box-checking activity, as if people were doing it to report their policy,â says Len Necefer, indigenous studies researcher and founder and CEO of clothing and media company NativesOutdoors. “This is often how it can come out.”
Here’s why some are contesting land recognitions and what they say has to happen for true reparation and reconciliation to happen.
They can obscure the real story
Land recognition generally aims to recognize the indigenous history of the land on which one stands. But for Michael Lambert, many of these statements do not adequately reflect how indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their lands.
âIt’s like, ‘Oh god, thank you for taking such good care of the land. We promise to do a better job in the future,’ said Lambert, who is a registered citizen of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. . “It comes across as a very painful denial of what exactly happened.”
Certain land recognitions do not recognize either the traumas that accompanied the withdrawal of the Aboriginals from their lands, adds Lambert.
âThis process of transferring control from Indians to non-Indians was fraught with pitfalls, it was violent, it involved murder in some cases and extreme pain,â he says.
“The dispossession of land continues,” he adds. “It is not finished.”
They can oversimplify the problems to be solved
Necefer, a member of the Navajo Nation, recalls a recent experience he had on a conference call, in which each participant was asked to recognize the indigenous peoples whose homelands they called.
âI could see that people were just copying and pasting this stuff without really looking into the details,â Necefer told CNN.
In other cases, land acknowledgments could refer to âstolen landâ – a seemingly well-meaning phrase designed to describe how Aboriginal people were driven from their homes. But while some tribes might agree with this characterization, says Necefer, others see the situation differently: rather than the land belonging to the people, the people belong to the land.
“The elements of the landscape make up the blood, bones and flesh that animate our bodies. When we die, we return to the earth and we transform into the trees, rocks and water that once gave us life,” he writes. in Outside. “The phrase ‘on stolen land’ can unknowingly erase these cultural views.”
They can overload Indigenous people
As a result, the organization began to receive hundreds of inquiries from people interested in doing their own land surveys, says Apryl Deel-McKenzie, program manager for the Native Governance Center. The group saw this as an encouraging sign at first, but soon discovered that some non-native people expected them to do the work for them for free.
âWe’ve had a lot of inquiries from non-natives saying, ‘Hey, we want to do a land survey: can you read this? âIt’s important for people to understand that when you put this on Indigenous Peoples, it can put a lot of extra stress on Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous organizations. “
They can be considered just enough
Another problem Deel-McKenzie observed was that many people seemed too engrossed in the details of the wording of the statement, without giving enough thought to how they planned to help Indigenous communities move forward.
“It’s not a question of verbiage,” she said. “It’s not about your statement being ‘correct.’ It’s not about performance either. It’s about the action that needs to happen.”
Deel-McKenzie says land recognition should be seen as a first step, which should be followed by a call to action. This is a view shared by many Indigenous scholars and activists, although they may have different ideas about what constitutes sufficient action.
“If they want to acknowledge what happened in the transfer of these lands from Indian control to non-Indian control, there has to be proactive action by the institution for the injured group,” he said. he declares. “I think the Indians would say, ‘We want to get the land back.'”
The Native Governance Center views land repatriation as one of the many ways that institutions and individuals can go beyond mere recognition of land. Another action he is proposing is the voluntary property tax – regular payments that go directly to indigenous nations or organizations in the region. This could involve showing up at demonstrations led by indigenous peoples in the region. For universities, it could offer free tuition fees to Indigenous students, and for businesses, it could commit to hiring Indigenous people in leadership positions.
âThe bottom line in terms of recognizing Indigenous lands is that it’s something that educates Indigenous people here in this country in the United States,â Deel-McKenzie said.
Necefer says his organization NativesOutdoors has moved away from the red emojis in social media captions that function as land acknowledgments and instead is focusing its efforts on more ambitious ways to educate non-Indigenous audiences about the history of places where they live. But despite the flaws in some land surveys, he and others say they are not suggesting the practice be done away with altogether.
Land recognition can be a good way for people to learn about Indigenous history and can signal respect for tribal nations. On the contrary, those who criticize these statements stress that they should be seen as the starting point of a larger effort to understand the history and realities of indigenous peoples and to commit to change.
âIt’s an imperfect tool,â says Necefer. “We have to figure out what it is. If we can figure that out, I think the rest will come.”