In the past year alone, the movement led by Native communities to reclaim lands and spaces — sometimes called the “Land Back” movement — saw huge gains in mainstream momentum. Some of that has come from rallies, like those led by Indigneous activists fighting to close Mount Rushmore. Other conversations about Native lands have been sparked by major court decisions, like the Supreme Court's landmark decision in the McGirt case in which it ruled that a large portion of Oklahoma is still Native land. And with U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland now the country’s first Native secretary of the interior, many Land Back advocates are finding renewed hope in their aspirations. But make no mistake: The concept of Indigenous reclamation — land and otherwise — isn’t new. The movement encapsulates everything from protecting treaty rights to reviving cultural practices that have been historically threatened to securing farmland, all of which Native nations have fought to protect since settlers first arrived.
Land Back Movement
In a May 2021 article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Return the National Parks to the Tribes,” Native American author and activist David Treuer details the genocidal violence through which Native American tribes were expelled from some of the US’s earliest and most famous national parks. He begins with the story of the Mariposa Battalion, a white militia composed largely of miners who came upon the Yosemite Valley in 1851 during an expedition to hunt and kill members of California’s Miwok tribes. The militia set fire to Miwok wigwams and shot people as they fled, ultimately driving the tribes from Yosemite. Thirty-nine years later, Yosemite became the first national park, the crown jewel in what would become a continent-spanning archipelago of parks.
In Washington state, nestled in a habitat corridor linking the Cascades to the Rockies, in the heart of the Tunk Creek Valley, there’s a conservation story that is closely tied to the peoples connected to this land—and continues to breathe with the transfer of Indigenous lands back to the original stewards. It takes place on a large ranch, owned by the Figlenski family for over four generations, who have their own stories connected to the valley. As generations of the Figlenski family began to pass away, Ernie Figlenski knew he’d only let go of the property under the conditions it would still be intact as well as healthily managed—unlike some nearby properties that have been broken apart and transferred without preservation in mind.
This is the latest attempt by New York State to oppress the Onöndawá’ga (Seneca) People. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul has found a way to deliver an economic blow to the Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI); by freezing their banking transactions in a time during gross inflation and need for medicines and assistance. Governor Hochul’s husband is employed as general counsel for Delaware North Corporation (DNC); ergo: Hochul household income is partially provided by Delaware North Corporation, the very same company that built three racetrack casinos in violation of the original 2002 exclusivity gaming agreement between SNI and NYS. It was this violation, in which New York State was a guilty party and business partner of DNC, that led to the 2013 amended compact… the core of the ongoing legal dispute between NYS and SNI.
The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a federally recognized Tribe headquartered in King County, has acquired roughly 12,000 acres of its ancestral forestlands in the Tolt River Watershed. The forest has significant cultural, historic, environmental, and economic value to the Tribe and is near the lands originally promised to the Tribe as its reservation by the federal government in the 1930s – a promise the United States did not keep. The lands acquired by the Tribe were managed for industrial timber purposes for over a century. By acquiring these lands, the Tribe is concluding a decades-long effort to reclaim ownership in an area that is enormously important to the Tribe.
Los Angeles - The descendants of Native American tribes on the Northern California coast are reclaiming a bit of their heritage that includes ancient redwoods that have stood since their ancestors walked the land. Save the Redwoods League planned to announce Tuesday that it is transferring more than 500 acres (202 hectares) on the Lost Coast to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. The group of 10 tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years will be responsible for protecting the land dubbed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, or “Fish Run Place,” in the Sinkyone language. Priscilla Hunter, chairwoman of the Sinkyone Council, said it’s fitting they will be caretakers of the land where her people were removed or forced to flee before the forest was largely stripped for timber.