Some of that has come from rallies, like those led by Indigenous 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.
Crosscut spoke with local Native activists and scholars to learn more about the concepts and evolution of reclamation. We asked them to share what it means in their own lives and to reflect on what these movements look like today, as more and more non-Native people are eager to lend their support.
How do you define “reclamation” for yourself? What does the word bring up for you?
Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht/Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), chair of University of the Washington’s wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ: It’s a large movement that's taking place right now, and an important one, in looking at land reclamation — especially for tribes who have lost their land bases or their federal recognition in some way. And so many of the tribes that have been moving forward with federal recognition are also moving forward with restoring their connection to their ancestral homelands, reclaiming land that is significant to their cultures and to their identities.
It really fits in with the movement toward sovereignty over your community and also over your foods, and the ability to harvest on those lands. The relationship is not just with those plants and animals that are providing themselves to you as a food source, but also to those landscapes. As you’re carrying out traditional harvesting practices, you’re also reengaging with the land in a very spiritual way.