Recently, the phrase Land Back has been popularized among Indigenous activists and land protectors. But what do we mean?
Disclaimer - I speak from my own perspective; do not take my words and assume that that's how all Indigenous peoples feel. We all come from various nations, cultures and experiences - pan-indigenaity does not exist.
Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America) have always had a relation to the land. When we say "All my Relations", that includes the lands, the waters, the four legged, the swimmers and the flyers. We have never nor do we now have ownership over the land. We are a people who believe in living in balance with other living and growing things. We belong to the land as much as it belongs to us.
But settlers didn't understand this balance. They still don't. They see the land as a dead thing they can claim.
When we say Land Back, we are using the language the settlers understand; the language of capitalism and ownership. But what we really mean is we want that sacred balance back. We want our lands and waters and forests to be protected. We want to take what we need, give thanks and not deplete resources unnecessarily. We want future generations to experience the beauty of nature that we and our ancestors have experienced.
To me, Land Back, is not synonymous with "Going Back"; the expectation isn't to wave a giant Land Back wand and settlers would be gone. It is more complicated. I realize that not every settler is on this land due to neutral circumstances, there is too much intertwined colonial history for that. It is more about our relationship and respect for the land. As long as capitalism is at the center of our society, there will always be people looking to take advantage of the land and what it has to offer us.
That's why what's happening on Wet'suwet'en land is so important. Their peoples are fighting against the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the government continues to perpetuate colonial genocide in order to gain profit. They are blatantly ignoring the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples and the United Nations' Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which B.C. passed into legislation in November 2019. Under UNDRIP and Bill 41, the government has the legal authority to authorize a member of cabinet to “negotiate and enter into an agreement with an Indigenous governing body” relating to either joint decision-making or to gaining “the consent of the Indigenous governing body before the exercise of a statutory power of decision.” But instead of meeting with hereditary chiefs, the government continues to use the RCMP once again as the vessel for their violent assimilation tactics.
Land Back is about respecting Indigenous Sovereignty and Indigenous ways of being. It's not pushing the settler colonial agenda on Indigenous peoples. It's not about telling Indigenous people what they should do/want, but rather listening to them when they speak and fight for the land and waters.
If you are looking for a way to support the Indigenous peoples of Wet'suwet'en, you can donate here:
Or buy some merch that directly supports Wer'suwet'en.