If you live on colonized land, such as the United States, how much do you know about the Indigenous People who are its original custodians? Do you know which tribes and nations resided in your specific area before forced removal? Do you know where they are now? I would take a guess that maybe a lot of you don’t, and that’s something we should all work on to rectify.
Learning about the history of the U.S. is really important for understanding and recognizing the far-reaching impacts of colonization. By definition, this land grab is an invasion and forced establishment of control over Indigenous lifeways and territories. To justify this occupation and its subsequent settler-colonialism expansion, the U.S. government (galvanized by White colonists) used the concept of Manifest Destiny to commit acts of genocide against Indigenous People; forcing them away from their homelands and onto increasingly smaller reservations (see the video below).
Conceived by newspaper editor, John O’Sullivan in 1845, the term Manifest Destiny sought to justify colonization throughout the entire North American continent as being something divined by God (Christian). Spreading capitalism and expanding the reach of U.S. political and economic power through land ownership was seen as righteous; even if it meant trying to destroy entire diverse cultures. This conceited doctrine aimed to rationalize what White settler-colonialism did to Native Americans as a benevolent and altruistic “greater good” — not matter how horrific. The seeds of this idea were buried within the Declaration of Independence in 1776; ratifying that the United States was to treat and regard Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages”. If from its inception, a nation can believe itself to be morally, intellectually or culturally superior in order to increase its power; it can establish cultural destruction as an inevitable and legitimate part of “progress”.
Under various deceitful or harmful means, the U.S. government brokered hundreds of treaties to gain control of Native territory. Promised as supreme Law of the Land; if Indigenous nations gave up stewardship of certain areas, they would be designated other, smaller regions that would remain theirs; untouched by further land grabs. All of these treaties have been broken; none of them have been fully honoured or protected. As more and more land was stolen, traditional Indigenous life was becoming less and less secure (which was the point).
By removing access to hunting grounds, fishing waterways and agricultural practices (all things tied to the land), the U.S. government and settler-colonialism would continue to try and wipe out Native American people. The passing on of languages, stories, traditional knowledge, clothing, art, ceremony and song becomes increasingly difficult if you cannot access traditional ways of living. Colonization wanted to see future generations become progressively disconnected; eventually leaving people with no attachment to the rest of the land they wanted to steal.
Colonization and the desire to remove Indigenous people from their cultures and nation territories is still a threat today. Once again using the pretense of “progress”, Native land is under constant attack from oil pipelines, telescopes, sacred monument resource extraction, and poisoned drinking water, for example.
Land acknowledgements do not make any of this better; but if we live on colonized land, the absolute bare minimum we can do is find out who lived in our area first. They are an opportunity to educate ourselves about how colonization continues to try and disrupt the interconnectivity that Indigenous lifeways and cultures have with the land. Acknowledgements of this kind help us learn from the past so that we can support protecting the present and celebrate the future of Native communities. It’s important to do this right and with purposeful intent — anything else is just performative.
I would like to acknowledge that I am living on the traditional territories of the *Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Meškwahki (Fox), Peoria, Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi) and Myaamia Peoples. I recognize with gratitude and respect their past, present and future care-taking of this land and fully celebrate and support their resiliency, sovereignty and self-determination.
So … Whose land are you on? You can find out here, via a searchable interactive map created by Our Home on Native Land. Once you’ve found out; search for any organizations, grassroots campaigns, events, environmental issues or land back initiatives, etc. to support them in.
Who were the original inhabitants of the land where you live?
A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement – Native Governance Center
The “Indian Problem” – Smithsonian NMAI
For a better and far more comprehensive look at U.S. colonial history, check out An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
*Pronunciations: Kiikaapoi (KEE-kah-poy) | Meškwahki (meh-skw-AH-key) | Peoria (pea-OR-ee-ah) | Bodéwadmiakiwen (Bo-dé-wad-mi-ah-ki-wun) | Myaamia (me-YAH-me-ah).