“Why we should transfer land back…”- excerpts only

Naomi Ishisaka

By Naomi Ishisaka , Seattle Times columnist, 17OCT22

“Land Back.”

“You may have seen this slogan recently on T-shirts or hashtags, but its roots are as old as the colonization and displacement of Native people in the U.S.

“In recent years, Washington has seen several new Native land reclamation efforts, ranging from ancestral land purchased by tribes themselves to land returned to tribes that was purchased by conservation groups or other entities.

“At their core, Land Back initiatives are intended to support the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous people. The reclamation efforts begin to remedy the injustice of government policies that stripped land, language and culture from Native people. They also recognize the urgent need to approach our environment and ecology in a more sustainable way that protects life for seven generations and beyond.

“Jaime Martin, the Snoqualmie Tribe’s executive director of governmental affairs, described the Land Back movement as “a whole spectrum of policies, actions and initiatives all working to restore and reclaim Native ancestral lands.”

“I thought about the Land Back movement’s echoes to the past as we worked on the latest installment of The Seattle Times’ A1 Revisited Project, which examined the newspaper’s lack of coverage of the occupation of Magnolia’s Fort Lawton by Native activists in the early 1970s .

“In one of the photos of the protests, activists picket with signs reading “This Land is Our Land,” and “We Want Our Land Back.”

“As we are seeing today, Native people then fought to preserve their communities and culture against efforts such as the federal “termination” and relocation policies that stripped Native people of their tribes and lands under the promise of assistance like job training.

Washington land reclamation efforts

“The Snoqualmie Tribe’s 2021 purchase of 12,000 acres of ancestral forest land near the Tolt River Watershed in the foothills of the Cascades in east King County is one example of a land reclamation effort. It comes after the tribe’s 2019 purchase of the Salish Lodge and land around Snoqualmie Falls.

“Like many other tribes, Martin said the Snoqualmie tribe, or sdukʷalbixʷ in Lushootseed, was promised land in the 1930s that the federal government never delivered.

“The Snoqualmie people have stewarded and been present on these lands since time immemorial, but over the past few centuries there have been a series of efforts to remove us from these lands,” she said. “Through legally owning the ancestral forest, we can now care for it and deepen our reciprocal relationship with our ancestral lands.” 

“Hanford McCloud, the governmental liaison for the Nisqually tribal council and former tribal council member, said their tribe also suffered from failed promises. In the early 1900s, two-thirds of the tiny slice of land the tribe retained through the 1854 Medicine Creek Treaty was condemned and given to the Army, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Last year, the tribe worked with the Nisqually Land Trust to purchase 2,200 acres of land along a tributary to the Nisqually river.

“McCloud said that given the urgency of protecting the watershed and all the people and life that are supported by it, “it is important that we do buy this land back. Not only buy it back, but rename it too.” But it’s still a “slap in the face” that Native people would have to buy back their lands in the first place, he said.

“The land is not just a place. “You need that land, that water and that connection to your culture,” he said. “What our people wanted was the connection to the land. That’s all we wanted. We didn’t want to be taken from the mouth of the river and the base of the mountain and put somewhere else in the valley that did not belong to the Nisqually. And that’s what they wanted to do to us.”

“He said of the now-ubiquitous land acknowledgments, “for me, a land acknowledgment is land back: You give us land, and we’ll acknowledge the fact that you’re on our land. … You stole the land, you manipulated the land. And now we’re here to help fix that…”

The Seattle Times