Our pursuit of outdoor joy is remiss without the acknowledgement of the occupation of unceded Indigenous land. We are students and journalists working, writing, and living on the land of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the Six Nations — Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. However, acknowledgement is not enough. In order to respect Indigenous pasts, assert Indigenous presence, and honor Indigenous futures, we cannot simply work on the land, but we must learn with and from its original and continuing Indigenous stewards. In times of ever-changing climates, it is essential to center the land resurgence and decolonization efforts of Indigenous communities. In the words of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “We cannot carry out the kind of decolonization our ancestors set in motion if we don’t create a generation of land based, community based intellectuals and cultural producers who are accountable to our nations and whose life work is concerned with the regeneration of these systems.”
When we are outdoors, who do we pay attention to? Who are the dominant faces we see, whether it’s when we’re hiking, collecting maple syrup, or foraging for wild food? These recreations, hobbies, and careers exist because of the appropriation of Indigenous knowledge and theft of Indigenous land. In order to acknowledge Indigenous and land-based knowledge, we must first ask ourselves what is our relationship and responsibility to Indigenous people and land. These relationships are shaped and informed by white settler colonialism. Each of our varying relationships to settler colonialism and white supremacy determines our responsibilities to the land. It systematically warps and silences Indigenous voices and movements — if we speak on Indigenous behalf, we are just as complicit. We are not well-equipped as students, nor settlers living on Indigenous land, to share and educate fully the complexity and nuances of Indigenous futurity, activism, and sovereignty. Our responsibility as journalists necessitates that we ask and encourage our readers to examine how they can transform the outdoors into a space for the visibility of Indigenous people and their voices. True outdoor joy cannot come to fruition without the efforts of decolonization and land reclamation.
It would be negligent and harmful to not further recognize the unseen labor that occurred for this acknowledgement to exist — thank you to the Native American and Indigenous Studies program at Syracuse University, specifically Professor Danika Medak-Saltzman, graduate students Ionah M. Elaine Scully and Danielle Sharee Smith, and our colleague Nathan Abrams for extending their knowledge, developing the language for this land acknowledgement, and for sharing their resources. Here are a few Indigenous organizations who are working continuously to center Indigenous futures:
- Why write a land acknowledgement? What is appropriate and what is not? Who is affected most by our land acknowledgement? The Native Governance Center wrote a comprehensive list and guide to writing a land acknowledgement. This guide was born out of an event with Indigenous panelists including, Dr. Kate Beane (Flandreau Santee Dakota and Muskogee Creek), Mary Lyons (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe), Rose Whipple (Isanti Dakota and Ho-Chunk), Rhiana Yazzie (Diné), and Cantemaza (Neil) McKay (Spirit Lake Dakota).
- Canadian non-profit Native Land Digital provides a comprehensive guide on what a land acknowledgement means and looks like. They further offer advice on how to consult the nation for which you are acknowledging, an important step in recognizing one’s relationship to the land.
- Where can I find whose land I am settled on? Native Land Digital created an interactive map that informs users where and whose land exists across North and South America and Australia. And while this map spans a wide variety of Nations and Indigenous peoples, they note it is a work in progress. If you are looking to get in touch with a specific community, they recommend contacting them directly.
- The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is made up of Six Nations including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. Their official website provides information on the Confederacy’s founding, land rights and treaties, culture and history, and departments. It further breaks down the differences and distinct histories between each nation.
- The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council developed four distinct founding principles of negotiation for the Haudenosaunee Development Institute in order to protect Haudenosaunee land. These four areas include: land is priority, compensation for loss of use, compensation for future loss of use, and non-extinguishment of rights to land.
Activism and Movements
- Resilient Indigenous Action Collective is an Onondaga nation-based organization dedicated to decolonization, Indigenization, resurgence, land reclamation, sovereignty, and racial and gender justice. The Indigenous-led and Indigenous-only collective works to uphold Indigenous sovereignty on Onondaga, other Haudenosaunee, and all Indigenous lands. Visit the Resilient Indigenous Action Collective Facebook page and Instagram account.
- The Land Back Movement is an ongoing intergenerational effort to return land back to the rightful stewards. This resource, compiled by Indigenous-led organization NDN, provides information on the LANDBACK Campaign and their manifesto, places to donate, and a short film documenting the resistance at Mount Rushmore and protection of the Black Hills in July 2020.
- The Red Deal is a movement and a platform created by The Red Nation – a coalition of Native and non-Native activists, educators, and community organizers – that builds on and pushes forward the ideas in the Green New Deal toward climate justice, grassroots reform, and revolution.
- Idle No More is a grassroots movement in Canada founded by three First Nations women – Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, and Nina Wilson – and one non-Native ally, Sheelah McLean. The movement has led a number of political actions worldwide empowering Indigenous communities to stand up for their lands, rights, cultures, and sovereignty.
- The American Indian Community House is a not-for-profit organization based in New York City that promotes the well-being and visibility of the American Indian community in urban settings, in order to cultivate awareness, understanding, and respect for Native Americans.
Indigenous and BIPOC Outdoor Instagram Accounts
- Indigenous Women Hike (@indigenouswomenhike), founded by Jolie Varela, gathers a community of Native women together to explore their heritage and relearn their ancestral landscape through hiking. Valera is from Payahuunadü, Paiute for "land of the flowing water", which is located in the Owens Valley on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.
- Outdoor Afro (@outdoorafro) is a network connecting Black people and leadership in nature. With more than 80 leaders in 42 cities around the country, Outdoor Afro works toward inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation.
- Native Women’s Wilderness (@nativewomenswilderness) is a nonprofit organization with the purpose of inspiring and raising the voices of Native Women in the outdoors. Native Women’s Wilderness was created to bring Native women together to share stories, support and learn from each other, and provide education of their Ancestral Lands and its people.
Indian Country Today Media Network
- Indian Country Today is an independent, daily digital news platform that covers the Indigenous world, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and First Nations. The journalism produced by Indian Country Today is free and available to everyone. Support the stories of Indigenous people by donating to Indian Country Today.