Indigenous rights are central to the fight against white supremacy and, of course, capitalism. The Land Back movement aims to give more power and autonomy to Indigenous communities, and it promotes self-determination for Native Americans across what is now considered the United States.
Why We Must Return All Indigenous Lands
To borrow a summary from 4Rs Youth Movement’s website:
“What does “Land Back” mean? While these words seem straight forward, this phrase encompasses a complicated and intergenerational web of ideas and movements. When I hear Indigenous youth and land protectors chant “Land Back!” at a rally, I know it can mean the literal restoration of land ownership. When grandmothers and knowledge keepers say it, I tend to think it means more the stewardship and protection of mother earth. When Indigenous political leaders say it, it often means comprehensive land claims and self-governing agreements. No matter what meaning is attached, we as Indigenous nations have an urge to reconnect with our land in meaningful ways.”
The term “Land Back” can encompass many meanings, as noted above. Like the phrase “Defund The Police,” it can mean different things to different people. For our purposes here, we’ll refer to one particular meaning, which is giving the Indigenous people sovereignty over the lands that they used to have as stipulated under the original treaties, as well as giving them more control and autonomy over the land that they encompass. This is generally what’s referred to, if sometimes tentatively, with this phrase.
Hazardous waste sites, oil pipelines, and other forms of pollution threaten the last remnants of recognized Indigenous land with contamination and degradation. Thus, many Indigenous people are calling for both better land and biodiversity protection as well as the transfer of power over the land back to Indigenous caretakers.Interdependence
To take an explanation from Interdependence:
“In the territory currently known as the United States, much of the land belongs to Indigenous people and has been declared so by hundreds of treaties over the years. Since then, the United States government has violated every single treaty it has signed with Indigenous people. Indigenous communities have been pushed to reservations on a small fraction of land and denied access and power over their ancestral territories. In addition, the effects of environmental racism have and continue to negatively impact Indigenous communities on reservations. As Nick Tilsen points out, hazardous waste sites, oil pipelines, and other forms of pollution threaten the last remnants of recognized Indigenous land with contamination and degradation. Thus, many Indigenous people are calling for both better land and biodiversity protection as well as the transfer of power over the land back to Indigenous caretakers.”
It is clear that the Land Back movement calls for land restitution, which is in many ways the heart of the struggle. Land restitution, or restoring land rights, means undoing the social, physical, and environmental damage caused by centuries of brutal colonialism. Much like the struggle for reparations for many BIPOC communities, this movement involves a complex but manageable process of taking the difficult steps necessary to repair the damage done to Indigenous communities. This makes the Land Back movement a type of reparations movement as well, though it is more widely ranging than most similar movements. Reparations are technically not the main objective in and of themselves.
Similar in some ways, the “Black Belt Thesis” from the early days of CPUSA sought to unify wide swathes of the American South by giving enslaved people self-determination (see “Strategy for a Black Agenda” by Henry Winston). This was presented in the form of the opportunity to secede and become its own Black Belt Republic. It was envisioned as an autonomous region of the theoretical socialist republic that would take the place of the U.S. It should be made clear that the Land Back movement is not a secessionist movement. While it may come in many incarnations, there doesn’t seem to be any organization or group that wishes the phrase to indicate secession. Whether such a movement or concept could lead to a secessionist movement down the line, however, is hard to predict. Many people mistakenly think that Land Back refers to Indigenous political entities creating their own state or country on the continent, or deporting millions of Americans to their ancestral homes in Europe. There is no evidence to support these claims. Regardless, Land Back in all its forms is a worthwhile goal for any organization concerned about social justice, Indigenous rights, and self-determination.
The concept of Land Back clearly leaves some things up to interpretation, but the overall message is rather stable across Indigenous rights organizations and advocacy groups. This means land restitution, autonomy, reparations, restoring treaty rights, and environmental protection. Some advocacy groups and social justice organizations may amend the concept to include or emphasize other factors. All of these are worthwhile goals for any group concerned with social justice, especially the Communist Party USA.
Why Land Back Is Worth Fighting For
Land Back is worth fighting for, and we here in the Virginia district of the CPUSA support it. One reason why we support it is that it gives some of the most oppressed members of the proletariat more power and autonomy. Additionally, as Indigenous groups, Native Americans are entitled to exercise their treaty rights. The communist movement has always emphasized the rights of ethnic minorities and other Indigenous groups. In the Soviet Union, many ethnic minorities, particularly in the east of Russia and in Central Asia, had certain land and cultural rights recognized by the Soviet government. As another notable example, in modern-day China, ethnic minorities are given autonomy and rights that they can exercise in their own lands.
It is clear that the Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and their issues are more urgent than ever which, in turn, makes it urgent for us as well.The Virginia District of CPUSA
The 21st century has seen an encroachment on Indigenous sovereignty in an unprecedented fashion. This has been ongoing since white Europeans first appeared on the continent. In 2022, the issue of Indigenous rights and sovereignty are now more significant than ever. With the rise of an Indigenous movement that challenges colonialism and imperialism not just outside the U.S, but inside its borders, things have evolved to a new stage in this struggle. The expansion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline into Indigenous lands and predominantly Black communities in North Carolina is one such example. The Line 3 oil pipeline in Minnesota is another example. Meanwhile, the Lake Powell pipeline in Utah represents another threat to Indigenous land claims.
Virginia is an equally crucial location when it comes to Indigenous sovereignty and rights. With the election of Glenn Youngkin to the governorship in the state, and his recent nomination of former Trump EPA leader Andrew Wheeler as Virginia’s new Secretary of Natural Resources, things will become increasingly difficult for local tribes. The recent election may prove especially crucial given the recent order regarding tribal land permits in the state, which the state government can still bypass. There are seven federally recognized Native American tribes in Virginia, which are the Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and Monacan tribes. These communities represent allies in our struggle against capitalism, in addition to the countless Indigenous groups that aren’t properly recognized. Most importantly, we have a moral obligation to help them through whatever means possible. To give an example of an issue to tackle, many Monacan tribal members are in a fight over plans to build a water pumping station on what may be their ancestral capital.
As said before, Native Americans are not only members of the proletariat, but are ethnic minorities as well. Their particular history means that they have what many describe as special rights when it comes to the stewardship of the land in their reservations. It should be noted that only two of the seven tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia have retained their reservations. How we apply the concept of Land Back to those tribes without reservations is a question that still needs to be answered.
Land Back is a Global, Intersectional Struggle
The 21st century has seen a marked increase of land and resource disputes regarding Indigenous communities. In Hawaii, for example, many Native Hawaiians and activists are protesting and demonstrating against the U.S. Navy’s contamination of the water system in the Oahu area due to the Red Hill fuel tanks. Another pressing issue is the Covid-19 pandemic that has seriously affected Native American communities across the U.S. compared to other demographics. As the article cited says:
“Like other marginalized communities, Native Americans were disproportionately affected by Covid-19, dying from the virus at twice the rate of white Americans. Health infrastructure in Native American communities, provided through the Indian Health Service, often is substandard, with hospitals and other medical centers generally under-resourced and understaffed…”
Native Americans are also more likely to be uninsured, according to data from the Office of Minority Health in the US Department of Health and Human Services. This adds another barrier to tackling complicated health challenges such as the current pandemic. Another quote from the previous article reads, “A tribal hospital system might only have six beds in their ICU, and so you start to run out of space a lot more rapidly than you do in a mainstream system.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic comes even more challenges for Indigenous communities. More research must be done on how Indigenous peoples in Virginia have been affected by the pandemic as it seems that most of the focus is on the communities in the Midwest. But it is clear that the Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and their issues are more urgent than ever which, in turn, makes it urgent for us as well.