What does #LandBack mean to you?

Published Nov. 05, 2020
Updated Oct. 18, 2021

Native American Heritage Month book display In honor of November being Native American Heritage Month, a team of student workers in the ASU Library's Labriola National American Indian Data Center have curated two book displays, one at Hayden Library and one at Fletcher Library, around six different themes that contribute to Indigenous self-empowerment and self-determination.

The #LandBack book displays, created by ASU student Mia Johnson, in collaboration with Lourdes Pereira and Shaleigh Yazzie, invite the ASU community to explore written works that can lead to a better understanding of Indigenous perspectives and Indigenous resiliency. 

Part of a global movement demanding the return of all public lands to Indigenous people, #LandBack has gained notoriety on social media over the past year.

"The goals of the Land Back movement align with past Native activist movements, like the Red Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, #IdleNoMore in 2012, and #NoDAPL in 2016," write the students. "As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, the Labriola Center feels that it is improtant to remember who we are and why we fight. As Indigenous peoples, we need to center ourselves within our own communities in order to understand what #LandBack means to us. By doing so, we can come together to effectively advocate for our communities."

What does #LandBack mean to you?

#1  Education and History

Education is the biggest equalizer within Western society. It is the key to leading future generations into a progressive future. History is also a vital part of understanding how society is structured in today’s world, and it is important to know where we have been in order to choose the right path for the present. Unfortunately, Indigenous perspectives are typically left out of whitewashed educational systems, erasing the history of the Indigenous Peoples throughout the world. The histories of genocide, forced removal from ancestral territories, ethnic cleansing, historical trauma, and forced assimilation are not fully acknowledged by the dominant settler society. This perpetuates false narratives that there were no civilized societies before settlers came, and also omits that settlers raped and systematically murdered Indigenous Peoples and pillaged their land and resources. To this day, the United States school system does not educate its students on colonialism, leaving them ignorant of true Indigenous histories. For these reasons, books by and for Indigenous People are important to counteract settler narratives and to uplift Indigenous resiliency. 

#2  Law

There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the United States, each with their own sovereign powers and government to government relationship with states. The Indigenous Peoples who reside in the United States are not just an ethnicity, they are also a political entity.

Tribal nations in the United States each had their own sovereignty and forms of governance prior to colonization. Contemporary sovereignty means that tribal nations can self-govern how they see fit. The federal government is supposed to acknowledge tribal nations and their sovereignty to claim independent identity, determine citizenship, and be stewards of their lands. It is an ongoing fight for the federal government to uphold their legal promises to tribal nations, codified in treaties for many tribes. Since tribal nations are a political entity, knowledge of federal law and Indian law is crucial when fighting against the massive injustices that the Indigenous Peoples of North America have survived. 

#3  Literature

Indigenous Peoples pass down their stories and songs orally, often with the use of metaphor and rooted in deep knowledge of the natural world. This is how traditional knowledge has stayed within tribes from generation to generation. Indigenous literature, whether we are aware or not, is an extension of storytelling in contemporary times. Keeping these stories alive is not only important to culture, but also to remember why our people are strong and resilient. Humor is a key coping strategy for many Indigenous Peoples, and in many of the books selected here, readers will see examples of how Indigenous storytellers use humor to deflect pain, poke fun at stereotypes, and recognize our shared experiences. Stories set in contemporary times validate the humanity of Indigenous Peoples, and teach the realness of Indigineity to readers who may not have many other experiences with Indigenous Peoples.

#4  Language and Culture

It is impossible to learn Indigenous language without knowing the culture of the people. Traditional Indigenous languages teach Indigenous identity and offer a lens for viewing the land, food, patterns in nature, health, government, family, etc. Ancestral knowledge keeps Indigenous Peoples connected to their culture. Due to past Indigenous advocates, more schools offer Indigenous language classes. For instance, ASU offers Navajo and O’odham language classes. Learning the language is a way for Indigenous Peoples to revitalize their identity and deconstruct colonial structures, since English was forced onto the Indigenous Peoples of North America in order to assimilate them into colonial society. Keeping languages alive for future generations is a very important form of resilience. 

#5  Music and Graphic Novels

Music and dance have always played major roles within Indigenous cultures. Traditional songs embody lifeways and contain teachings, and singing has always been a vital part of Indigeneity. Traditional songs unify ancestral knowledge and aesthetic expressions of spiritual experiences. In contemporary times, Indigenous Peoples have inserted their musical expressions and cultures through modern music styles. For example, Indigenous youth often connect with subcultures that use music as a resilience strategy and protective factor. Modern music plays a huge part in expressing the experiences of Indigenous Peoples as they assert their identities, and this has been channelled through hip-hop, punk, metal, country, jazz, electronica, and waila.

Similarly, many Native illustrators and authors have created graphic novels. The artwork in graphic novels makes it easier to visualize decolonial realities since it re-imagines Indigeneity. Archetypes that can be found across tribal (and world) cultures, such as Trickster, Twins, Little People, Witch, Devil/Horned Monster are often woven into the contemporary settings of graphic novels, as well as other timeless stories that many Indigenous Peoples share, such as flood stories, death/rebirth, pandemics, and morning star stories.

#6  Gender and Sexuality

Indigenous Peoples have always understood the range of genders and the spectrum of sexuality. The Puritanism of America’s first settlers was incorporated into later waves of colonization, and through processes of social change in Indigenous societies adapting to settlers, rigid views on gender and sexuality became entrenched in many Indigenous cultures. Any expressions of gender norms or sexuality that conflicted with the patriarchal and misogynist attitudes of settler society eventually came to be prohibited or discouraged in many tribal communities. Settler colonialism has obscured our original teachings about gender and sexuality. Decolonizing tribal perspectives on gender and sexuality is part of the solution to addressing gender-based and sexual violence in our communities.