What does “Land Back” mean today

Unpacking the activist movement that has not stopped gaining support since its inception

Land Back, two words that have gained traction at Indigenous-led rallies and have spread like wildfire among specific online activist communities, carry loaded meaning. Land Back is about so much more than land itself, although the phrase may lead non-Indigenous folk to assume differently.

Settler-colonialism is alive and well in Canada today. Despite stated commitments to “reconciliation” by political figures at both the provincial and federal level, Indigenous folk experience the effects of the dispossession of historically Indigenous lands regardless of efforts made at reconciliation by the Government of Canada each day.

Settler-colonialism, as defined by Alicia Cox, “is an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of Indigenous Peoples and cultures. Essentially hegemonic in scope, settler colonialism normalizes the continuous settler occupation, exploiting lands and resources to which Indigenous Peoples have genealogical relationships.”

Canada is, in fact, a settler-colonialist nation, and the continued dispossession of Indigenous lands from Indigenous Peoples is proof of the effects of settler-colonialism on Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Settler-colonialists do not merely exploit Indigenous Peoples and lands for economic and labour interests but work to displace and or erase Indigenous Peoples and cultures through settlements (such as the Province of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec etc.). Settler-colonialism provided and continues to provide the necessary preconditions for Canada’s existence, although unjust.

As living within a settler-colonialist system is Indigenous People’s reality in Canada, Land Back was imagined and put into action by Indigenous folk to avoid having to accept the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty and the advancement of continued resource extraction projects on unceded and unsurrendered Indigenous lands.

Land Back is about decision-making power. And, as Canada Council for the Arts chair, Jesse Wente once said, “it’s about self-determination for [Indigenous] Peoples that should include some access to the territories and resources in a more equitable fashion, and for [Indigenous Peoples] to have control over how that actually looks.”

Under Canada’s current provincial and federal governments, land governance systems exclude Indigenous Peoples from essential conversations and far-reaching decision-making tables where choices concerning Indigenous lands are made. Because of this, current colonial systems of land governance and unethical resource extraction practices have been cited as the root cause of many environmental crises worldwide.

Colonialists have always viewed nature as property to be owned or as resources for commodification. In contrast, many Indigenous Peoples speak of inherent rights accompanied by inherent responsibilities to the natural world. As the David Suzuki Foundation states on their webpage, “because Indigenous knowledge of lands and waters has evolved over thousands of years, their governance models might help to address the climate and biodiversity crises.”

Land Back is a no-brainer.

To aid in Land Back efforts, make sure to lift the burden of education off of the shoulders of Indigenous folk and work to educate your friends and family yourself. Look to start conversations within the community and participate in reparation initiatives. Hold political leaders accountable for unethical policies and demand the inclusion of Indigenous voices at decision-making tables always.