What Is Landback?
“Landback!” Has become a common chant proliferated throughout Indigenous rights rallies and climate protests. We’ve all heard it in recent years but a term so broad is easily misunderstood and develops many meanings. In light of recent news regarding the murdered Indigenous children found at Tk'emlúps Residential School, many Canadians want to support the community in its reclamation of culture but are unsure how. Indigenous people have been advocating for years for landback as one of their primary goals, so what exactly does it mean and what would it mean for Canada (herein Turtle island)?
To ensure a variety of perspectives, numerous Indigenous activists and citizens served as collaborators for this piece. The Altruist stands for equality and human rights, providing a platform to uplift voices from those with hands-on personal experience.
The phrase ‘landback’ is of a deeper meaning than just land area. According to the official organization landback, landback is defined as, "...the reclamation of everything stolen from the original Peoples; Land, Language, Ceremony, Medicines, Kinship." In many Indigenous cultures, the land is their connection to the world around them and is deeply intertwined with family, home, and basic needs. During the settlement of European colonizers in North America, it became clear that to assimilate and genocide Indigenous peoples severing their connections with the land would be a devastating blow and thus policies were implemented to limit Indigenous people. The Eurocentric way of viewing land as something that can be owned and controlled is devastating to Indigenous cultures. Systems such as forced relocation, patriarchal governmental structures, residential schools, and resource overconsumption have all played a significant role in the colonial decision to break the bonds between Indigenous peoples and their ways of life.
Past, Present, and Future of The Movement
Colonialism is an uncomfortable topic for most people and as human beings we actively avoid difficult discussions, often leading to denial or impression of historical events. Although some traditional lands were signed away legally through treaties, areas such as Turtle Island are unceded to the Canadian government. British Columbia, the Maritimes, Ontario, and Quebec have cities and metropolitan areas built over unceded territory of Indigenous peoples. Even land that was signed away via treaties was still stolen in some aspects, given that many treaties were signed under the pretense of sharing the land, not selling it. It is legally clear in the Canadian constitution that Indigenous land rights have complete legitimacy, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples backs up all Indigenous claims to their territories. However, the Canadian government continues to fight Indigenous land defenders in court.
Unceded Wet'suwet'en territory in British Columbia has been the forefront of many landback discussions and blockades. The Wet’suwet’en nation has claimed the land consistently in accordance with band councils which have signed agreements with Coastal Gaslink. These councils have historically been created to control reserve land during the early 1900s to bridge the governmental gap between Indigenous communities and the Canadian government.
When it comes to the rest of Wet’suwet’en territory, no consent has been given. This land, like most of B.C was never surrendered to colonial powers, therefore it is under the control of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs (as affirmed by B.C legislation). In 1997, a supreme court case known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, affirmed the chiefs' governance and land claims, clearly proving its efficacy. Despite this, on December 31st, 2019, an injunction supported the coastal gas link by giving it permission to continue construction. Injunctions such as the one given to coastal gas link are granted to corporations over Indigenous people 76% of the time, whereas they are granted to Indigenous people to corporations a mere 19% of the time. Land defenders in Wet'suwet'en formed a blockade and since 2019 the blockades are still continuing while the number of land defenders being taken to court increases daily across Canada.
In 2020, there was a noticeable rise in landback actions that occurred from Wet'suwet'en territory in BC to Mi'kmaq territory in the Maritimes. Mi'kmaq fishers faced public bashing, police brutality, and hate crimes in September 2020 when their land and fishing rights became a public debate. While a 200-person protest sparked the media coverage during September of 2020, Mi'kmaq land defenders were fighting the fight long before that. As media coverage died down in late October, the number of assaults rose and lobster pound was burnt to ground while the remaining lobsters were poisoned. Mi'kmaq people fight for their traditional food sources, and at the same time, Haudenosaunee people have been defending their land with a 3-month long blockade to prevent a new condo installment by McKenzie Meadows.
The landback movement doesn’t look exactly the same in any of these cases as it is dependent on the direct effects has on each community, but the ideals are united. In previous years, reconciliation has been the goal many settler Canadians and Indigenous people have strived for, which has yielded limited results. Much of the landback movement is being fought by the youngest generation whose grandparents and parents were often survivors of residential schools.
Let's Hear Indigenous Voices
These youth activists organize protests, blockades, and funding for community development and we at the Altruist were able to speak with Niquita Lynne-Quibeads, a Haudenosaunee youth activist.
Hannah: What is the landback movement to you? What does it mean?
Niquita: It's about physically giving land back so Indigenous people have accessibility to things they need in their community. It means acknowledging that settlers are on Indigenous land.
Hannah: What does that mean for today's settler Canadians?
Niquita: People need to do the research on whose land they are on here, because people who still reside there. You have to listen because we are the ones who have created this. Land is for everyone and nature is for everyone, we are just trying to protect it as we were given it… and teach others who occupy this land how to do that as well so you need to listen to us because how much [longer] before these companies realize that they can't eat money and can't drink oil.
Hannah: How can non-Indigenous people support the movement?
Niquita: Educate yourself before asking questions that may be invasive, a lot of us want to explain things to you and are happy you are learning but, the internet exists, learn who’s land you are on. The land is for the community so helping put on workshops, buying from Indigenous shops, buying workshop kits for people, and donations are ways to support us.
Amplifying the voices of those with experience is important for movements to remain grassroots and uncorrupted. Continue to facilitate discussions, participate in learning more about Canada's real history, and support First Nations people in your life!