If you only know one thing about public lands, know this: public land is Indigenous land. While outdoorists today have the proud collective ownership of US public lands, the very idea of this shared American land is built upon a violent history of removing Native tribes from their homelands. Acknowledging this history and the integral role of indigenous sovereignty within all outdoor advocacy is a fundamental first step in outdoor advocacy.
Here are some guiding thoughts shared by Dr. Len Necefer, founder of Natives Outdoors: “American Indian and Alaskan Native peoples have a deep and long standing relationship with their traditional homelands that now comprise reservation and public lands. Native peoples identities are intrinsically tied and embedded within their languages, ceremonial cycles, and sacred histories. However many tribes have been dispossessed of nearly all of their original homelands. In addition many lack the resources to recover, restore, and protect them. Still today these places are critical to the physical and spiritual well-being of these communities.
The history of treaties, acts of congress, court decisions, statues, policies, and executive orders is complex and extensive. These elements are central to the relationship of tribes to both tribal and public lands and waters. The relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes is unique and distinct from those that apply to other interests and constituencies and is based upon the principles of tribal sovereignty. These relationship extends to all federal agencies within the federal government.”
Today, our public lands are largely owned and managed by federal and state agencies—and it’s our duty as citizens to protect and prioritize these outdoor spaces while respecting that public land is Native land. The Outdoor Advocacy Project will help to learn everything you need to understand about how our public lands work, what current legislation is affecting them, and the actions you can take to protect + celebrate your public lands while supporting tribal sovereignty.
“Of the 2.27 billion acres of total land mass in the United States, the federal government manages about 640 million acres, predominantly concentrated in 12 Western states including Alaska. By comparison, state- and locally managed lands total about 217 million acres.” (source)
Resources to get you started
- America’s Public Lands Explained via Department of Interior
- Public Lands in the United States: A Curriculum by The Wilderness Society and Arvana Group
- Public Lands: Our Industry, our issue, our fight. What are (and aren’t) public lands? via Outdoor Industry Association
- Native-land.ca to learn about the Indigenous land you’re recreating on