respecting Native lands
Table of Contents
Beyond Land Acknowledgments
By Wynnē Weddell & Faren Rajkumar
Resources and Tools to Increase Your Understanding of the Land
When we verbalize or write the original Indigenous names of the lands beneath our wheels or feet, we are attempting to access and empathize with the generational trauma & grief felt by Native communities for centuries. We are momentarily paying respect, mourning, and showing evidence of an effort to unlearn colonial legacy.
But the moment can pass, as quickly as a tribal name rolls off the non-native tongue and a road sign blurs in the rearview mirror. Does that mean Indigenous liberation is forgotten? Another social activism trend with a short-lived fate?
Social media and internet resources make it easier than ever to foster educational and activist efforts that can endure. There are no longer any excuses to do only the bare minimum.
If you find yourself uninterested in reading further or going beyond a few words in an Instagram caption, then it is necessary to consider how performative your actions may be, and if you sincerely care about Indigenous rights & history – or if you are subscribing to a collective social afterthought.
Here are some ways to extend your effort beyond land acknowledgements.
Land of the Hoh Indigenous People
Find Out Whose Land You Are On
Native-land.ca is a go-to resource for quickly figuring out whose stolen land you are occupying. They have compiled a thorough interactive map that makes it easy to search the Indigenous name of the region you want to learn about. As stated on their website:
“Native Land Digital is a Canadian not-for-profit organization, incorporated in December 2018. Native Land Digital is Indigenous-led, with an Indigenous Executive Director and Board of Directors who oversee and direct the organization. Numerous non-Indigenous people also contribute as members of our Advisory Council [and it] was created in 2015 by Victor Temprano, a settler hailing from the Okanagan territory.”
Although reparations, monetary support, political action, and land justice will not arise from land acknowledgements, it’s an essential step towards acknowledging history and the struggles that Indigenous communities face. The Native Governance Center (nativegov.org) says this:
“We need to share in Indigenous peoples’ discomfort. They’ve been uncomfortable for a long time. Dr. Kate Beane (Flandreau Santee Dakota and Muskogee Creek) says: We have to try. Starting out with good intentions and a good heart is what matters most.”
What You Can Do After Land Acknowledgement
After we learn the original name of the stolen land we might be camping or hiking on, the stage is perfectly set for action!
Make a donation
Search for websites or social media accounts for the local tribes’ land that you occupy or are exploring. COVID-19 has left these communities in especially difficult circumstances, and donations are always needed. Read words from their leadership and channel financial support to the appropriate places.
This can also happen through supporting local Indigenous businesses, creators, artists, activists, and grassroots movements. We’ve compiled a small list of some Native-owned businesses that nomads can support from anywhere: https://diversifyvanlife.com/6-native-american-owned-business-you-will-love/
Spread The Word
It is the moral responsibility of the awakened to help others finally open their eyes. We have to advocate for the original inhabitants of these lands.
As nomads, we frequent national and state parks that celebrate and preserve natural beauty while inappropriately excluding Natives and true history from their narratives. Refuse to participate in the erasure of culture, and push parks to include more Indigenous history and acknowledgment in their resources. Tag and mention parks in your social media posts, and contact the National Park Service with your thoughts here.
We can also use similar methods to push for Native culture and history inclusion in our universities, schools, online communities, and local associations. Encourage everyone to use land acknowledgments when they post online and follow up with tangible financial, educational, and supportive political action.
Land of the Quinault Indigenous People
Conduct Events With Respect
If you are organizing a meet-up or celebration, a portion of the proceeds should go to an Indigenous tribe or organization. Consider also providing educational resources about the land’s history and supporting the original peoples of that region.
Not sure where to acquire this knowledge? You can start by inviting local Indigenous people to your events, and also ask permission to use the land or space prior to planning.
Strive To Continue Unlearning
Colonial historical records are white-washed and deeply ingrained in the minds of many non-Native folx, and it will take decades to peel away the layers of lies that erase and abuse Indigenous culture. But the work has been ongoing in Native communities for a long time, and this is the overdue era of non-Natives joining the fight.
- Familiarize yourself with the history of the lands you occupy, relevant treaties, and get up to date on current events.
- Read books, listen to podcasts, and watch films by Indigenous folx to gain real facts. Pay reparations where reparations are due.
- Carry forth what you learn and have conversations with friends and family.
Remember These Words:
“A land acknowledgement is performative by definition – its power lies in the action it motivates.” – Charlie Marks
Land of the Nez Perce Indigenous People
Photos courtesy of Wynnē Weddell & Faren Rajkumar.
Decolonize National Parks
By Wynnē Weddell
Before diving into our National Park Guides and Area Guides, we strongly encourage you to read this perspective from DV team member Wynne Weddell on the legacy of the National Park System and how the dire need to decolonize the parks starts with reframing our understanding of them on the individual level.
“There are now over 400 national park sites, covering 3.4% of the country. These parks were created only after the forced removal of Indigenous people by the US government. Seizures and broken treaties were put in place to deprive us of our homelands and rights.”
If you’ve ever traveled to a national park, you’ve traveled to stolen lands that were cherished and occupied by Indigenous nations all across Turtle Island since time immemorial. You have walked on trails that are thousands of years old. These lands are rich in history.
Our stories are woven into canyon cliff sides. They live on in water droplets on moss-covered walls; in light filtering throughout the forest at golden hour; through wind blowing in the grasslands; in waves breaking on the shore. These are the lands that we hunted, fished, harvested, and performed our ceremonies on. Sacred land that we tended and shaped with sustainable land management practices.
This all changed in 1872 when congress made Yellowstone the so-called United States’ first national park. There are now over 400 national park sites, covering 3.4% of the country. These parks were created only after the forced removal of our people by the US government. Seizures and broken treaties were put in place to deprive us of our homelands and rights.
'Wilderness' is an Illusion
“Glacier and many other national parks are built upon an illusion. They seem to offer us a rare chance to experience the continent as it was, to set eyes on a vista unspoiled by human activity. This uninhabited nature is a recent construction. The untold story behind our unspoiled views and virgin forests is this: these landscapes were inhabited, their features named, their forests utilized, their plants harvested, and animals hunted. Native Americans have a history in our national parks measured in millennia. They were forcibly removed, and later treaty rights to traditional use such as hunting and fishing were erased, often without acknowledgement or compensation. Immediately after these removals, the parks were advertised as a showcase of uninhabited America, nature’s handiwork unspoiled.” – Issac Kantor – “Ethnic Cleansing and America’s Creation of National Parks.”
John Muir, known widely for his racist remarks and wrongfully praised in the outdoor community as an environmental conservationist, mistakenly, “…described the entire American continent as a ‘wild garden favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe.’ But in truth, the North American continent has not been a wilderness for at least 15,000 years: Native peoples for millennia had shaped many of the landscapes that became national parks.
Forests on the Eastern Seaboard looked plentiful to white settlers because American Indians had strategically burned them to increase the amount of forage for moose and deer, and woodland caribou. Native peoples likewise tended Yosemite Valley’s sublime landscape; the acorns that fed the Miwok came from black oaks long cultivated by the tribe. The idea of a virgin American wilderness—an Eden untouched by humans and devoid of sin—is an illusion.” – David Treuer
National Parks Today
I am fortunate to have had the privilege of being exposed to the outdoors at a young age, a luxury not all have access to. Hiking has been my medicine since childhood. I frequently left the rez to take road trips with my family to spend time together in nature. For me, nothing soothes the soul more than walking amongst the trees, streams, and rivers. I sit, listening and learning from mountains, eventually climbing those mountains, no peak out of reach.
As an Indigenous woman who has been to many national parks, including Dena’ina, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, Upper Kuskokwim, and Western Ahtna lands in Denali, Blackfoot lands in Glacier, Ahwahneechee, lands in Yosemite, Havasupai, and the Hualapai lands in the Grand Canyon, my homelands of the Black Hills and Badlands; I consistently am left with feelings of indignation. Why, in these spaces, are we spoken and written about in past-tense? Why are we not the ones giving tours and telling the history of the land? After all, we know it best. Why are we not included in all conversations surrounding land management practices and who has access to sacred sites? Why do POC only make up 22% of the visitor population to national parks? Why do I have to pay to access my ancestral lands?
The time for change is now. National parks should be enjoyed and accessed by everyone, not catered only to giant RVs and sprinter vans that fill their parking lots with primarily white tourists, snapping photos and leaving without any acknowledgment and respect for the land they are on, showcasing the NPS’ history of prioritizing tourism over ecological stewardship.
Indigenous nations should have access to these lands for free, whether for recreating, ceremony, fishing, and hunting. Tribes should be included in every conversation regarding where funds are being distributed on programs in the NPS and all conversations regarding land management. The list could go on to point out the unjust flaws the National Park System upholds, rooted deeply in its history of white imperialism. National Parks must be held accountable for contributing to the erasure of culture. Let these guidelines be a good place to start.
‘Leave No Trace’ is a great value & concept (in theory) in vanlife. Make sustainable swaps & try to use natural toiletries. Check out the Sustainability section of the BIPOC Guide to learn about some of these natural and sustainable alternatives.
The Power Of Your Words: Using Respectful Land-Related Terminology
By Wynnē Weddell & Faren Rajkumar
Travelers are often called to put our experiences into words, whether we blog about it, post on social media, maintain a website, or create videos. Sharing stories of our adventures is how we can honor memories and celebrate this beautiful, chosen life of wandering and exploration.
It’s worth contemplating the power of the specific words we use to describe places, people, culture, and land. Just like mindful speech in conversation, mindful terminology is an important practice when writing and posting on any platform. Words have the power to convey respect, honor history, show support for the underrepresented, and create a small wave of awareness that could grow into real-world change.
Grounded in respect for Indigenous land and history, here are some contextual examples of terms we encourage the nomad and outdoor adventure community to avoid using:
Land of the Klamath
Problematic sentence: “We got lost in the wilderness this weekend.”
Although it can evoke earthy, free-spirited emotions, this term actually signifies the irreversible schism that occurred during colonization. The divide between Mother Nature and humans is cut deeper when we call natural places “wilderness”, contrasted by the “civilization” of our modern homes and cities, and the term conjures up the idea that humans are separate from nature. Native people have inhabited every part of this continent since time immemorial, therefore the term wilderness is misleading.
Instead, use these words: traditional lands of the “__”, forest, mountains, outdoors
Problematic sentence: “Time in the great outdoors was much needed after quarantine.”
This catchy phrase echoes in every National Park, and seems to celebrate the bravery of humans who leave the comfort of home to explore outside. But calling these spaces “The Great Outdoors” can be traced back to the white cis-male colonial legacy of those privileged men who decided to build trails, put up signs, and commemorate parks to profit from the new lands they had grown obsessed with and taken from first nations peoples.
Northern Paiute Land
Problematic sentence: “Creating the National Parks was the wisest decision of America.”
This is certainly a difficult one to eliminate in practice and is more neutral in some contexts. That being said, North America has been home to Indigenous peoples before written record and before this piece of land was mapped out and named by colonizers.
Instead: So-called America, Turtle Island
Problematic sentence: “When I got into vanlife, I finally found my tribe.”
The word tribe has been used throughout history by European colonizers to describe the first inhabitants of the lands they colonized, and has been used by the U.S. Government in the context of savagery to force first nations people to use the term in order to gain legal recognition.
The word has now become trendy to describe any like minded people/group of friends. This is highly problematic, as the word has become glamourized and dismisses tribal nations’ political, legal, and social circumstances when used in improper contexts and especially by non-Natives.
Instead: crew, squad, family, circle
Problematic sentence: “Hiking in Utah’s desert playground is my favorite pastime.”
When referring to recreational lands as a playground, it shows disrespect for the land and those who call it home. To Indigeous peoples, nature is not a playground.
"Squaw Lake", "Squaw Valley"
The use of the term s**** is considered offensive, derogatory, misogynist and racist. It is never okay.
Finally, A Word On Indigenous Land Acknowledgements
Problematic Example: “This weekend, I climbed in the Santa Catalina mountains.”
We encourage referring to mountains, trails, lakes, areas by their original names, and not the names given to them throughout colonization. Not acknowledging these lands by their original names facilitates the erasure of culture.
Instead: “This weekend I went climbing at Babad Do’ag (traditional name for these mountains of the Tohono O’odham nation who call these lands home).”
We hope you found this guide informative & helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM us on Instagram @diversify.vanlife!
Photos courtesy of Wynnē Weddell & Faren Rajkumar.
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