Why engage in Land Justice?
The history of Native land loss in this country is a painful one that continues to deeply impact both the oppressed and the oppressor. All the land that we live and work on – and are conserving today – is the ancestral land of Native Americans.
It is incumbent on non-Indigenous conservationists to begin the work of understanding Native American land loss and how this history informs their present day culture, then learn how to partner with and advance the goals of the original stewards of the land.
This work is not about charity, but about reciprocity. Thus, the work of land justice includes re-defining what conservation does and who it serves. Through this work, we will explore thoroughly how conservation has perpetuated colonizing paradigms from the Doctrine of Discovery period and help us shift from a paradigm of “stewardship” to a paradigm of “relationship.”
The work of land justice is needed in the Oregon conservation community for the following reasons:
- The history of conservation, land trusts and national parks are products of a western construct that historically only served a smaller segment of society. We have a responsibility to redefine conservation and who it serves, and ultimately be an authentic partner to Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest conserving land under Indigenous value systems.
- The true history of Indigenous occupation and their intimate knowledge of and relationship with Oregon’s lands for thousands of years prior to colonization needs to be acknowledged and respected by the dominant culture. There is a responsibility to learn and understand the legacy of Indigenous land dispossession and destruction of lifeways, Indigenous people and cultural genocide, intergenerational trauma and Indigenous-identity loss. In addition, understanding how the role of power and privilege significantly impacts the current landscape in Oregon and the wellbeing of the tribes and Indigenous people of this region.
- If conservation aims to be a universal public good, then it must open to other voices, perspectives and definitions of success. Conservation successes must be broadened to include rebuilding Indigenous sovereignty if conservation aims to be an authentic partner to Northwest Indigenous communities. Therefore, the conservation community must work towards creating conditions for real collaboration and relationship with Northwest Indigenous communities, share and cede power in support of Indigenous needs and priorities.