I am on Stolen Indigenous Land – Land Acknowledgement by Robin Greenfield

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I live on stolen Indigenous land – Turtle Island – the land commonly called the United States. 

I was born in a town that they told me was Ashland in a “state” that they told me was Wisconsin. Although my roots are there, my parents are from land that is currently called Chicago and Michigan and they moved to Wisconsin just shortly before I was born.

Long before it was Ashland and long before it was Wisconsin, it was land that Anishinaabe/Ojibwe people lived in reciprocal connection with for many hundreds of years. The Anishinaabe people have remained stewards and continue to be stewards of this land today. I was born on Lake Superior which is Gichigami in Ojibwemowin. I grew up there and each year I return to the small town of Ashland which is located on land between The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Anishinaabe creation story shares that they arrived on this land after following the Megis shell to the food that grows on water. This food that grows on water is Manoomin, also called Wild Rice or The Good Berry.

Note: Chippewa and Ojibwe are names in the English language for Anishinaabe. Ojibwemowin is the language of the Anishinaabe

Indigenous people from other Native nations also reside in this region of Wisconsin and Minnesota and have contributed to making this region what it is today. I frequently visit the city of Minneapolis, Mni Sota Makoce (Minnesota) which is part of the homeland of the Dakota people. I also often visit Madison, Wisconsin and I attended university in La Crosse; both of which are located on the homeland of the Ho-Chunk people.  Mni Sota Makoce means ‘land where waters are so clear they reflect the clouds’ in the Dakota language.

Today, I live on the traditional lands of the ᏣᎳᎩᏱ ᏕᏣᏓᏂᎸᎩ (Tsalagiyi Detsadanilvgi, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee People or the EBCI), the S’atsoyaha (Yuchi) and the Miccosukee – near what is currently commonly called Asheville, North Carolina.

For five years, I lived in what is by much of society called San Diego, California, and I return to visit this land along with the city commonly called Los Angeles. These are the traditional lands of the Kumeyaay/Kumiais Nation in the San Diego region, and of the Chumash and Gabrieleno/Tongva in the Los Angeles region. There were, and still are, many cultures of Indigenous people who lived here and these are only a few of the more recognized peoples.

I also spend much of my time in the “state” many of us call Florida on the traditional lands of the Seminole, Miccosukee, Mascogo, and Tocobaga in the so-called Orlando and Tampa Bay regions.

In all cases, this land was stolen from the Indigenous people through colonization and genocide. This acknowledgment is of both the present and the past, because the past is part of the present. The colonization by the early settlers/colonialists has shifted in form but is here today in the United States colonialist, capitalist, imperialist political system, prison-industrial complex, military-industrial complex, police force and many everyday societal constructs.

I am committed to publicly acknowledging these truths in my personal life and in my service to society. I am committed to supporting – through utilizing my resources, connections, finances, energy and time – efforts of Indigenous self-determination and reclamation of traditional ecological knowledge, language, food sovereignty and other notions of Land Back. 

Here is what I commit to doing to support Indigenous communities and what I have been doing:

Note: I share what I am doing out of a humble desire to lead by example for change within the privileged communities that I walk in, as well as to share my experience in hopes to continue working with and partnering with Native communities.

  • Donating 100% of my media income to grassroots organizations, primarily Indigenous women-led and Black women-led. Some of the Native organizations I support include: Tiyospaye Winyan Maka, Indigenous Environmental Network, Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, Rising Hearts, Honor the Earth and Winona’s Hemp Farm.
  • Donating 100% of my Food Freedom book to grassroots organizations, primarily Indigenous women and Black women-led.
  • Using my platforms to share the messages of Indigenous people. Here is a selection of videos I have produced to share these messages: Linda Black Elk, Mike Forcia, Tammey Skinaway, Awanookwe Bratvold, Winona LaDuke and Giiweden. I’d like to note that to a deeper level I share their messages out of a shared humanity and shared desires in life. I am friends with many of these people and have learned and grown from these relationships.
  • Supporting Native-led resistance to Treaty Rights violations and extractive projects threatening Native lands and lifeways. I have been present at the Stop Line 3 and Standing Rock resistance movements and will continue to attend demonstrations, amplify the voice of the Indigenous communities and provide resources. 
  • Utilizing the resources of my nonprofit, Regeneration, Equity and Justice. We prioritize providing our resources to Native people and seek out opportunities to do so. 
  • When I see opportunities and it is within my means, I support Native friends and community members. An example of this is a fundraiser I did for my friend Nedahness to support her photography businesses.
  • Over the last decade I have worked diligently to remove myself from exploitative and oppressive systems and to instead take part and put my resources into equitable, just systems. I have made a lifetime commitment to not paying federal taxes and to instead provide my financial resources voluntarily to organizations that truly represent the people, especially the people that are less provided for by our mainstream societal systems.
  • Provide scholarships to Native Americans to many of the classes and workshops that I host. Note: most of my offerings are accessible to all by being donation-based or free.
  • Bring out Indigenous, Black and Brown folks to the events that I am a part of which currently includes Compassion Camp, Firefly Gathering and Midwest Wild Harvest Festival. These tend to be, in a vast majority, white spaces and I am working to make them more accessible, approachable and safe.
  • Provide Compassionate Communication/ Nonviolent Communication classes for free to all Native folk who would like to attend. If you are Native and want to take a class you can sign up here.
  • Provide my Food Freedom book for free to all Native folk who would like it.
  • I have been and will continue to educate myself about important issues in Native communities. This includes reading books by Native authors, reading Native media and following Native people on social media.
  • I commit to crediting Indigenous people where it is due, as often as I can and to the best of my ability. I give acknowledgments in all of my plant walks. I commit to sharing that I have discovered nothing and that all the knowledge I have is because of Indigenous people’s relationships to the land.
  • I will always listen to Native people when I am called out or called in, especially when I feel uncomfortable or resistant. After listening, I will take time to reflect on what I heard and see if there are changes that I can make. I will then work to create those changes. 
  • Support Native-owned businesses when I have things to purchase and to be diligent to never purchase any items that are culturally-appropriative.
  • Support Native-led efforts to remove harmful mascots, place names and statues. See this feature on Mike Forcia’s removal of the Columbus statue in Minnesota.

It was only in 2011 that I woke up to the inequity and injustice that I was living and it was not until 2016 that I started to understand my privilege. It was only 2018 that I started taking stronger action to support Indigenous communities. I am still learning and growing. There is so much that I still do not know. I aim to walk humbly and speak gently and am here to learn. Everything I shared above, I intend to continue doing with deeper alignment to the desires of the Native people that I am fortunate to have as friends and colleagues in service to Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives.

From a wider lens I am striving to be supportive of Native peoples in the following work they are doing:

  • Returning public lands and waters to the stewardship of Native people and removing it from the hands of corporations and governments that have exploited, polluted and destroyed the land. 
  • Free and prior consent for decisions that impact Native peoples, including what happens to their land, people, their own bodies, spiritual beliefs and languages.
  • Liberation of Indigenous people and their land.
  • Physical reclamation of ancestral lands by the Indigenous people.
  • Dismantling and defunding systems of white supremacy that have been created to maintain their land being stolen from them.

I welcome being called out or called in by Native people for anything I have shared here today or anything I am doing in life or have done in the past. I will do my best to receive the words gracefully and use the moment as a learning opportunity. In fact, the reason that I have made any progress is by being called in. In 2016, I was giving a talk in DC and Nevada Littlewolf approached me afterwards to discuss my privilege. I am forever grateful for her courage to approach me and her strength to explain. I give Nevada a deep level of gratitude for helping me to see my ways and to seek change. Nevada now sits on the board of our nonprofit and is a dear friend. 

I do want to acknowledge that in this writing there are a lot of “I” statements and I am centering myself. My goal is not to center a white man. This isn’t about me. This is about justice and equity for Native people. But at the same time, there is only one thing that I can definitively control, and that is myself. I am taking accountability and responsibility and I don’t know how to share and be an example for fellow privileged people without centering myself. Perhaps I will learn more in time. I am open for suggestions and feedback along these lines. Much of what I do is as an individual, but I believe that the solutions to our problems lie in community and thus most of my work is in community.

I also want to clearly acknowledge who I am, a white man and acknowledge my privilege. I acknowledge this in more depth in this article.

I share my gratitude and honor the Indigenous people, past and present, who steward Turtle Island and all land on our shared home, Earth.

Chi Miigwech (thank you) to the many powerful Anishinaabe women who have boldly stood in the face of colonization and who have inspired so many, including me – Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, Tammey Skinaway, Simone Senogles, Awanookwe Bratvold and Tashia Hart to name a few. My gratitude to Linda Black Elk who spoke so passionately and boldly at the 2018 Florida Herbal Conference and shook me to my core. She created a pivotal moment of understanding the concept of colonization and how it is very much alive today in the foundation of our society. She has been a guiding force for me since. My gratitude to Christinia Eala for sharing a very special moment with me at Standing Rock and being a dear Sister since then. My gratitude to Lyla June Johnston for her life of dedication to the Lifeways of her people and her advice to me. My gratitude to Nedahness Rose Green, Mike Forcia, Jordan Marie Whetstone and Awanookwe Bratvold for their friendship, colleagueship and sharing of knowledge. I am kept motivated by the work to come together. I acknowledge the trust that each of you has placed in me and deeply honor our relationships, especially given that I am a white man, and white men have done so much damage to your land, water and community.

Chi Miigwech to all the Anishinaabe people who I have had the honor to spend time and space with. Our time together has been some of the most healing moments in my life. Deepening our connection to Earth together is what gives me the strongest reason to live and to be of service to humanity. Thank you for being teachers, listeners, colleagues, friends, fellow humans and lived examples of your traditional ways. As I have been reconnecting with the original stewards of the land where I was born, I also mourn my lack of connection to the Cherokee people where I currently live in North Carolina and to the Kumeyaay, Gabrieleno/Tongva, Seminole, Miccosukee in what is now called Southern California where I visit most years. 

For white people and people of privilege and ability, I encourage you to make an action plan with concrete steps to support Indigenous communities, including a timeline of when you’ll make these steps. See the resources section for support in creating this plan.

Resources:

Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming Winona LaDuke* and more books by Winona
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Wall Kimmerer
Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask Anton Treur*
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen Sean Sherman
The Intersectional Environmentalist Leah Thomas This is a powerful manual for supporting BIPOC initiatives (not written by an Indigenous author).
Notable Native People – 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers and Changemakers from Past and PresentAdrienne Keene

Books specific to Anishinaabe:* 

Louise Erdich, author and her bookstore, Birchbark Books

History of the Ojibway People – William W. Warren

Ojibway Heritage – Basil Johnston

Seventh Generation Earth Ethics  – Patty Loew

Winona LaDuke, author

*All resources above marked with * are Anishinaabe. I share this for the people of my homeland who particularly want to educate themselves and be of highest support to the Anishinaabe people. Yet, these are incredible resources for all people to learn from.

1  “Tsalagi is what you will hear most often when referring to the Cherokee people and this is a word in our language that comes from a-che-la or “fire” and ah-gi or “he takes.” Source: Tsalagiyi Nvdagi Official Website.

2 The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (the EBCI, ᏣᎳᎩᏱ ᏕᏣᏓᏂᎸᎩ, Tsalagiyi Detsadanilvgi) is one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the U.S. The EBCI is located in North Carolina, whereas the two other tribes, Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, reside in Oklahoma.

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