In many parts of what is now the United States, communities have in recent years replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Celebrating Indigenous cultures every Oct. 12 is important. But in this moment when the U.S. is reckoning with legacies of racism and colonialism, many Indigenous nations call for something more – the return of ancestral lands.
Having spoken to Native Americans activists, leaders and community members in the course of my research into sacred sites protection movements, I understand that land is often the center of Indigenous life. It is not just where people live, but a site of complex relationships among humans, waters, plants, animals and spiritual beings. This is why the famous Standing Rock Sioux scholar and activist Vine Deloria Jr. wrote “American Indians hold their lands – places – as having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements are made with this reference point in mind.”
In my research with California Bay Area Ohlone tribes, I have learned how land is central to identity and culture. Even in highly urbanized places like San Francisco and Oakland, Ohlone people have talked to me about how the land…