Land is the basis for all life. It is the ground from which our plants grow and water flows. Land shapes and is shaped by societies’ political, economic, and cultural dynamics. Power affects land access, and land access grants power. Given land’s central role to human society, it is unsurprising that land privitization has been central to profit accumulation in the expansion of global capitalism.
El Salvador, Photo credit: Génesis Abreu
The ongoing legacy of European colonization commodified land as property that can be owned, privatized, and sold while dispossessing the original caretakers and inhabitants of the land. Colonization, capitalism, and the patriarchy have shaped, overused, destroyed, and pillaged the land, causing genocide and decimation of entire peoples and cultures globally, predominantly affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). For Indigenous peoples, land and nature are not merely resources that can be valued monetarily and exploited purely for production and extraction but rather as relatives within one ecosystem.
“Within Indigenous contexts land is not property, as in settler colonialism, but rather land is knowing and knowledge” (Arvin et. al, 2013).
Want to learn more about the history of colonization in the U.S.?
Check out this Interactive Time-Lapse Map that shows how the U.S. stole over 1.5 billion acres from Native Americans.
The Western ideal of land ownership and property rights stands in stark contrast with Indigenous cosmologies, rooted in the symbiotic relationship between humans, plants, animals, and the land. It’s telling that the places on Earth with the greatest biodiversity are the areas with the highest linguistic and cultural diversity, a term researchers have defined as biocultural diversity – through a worldview that is based in reciprocity rather than extractivism, many beings are possible. Indigenous territories make up ~20% of land on Earth; that land holds 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Through colonization, Western powers and norms have worked tirelessly to promote one way of relating to the land – dominance – which has proven to be impossibly unsustainable and destructive.
Thus, systemic climate solutions to land are based in decolonization, re-indigenization, land rematriation to BIPOC communities, re-commoning the land, shifting away from the extractive economy to a regenerative economy, and a re-localization of governance as we strengthen communities and move toward alternative and communal forms of caring for and relating to the land.
Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio, Photo credit: Génesis Abreu
Way Forward 1:
“Decolonization brings about the [rematriation] of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools...the increasing number of calls to ‘decolonize our schools,’ or use ‘decolonizing methods,’ or, ‘decolonize student thinking’, turns decolonization into a metaphor.”
Decolonization first and foremost means land back: the rematriation of land to its original caretakers. Decolonization is rooted in re-Indigenization. Decolonization must take place in conjunction with the transition away from the deadly systems of racial capitalism and patriarchy and toward a regenerative, place-based economy and way of relating to one another and the land.
When discussing issues of decolonization, the true meaning of the word often gets diluted, manipulated, or redefined to avoid the discomfort of its reality. It is often easier for non-Indigenous people to speak metaphorically, whereas true decolonization means the return of land and resources which non-Indigenous folks have benefited from, thus becoming a material loss. In addition, there is usually the support from non-Indigenous allies of decolonization with a qualification included, settler futurity. Settler futurity continues the settler colonial project which burdens Indigenous people with the task of considering the settlers place during and after decolonization despite Indigenous people enduring centuries of violence from settlers. Decolonization is the ACTION of removing colonialism from all aspects of knowledge gathering, and prioritizes LAND.
Want to learn more about Land Back?
Checkout Regan De Loggans‘s Land Back Zine
Contemporarily, the call for decolonization has taken many shapes, some more overtly militant than others. It can include the reclamation of Indigeneity through skill share of their precontact knowledge. But it is inherently tied to the LAND. Indigenous scholar and activist, Nick Estes notes “most people think that decolonization would mean getting kicked off the land, or that Indigenous people would do to them what they did to Indigenous people in the past.” Land back does not mean the colonial replication of exclusionary property ownership. Land back includes rematriation of land, the recognition of Indigenous peoples as land stewards and protectors of the Earth, and Indigenous self-governmence and sovereignty.
It is essential however, to also acknowledge that in decolonial rhetoric, we should not continue to perpetuate anti-Black sentiment and the erasure of Black communities' relationship to land and nature. Therefore, movements of decolonization must also repair or repay the harm, terror, and violence committed against Black people when they were stolen from their ancestral homes to be part of the settler colonial project. Land for Black people can provide autonomous self-determination that is rooted in healing and reconnection to Mother Earth.
Want to learn more about how decolonization is tied to abolition and racial justice?
Checkout this podcast by Nick Estes and Noname.
Decolonization cannot happen overnight, but movements to decolonize have been long underway. Decolonization must be the initial step, but along with decolonization we must shift to localized & regenerative economies, based in systems of care, systems that acknowledge reproductive and domestic labor, systems that are rooted in anti-racism, communal wellness, public health, and connection to the land. Decolonization will not look the same everywhere. However, the future we are calling for is based in community rather than individuality. Without decolonization, we will not have climate justice.
Organizations leading the way:
Indigenous Environmental Network (USA & Canada)An alliance of Indigenous peoples whose mission it is to protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws.
The Ganienkeh Council Fire (USA & Canada)Ganienkeh is a branch of the original sovereign Kanien’kehà:ka Nation located within the sovereign traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:kaa independent from those entities of North America referred to as the United States of America and Canada
Further Resources on Decolonization
Books, Articles, and Reports:
- Standing Rock Syllabus (Education Syllabus)
- A Red Deal by Nick Estes
- Fighting for Our Lives: #NoDAPL in Historical Context
- Indigenous Youth Are Building a Climate Justice Movement by Targeting Colonialism by Jaskiran Dhillon
- Revitalization and Indigenous Resistance to Globalization and Neoliberalism by James Fenelon and Thomas Hall
- Decolonization is Not a Metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang
- Mauna Kea: What it Is, Why it's Happening, and Why we Should All Be Paying Attention
Websites & Media:
Way Forward 2:
Land rematriation; Spatial Reparations for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities
Land is power. Although it provides one of the main wealth accumulation tools, land is essential in the fight for self-determination and liberation for Black and Indigenous communities globally. Conversations about the future of sacred land foster opportunities for reconciliation and reparations with Black, Indigenous, and other historically oppressed communities. For Indigenous peoples, land is not merely a resource with monetary value to be exploited purely for production and/or extraction – but rather as territories for their reproduction as peoples. Although it is necessary to recognize Indigenous land rights and decolonize, we must also recognize that Black people were stolen from their ancestral homes to build settler-colonial wealth and therefore are owed for their labor. Black liberation cannot coexist with the current system of capitalism. At the same time, to live self-determining lives, Black people must control their labor and have access to land to create systems that are affirming and allow them to thrive. Collaborative ownership of land creates a space that heals land-based and racial trauma, contributes to economic sovereignty, and builds movements of justice to reclaim and revitalize cultural practices. This is essential in the fight for Black and Indigenous liberation. Land rematriation and reparations are an essential part of a Just Transition.
Organizations leading the way:
A New Land Tenure System (USA)
The Schumacher Center for Economics has been working since its inception on creating non-profit community land trusts to manage natural resources. “A community land trust is a democratically governed, regionally based, open membership non-profit corporation.”
Land Trust Alliance (USA)Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across the United States.
Translocal Strategies for a Just Recovery: A Black-Led Session on Restoring Land, Labor, and Capital to Self-Determined Communities by Movement Generation
Books, Articles, and Reports:
- Another Future is Possible
- Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America by Allan Greer
- Movement Generation: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition
Websites & Media:
- Climate Justice Alliance’s Just Transition Framewor
- Reparations Map for Black-Indigenous Farmers
- The Commune: Community Control of the Black Community
Way Forward 3:
Recognizing and Strengthening Land Rights of Indigenous and rural communities
Way forward 3 focuses on securing land tenure for indigenous peoples, community forest management, agroecology, agroforestry, reforestation, and direct action for land sovereignty.
These initiatives happen in conjunction with one another and are the necessary steps toward land rematriation and decolonization. The theory of biocultural diversity posits that cultural diversity and ecological diversity are interconnected. The places on Earth with the greatest biodiversity, generally are also the places with the greatest caultural diversity as indigenous peoples have been conserving and propagating the land for generations. Indigenous communities have been recognized as keystone societies due to their nurturance of biodiverse ecosystems.
The Amazon Rainforest is one of Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems. Checkout this article “The Amazon Rainforest Was Profoundly Changed by Ancient Humans: The region’s ecology is a product of 8,000 years of indigenous agriculture” to learn how the Amazon is increasingly being understood as a large and complex indigenous forest garden.
Scholars Maffi and Woodley note “research has shown that major ecosystems such as tropical forests, commonly thought of as the quintessential ‘pristine’ environments, actually bear the mark of vast anthropogenic alterations brought about by resident indigenous populations over long periods of time” (2012;15).
Biodiversity is dependent on indigenous survival, the safeguarding of traditional ecological knowledge and ultimately, land rematriation.
- Securing land tenure for indigenous peoples has been proven to lead to slowed forest loss and increased biodiversity. Studies have shown that “indigenous titled lands managed through community governance frameworks are often more effective in sustaining healthy and intact forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, and other ecosystems than conventional government-run protected areas” (Forest Peoples Programme, 2018). Due to the market economy, there are few supported programs that are well-funded that focus on community land tenure rights. In Peru, Native Communities in Ucayali have received support for titling native land. This is due to continuous organizing through “local, national and global advocacy over more than five years led by the regional Amazonian indigenous peoples’ organisation AIDESEP” (Friends of the Earth, 2018). In addition to land titling, community forest management, community mapping, community based monitoring, strengthening internal governance systems, and co-management are all pathways toward addressing forest loss and biodiversity protection when environmental policy is not succeeding and on the road to decolonization.
- Community Forest Management- Community forest management systems view the land as the commons. Communities with community forest management systems in place have been found to have higher levels of biodiversity than those managed by the government or through conservation programs through non-profits or corporations. A study comparing 33 CFM cases in Mexico, South America, Africa, and Asia found that there was a lower deforestation rate in these community managed areas than areas monitored by conservation groups or the government (Friends of the Earth, 2018). CFM is often used to reforest and regenerate land that has been previously overused, chemicalized, or destroyed by extractive industries.
- Agroecology, agroforestry & regenerative agriculture - Agro-ecological methods of farming such as agroforestry, forest garden systems, milpa systems, sacred forests, chakras, terraced farming, intercropping, polyculture, and other regenerative agriculture practices are essential for food sovereignty, land sovereignty, and for the safeguarding of traditional knowledge and agricultural practices for primarily indigenous, rural, peasant and Black, and POC communities. Agroecological farms and forest gardens are also far more resilient to climate disasters such as storms, drought, pests, and disease, have healthier, stronger, and more nutrient rich soil.
Potato Harvest in Pampacorral, Lares, Peru Photo credit: Génesis Abreu
- Direct Action for Land Sovereignty - Globally, communities have fought to protect their land from exploitation in the form of mining, drilling, logging, industrial agriculture, big dams, ecotourism and a variety of other land grabbing projects. The struggle for land sovereignty is ongoing. Groups have used tactics from civil disobedience, pursuing legal action, gaining international support to more violent tactics. It is important to keep in mind the extreme violence that extractivist projects have on local communities, from complete pollution of land & water bodies and therefore livelihoods, the mass displacement of communities, and the murders and sexual abuse of indigenous women coming from man camps.
Organizations leading the way:
an independent land monitoring initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in decisions over LSLAs in low- and middle-income countries by capturing and sharing data about these deals at global, regional, and national level.
La Via Campesina (Global)is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe.
International Land Coalition (Global)is a global alliance of civil society and farmers' organizations, United Nation's agencies, NGOs and research institutes with a collective goal to realize land governance for and with people at the country level, responding to the needs and protecting the rights of those who live on and from the land.
AIDESEP (Peru)The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle is the leading organization for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and works to defend and protect the collective rights of the people. AIDESEP’s mission is to “Claim the territorial integrity of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Establish and strengthen indigenous self-government based on the development of the country's multiculturalism. Establish, control and develop the development system of the indigenous economy.”
Global Forest Coalition (Global)GFC is an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations defending social justice and the rights of forest peoples in forest policies.
Friends of the MST Brazil (Brazil)The Friends of the MST (FMST) is a network of individuals and organizations that support the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) in the struggle for social and economic justice while securing respect for human rights.
GRUFIDES (Peru)Grufides fights for human, land, and water rights, specifically against gold mining projects in Peru.
Kawsak Sacha - The Living Forest (Ecuador)In Kawsak Sacha, Sarayaku puts forth a declaration for the international recognition of the Living Forest as a legally protected area in Ecuador.
Amazon Frontlines (Global)An international organization defending indigenous rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon rainforest.
Amazon Watch (Global)A nonprofit organization founded to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin.
Friends of the Earth International (Global)FOEI is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network that campaigns on urgent environmental and social issues, challenging the current model of economic and corporate globalization, and promoting solutions to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.
Gaia Foundation (Global)A U.K. based organization that supports communities and movements in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe that works to revive bio-cultural diversity, to regenerate healthy ecosystems and to strengthen community self-governance for climate change resilience.
Terralingua (Global)An organization working to educate people on the significance of biocultural diversity and protect linguistic and cultural diversity.
More Organizations working on Food & Land Sovereignty
Further Resources on Recognizing and Strengthening Land Rights:
Books, Articles, and Reports:
- Co-Evolution and Bio-Social Construction: The Kichwa Agroforestry Systems (Chakras) in the Ecuadorian Amazonia.
- Temperate Agroforestry: How Forest Garden Systems Combined with People-Based Ethics Can Transform Culture
- Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of community- based natural resource management.
- Ubuntu is Not Only about the Human! An Analysis of the Role of African Philosophy and Ethics in Environment Management
- Ubuntu, Ukama and the Healing of Nature, Self and Society.
- TANZANIA INDIGENOUS PEOPLES POLICY BRIEF
- Agroecology as an Alternative Vision to Conventional Development and Climate-smart Agriculture
- Climate Change, Food Security, and Agrobiodiversity: Toward a Just, Resilient, and Sustainable Food System
- Indigenous ExtrACTIVISM in Boreal Canada: Colonial Legacies, Contemporary Struggles and Sovereign Futures
- Understanding ExtrACTIVISM: Culture and Power in Natural Resource Disputes
Who’s In The Way
Neoliberalism and Ecosystem ServicesInaction from the global North on climate change has brought us past ecological tipping points as global temperatures continue to rise. When tipping points are crossed, entire biomes rapidly and irreversibly change resulting in the conversion of rainforests to savannas, increasing wildfires, insect attacks, droughts and other drastic climate impacts (Steffen et al,. 2019). Deforestation, extractivism for minerals & oil, logging, fracking, biofuel production, and industrial agriculture all detrimentally affect the health of the land, plants, animals, and communities that live on the land. Current international policy is grounded in the neoliberal market economy and corporate profit rather than human, land, and water rights. Without dismantling and addressing the failures of capitalism, a system built on individualism, competition, and notions of scarcity, we are going to see little action on truly addressing climate change and climate justice.
With the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s, powerful international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Global North pushed for structural adjustment programs resulting in the defunding of public programs and a sweeping shift to run cities, states, and countries as for-profit businesses. Today, we continue to bear witness to the ongoing colonization of the Global South by the North, through war, land grabs, and overproduction and consumption on behalf of the North, primarily affecting Indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural, peasant, low-income and communities of color globally.
To learn more about international financial institutions, checkout our Food page, Obstacle 3.
Global environmental policy is based in the neoliberal market economy. Environmental issues are only successfully written into policy through the quantification and commodification of nature, through carbon trading, programs like PES, REDD and REDD+, and through policies that reduce nature to ecosystem services. Nature becomes property, to be bought, sold, and valued through only a monetary value. In the field of Western environmental conservation, the predominant view exists that the natural world would be pristine without humans, i.e. true conservation requires the removal of humans from an area. This reductionist mindset sees humans and the natural world as separate and cannot fathom a world in which human communities live symbiotically with animals, plants, and the environment, rather than exploiting it. It is not human-nature to be exploitative and strip the Earth of its resources. It is a Western, colonial, patriarchal and capitalist economy that has committed these mass atrocities to local ecosystems through settler-colonial European agriculture and through extreme resource extraction.
Friends of the Earth International, Alliance against REDD, Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice, No REDD+ in Africa Network and Global protest in solidarity with the communities threatened by REDD+. 8 December 2015 - At the COP21 climate conference - Le Bourget conference centre, Paris, France.
"No REDD+ protest, Paris" by Friends of the Earth International is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"No REDD+ protest, Paris" by Friends of the Earth International is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- Green economy and carbon markets for conservation and development: a critical view.
- Endangered species, biodiversity and the politics of conservation.
→ for info on industrial agriculture visit our food and water page
“Development of settler agriculture and urbanization removed perennial vegetation from 70% of an entire landscape in under three hundred years [1,25]. Agriculture has transformed ecosystems in….from a state of high species and structural diversity to a state of very low species diversity and structure . This shift in ecological state has coincided with the removal of and harm to Indigenous peoples who still occupy this land; has resulted in polluted ecosystems; and, created agricultural lands that are heavily dependent on the use of external inputs including pesticides and fertilizers [20,28–30].” (Wartman, 2018)
Green Grabbing and Sustainable Development
Green grabbing is a land grab that is framed as necessary for environmental concerns, such as taking land for carbon markets, forest preservation, biofuel production, ecotourism, or conservation that displace the local and often indigenous people from the land. Often, national governments overrule the local peoples and sell indigenous, peasant, or rural land under the premise of “sustainable development.”
Books, Articles, and Reports:
- When WWF’s conservation looks like colonialism, it’s time for a new approach
- Networked, rooted and territorial: green grabbing and resistance in Chiapas.
- Spatial Transformation and Indigenous Resistance The Urbanization of the Palestinian Bedouin in Southern Israel
- The sustainable development goals, anthropocentrism and neoliberalism
- Development and social change : a global perspective
- The Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels
- Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature
According to intellectual property rights law under the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, corporations have the right to patent knowledge on nature and charge other businesses that want to use this knowledge. From an environmental economics perspective, privatizing land would lead to an increase in protection and conservation of the land. In environmental economics, publicly owned land results in the tragedy of the commons due to over-use by the people. TRIPS violates traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of indigenous communities as it has allowed the stealing and commodification of indigenous knowledge resulting in a company profitting off TEK rather than the community itself. To accommodate this, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity under article 8j, the Nagoya Protocol calls for corporations to share equal benefits from use of this knowledge with the “original knowledge holders.” The Nagoya Protocol prioritizes corporate gain and ownership of biological species over the safeguarding of indigenous knowledge and rights. There is not a clear pathway for sharing benefits with an entire peoples, especially when TEK has been passed down through generations.
False Solution 1:
Carbon offset programs such as UN-REDD and REDD+ were adopted in collaboration with three organizations from the United Nations: FAO, UNDP and UNEP in 2008. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) grants the opportunity to countries and corporations of Global North to exceed their permitted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by remunerating and using the forests in the Global South as Carbon Sinks. Such conservation programs have led to increased deforestation, GHG emissions, human rights violations and ecocides. The land management policies of REDD have resulted in local and indigenous peoples losing land and access to forests, often a main source of food, shelter, and livelihood. This displacement not only results in additional destruction of the ecosystems and the environment but also hinders the passing of traditional ecological knowledge that has allowed for the flourishing of forestland and a symbiotic relationship between indigenous peoples and the land. Under this framework, the land is privatized and the ownership is transferred to conservation based NGOs that permit industrial agriculture, “sustainable” logging and mining in previously protected zones, all while stripping local people of their livelihoods, cultures, and basic human rights.
Programs to offset biodiversity loss in one place by “conserving” land in another often are highly unsuccessful and lead to land grabbing, displacing communities, and infringing on human rights of local peoples (FOEI, 2019). A study completed of “558 offset projects between 1990-2011 found that despite offset attempts the net loss of habitats was 99%” (2019;2). Nature cannot be quantified. People over profit. There are highly lenient baselines for how much deforestation can continue to occur under these programs. REDD allows certain countries to continue polluting at the expense of others, a continuation of neo-colonialism. Often, money from the corporation or state will go to the national government rather than the local communities who live on the land. Programs such as REDD+ attempt to “save” the emissions to sell to corporations so they can continue polluting. It's a luring opportunity for a corporation to invest in forest conservation projects to offset their emissions. The REDD+ program has become a huge economic opportunity as the REDD+ permits are sold in voluntary Carbon Markets. However, as we have indicated above, offset programs actually lead to greater emissions, habitat loss, and greater biodiversity loss. To find out more about carbon markets and carbon trading, please visit our cooperative member’s website, Money or Mitigation on Carbon Markets and REDD+ and our Economy page.
- Can market based approaches tackle critical loss of biodiversity?
- REDD+: A lost decade for international forest conservation
- Exploring different forest definitions and their impact on developing REDD+ reference emission levels: A case study for Indonesia.
- REDD + The Carbon Market and California-Acre-Chiapas Cooperation : Legalizing Mechanisms of Dispossession
- License to pollute - Carbon markets and the new economy of nature
- Learning From 'Actually Existing' REDD+: A Synthesis of Ethnographic Findings
- A Climate of Injustice Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy
- REDD: A Collection of Conflicts, Contradictions and Lies
False Solution 2:
Institutional Approaches That do not Address Systemic Causes
In Forest Peoples Programme’s 2018 Report “Closing the Gap: Rights Based Solutions for Tackling Deforestation,” FPP addresses a variety of policies and approaches to mitigate deforestation. Commodity certification and voluntary standards, corporate social responsibility, and corporate commitments to zero deforestation are all top-down approaches which are self-regulating, do not address the colonial nature of the corporation’s existence, and do not address the businesses they partner with, the local laws. These approaches do not necessarily assist in changing national or international policy. Public policies and law enforcement to protect indigenous rights and land are necessary, but can often come at the price of pushing out indigenous communities. In 2004, the Zero Deforestation Law in Paraguay decreased forest loss but displaced local indigenous peoples and favored unsustainable industrial soy farmers needs instead.