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