You’re already on stolen land. You might as well pay rent.
And yes, if you’re wondering: this post is for white settlers.
I f you’re not already actively working to unlearn colonizing habits and unconditionally support Indigenous people, now is the perfect time to start. It’s November, and that means it’s Native History Month. Native History Month urges us to ask how we can better recognize, support, and protect Indigenous communities.
First, ask yourself this question every day:
Whose land am I living on? If you don’t know the answer, you can look it up using this map. Instead of labeling by country or official government, the map shows Indigenous nations and their relative territories around the world. It’s not a perfect way to think about Indigenous nationhood, but it’s definitely a start.
The second question to ask yourself:
What do I own on this land? Or more directly: How have I benefited from this land? Maybe you have a house, a job, a car, a family. Maybe you earned a degree here. Maybe you have enough food in your cabinet. Maybe you’re able to rest from work. Maybe you have savings.
You couldn’t have owned those things without the stolen land you stand on.
And the third:
What people have lost from what I have gained?
For many people who grew up in this settler-colonial society, decolonization is a reckoning. It asks us to consider what we have truly earned and at what costs.
But I’m not here to comfort you or entertain your guilt. If that’s what you want, you don’t actually care about Indigenous folks. The truth is, Indigenous communities need resources, not apologies.
If you can’t offer services or labor for Native communities this month, the best way is to spread wealth (or perhaps more accurately: return wealth) and support communities so that they have the resources to be autonomous.
What do I mean by this, and how is it helpful?
Decolonization refers to the radical undoing of colonization that continues to take place ever since colonizers first made contact with Indigenous people over 500 years ago. But let me be clear here: decolonization is more literal and urgent than antiracism or representation. Those are certainly vital elements of the movement, but I agree wholeheartedly with Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s definition of decolonization as “repatriation of Indigenous land and life” — meaning that decolonization requires settlers to return land back under Indigenous stewardship.
Sure, we might be able to call out racist costumes, demand more positive representation of Native people in media, or make a land acknowledgement at an event, but what does this all mean if we are not actively working toward reinstatement of Indigenous governance?
Decolonization requires settlers to offer their resources — gained from stolen land — to Indigenous people and communities.
It goes much farther than “rent.” The Duwamish tribe (located on Coast Salish land we call Seattle) uses their “Real Rent” for Duwamish Tribal Services, which provides “provides social, educational, health, and cultural services.” In addition, this rent funds the the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, which is a free museum, event space and community center.
Paying rent to a community every month is also an opportunity for non-Natives, and specifically white settlers, to consider and reflect on what it means to live on this land. Real Rent Duwamish, for example, suggests choosing a rent amount that holds symbolic significance for Real Renters.
“Paying $54 a month could serve as a powerful reminder of the 54,000 acres of homeland that the Duwamish Tribe signed over to settlers in 1855.” — from the Real Rent website
However, not every Indigenous group will have a program as direct as Real Rent. Some communities have opted into building a land trust to reclaim land and autonomy. The Sogorea Te Land Trust, based in the Bay Area, is an intertribal organization that seeks to gain access and ownership over the ancestral lands of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone folks.
In their words, they envision
“…working toward the acquisition of a variety of lands situated throughout Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone territory, with an emphasis on reclaiming parcels in the midst of an urban setting.”
To acquire these lands, the Sogorea Te Land Trust offers the choice to donate funds through a voluntary land tax.
In addition to acquiring and preserving ancestral land, the Shuumi Land Tax will be used to “establish a cemetery to reinter stolen Ohlone ancestral remains and build urban gardens, community centers, and sacred arbors so current and future generations of Indigenous people can thrive in the Bay Area.” Paying rent to communities opens up the means for folks to reconnect, heal, and advocate for themselves.
You might be wondering how to pay rent to local Indigenous communities if options like Real Rent or paying a land tax aren’t available.
Keep this in mind: this is all really about redistributing settler capital so that Indigenous folks can acquire the means to be sovereign.
Donate to organizations that directly support Indigenous people, like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center or the American Indian College Fund. Remember that staying local is the best way that individuals can most directly support the communities that also inhabit this land. Spread wealth to your Indigenous neighbors. Pay attention to GoFundMe or Twitter fundraisers and donate or just share when you see someone in need. Tend to community gardens so that food insecure folks have something to eat.
(I also want to stress that, since there are over 500 federally recognized tribes and even more unrecognized tribes in the US, each with with their own traditions, histories, and values, not every community needs the same thing.)
There’s a million ways to provide resources. Communities and organizations are already doing amazing things; use your privilege so they can continue to do so.
And, finally, listen: if your ears aren’t muffled with the sound of your own guilt, you’ll be surprised at what you can learn and how you can be a better advocate.