What are the first things you usually think of when planning a hike? It probably has to do with the weather, what you’ll wear or pack, and what level of challenge you’re looking for that day. Starting today, I want you to add one more item to that list: whose land you are on.

Wait…what do you mean ‘whose land’? Isn’t it just public land?

In terms of our current understanding of land ownership, yes. Much of our recreation takes place on land owned by the state or federal government and preserved for public use. When it comes to the history of the land, however, there is a lot more you might want to consider about the trails and parks you’re enjoying.

Why does thinking about the history of the land we use matter?

  1. It’s respectful. For thousands of years native tribes cared for the forests, water ways, and animals. Now we are enjoying the fruits of their labor, and it doesn’t hurt us at all to take a moment or two to be grateful for that.
  2. It can help us feel more connected to the earth. So many of us enjoy hiking because it helps us feel connected to the environment around us. Learning about the people and traditions that came before us on this same land can make that connection even deeper.
  3. It can increase our compassion and understanding. Native peoples are still feeling the effects of this history today. Understanding history and the impacts we and our neighbors experience because of it can bring us together and open up many possibilities to create a more equitable future for all.

So, what is the history?

Many of the nuances of treaties made and broken by the US government are not covered in history curricula. History.com lays out the cycle of land secessions well. It is easy to see, in this format, the pattern: it begins with treaties made, followed shortly by settlers who move in against the agreements, resulting in bloody conflict, and ending with treaties that ceded huge amounts of land to the US only to begin the cycle again just a few years later.

We can see the result of this from the arcgis.com map below, which uses maps produced by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1899. Areas in grey, unceded territories, were never part of an original treaty, while areas in orange, reservations, are the current land holdings of native tribes. This leaves the area in blue, which is secessions in lands since 1776 through later treaties or forced removals.

Originally, the Salt Lake Valley was inhabited by the Shoshone and Goshute Native American tribes. At the time of the founding of Salt Lake City in 1847, the valley was within the territory of the Northwestern Shoshone, who had their seasonal camps along streams within the valley and in adjacent valleys.

According to Wikipedia, “one of the local Shoshone tribes, the Western Goshute tribe, referred to the Great Salt Lake as Pi’a-pa, meaning ‘big water’, or Ti’tsa-pa, meaning ‘bad water’.” Doesn’t even that little bit of information make you so much more interested in the space you occupy and how you interact with it!?

The same kind of information can be found about any place you might head to for a nature break in The States. Headed to the Uintas? You might be on Eastern Shoshone or Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) territory. Hiking in Moab? You’re most likely on Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) lands. Taking a weekend break in St George? The Southern Paiutes or Pueblos used to live on this land.

It’s actually quite easy to find out the territory you are currently on, or will be visiting, thanks to Native Land Digital, an organization that has mapped out, to the best of their abilities, tribal lands in the US, Canada, and Australia.

Taking the first step in land acknowledgement isn’t so hard – take 5 minutes to find out whose land you’ll be walking on for this trip, reflect on who those people are and the experiences they must have gone through/are still going through to allow you to be walking on that land today, and maybe add an extra line or two to your Instagram post recognizing the original stewards of the land and using the native names for the land – many, although not all, of which are already available on Instagram.

Want to do something a little more formal before your hike or event? The Native Governance Center has some helpful tips for creating a sincere land acknowledgment statement.

Taking other steps can be pretty easy too… 

  • Build a relationship with original stewards of the land by understanding their priorities for recognition and progress; donate time or money in ways they find valuable. 
  • Support organizations that not only benefit native communities but are led by them. Native voices are already there. They need them to be more widely heard in the environmental stewardship space.
  • Find other, as in non-charitable, ways to support native individuals and groups. For example, at the next wine hiking event, skip all those other Cali reds and try bringing a Kita Wine or other native-owned label to sip!

Going Further

In this post, I’m relying heavily on the amazing online resources and educators readily available to all of us. Sites like anti-racism daily, meztliprojects.org , and others have covered these topics far more eloquently and in depth than I ever could based on my racial identity. They also cover even more important topics and actions we can take. If you’ve benefited at all from this post, I recommend you check out a few of them and consider supporting these amazing educators and activists with likes, follows, comments, sharing their work with friends, and/or monetary donations.

Written by Rachel Smith

Written by Rachel Smith

Community Service and Outreach Ambassador

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