November 25, 2020
By Harmeet Kaur, CNN
(CNN)Around this time every year, Americans come together to share a feast commemorating a myth about its first inhabitants.
An indigenous tribe did eat with the Pilgrims in 1621 and sign a treaty with the colonists that had settled on their shores — an act of survival rather one of goodwill and friendship. But the relationship would eventually break down, decimating the tribe’s population and whittling away its land.
Nearly 400 years later, the descendants of the very tribe at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday are still fighting to reclaim their lands — a fight that ironically hinges on whether or not the tribe meets the federal government’s definition of “Indian.”
“We’re kind of stereotyped as the tribes that met the Pilgrims and that’s our whole history, like we ceased to exist in 1621,” said Robert Maxim, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The Mashpee Wampanoag have lived in what’s now Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. Despite their storied history in the US, they weren’t recognized by the federal government until 2007. And in recent years, court rulings challenging whether the tribe’s reservation is eligible to be put in trust have posed an existential threat.
Their fight is one in a broader movement by indigenous people across North America to reclaim their lands — a movement that is gaining steam as the nation grapples with injustices committed against marginalized communities.
Each battle is unique. For some, reclamation is about identity: ceremonies, connections to ancestors and traditional knowledge. For others, it’s about economics: being able to hunt for food, access clean water and build homes or schools. And it can be about sovereignty: jurisdiction and governance.
Ultimately, it’s about getting indigenous lands back in indigenous hands. Though the fight is not new, activists are seizing on the moment to amplify their demands. Because finally, some non-Natives are paying attention.
Their claims to the land are in limbo
“The origin of being Indigenous is location and ties to the land,” said Randall Akee, an associate professor of public policy and American Indian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
So, the demand is simple: Give us the land back.
Their claims are rooted in the US government’s dark history of removing indigenous people from their lands, whether through forced seizure or through treaties that promised them other lands or services.
Maxim was born in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and raised in a nearby town. He said he’s seen so many areas that once belonged to Mashpee Wampanoag citizens now overtaken by people who don’t understand its history.
In the face of everything the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has endured, it has managed to maintain its identity. So the fact that it’s now losing its connection to the land is especially frustrating, Maxim said.
In 2015, the federal government declared it would place about 300 acres of land in Massachusetts into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, turning it into a reservation — a victory after decades of trying to reclaim land.
Read the full article here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/25/us/indigenous-people-reclaiming-their-lands-trnd/index.html