Three decades ago, November was designated Native American Heritage Month as a way to honor the original inhabitants of what is now the United States. As the Land Back Movement, a growing effort to reclaim Indigenous lands, continues to gain momentum, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge all that was taken from them and redress historical wrongs.
To this end, the advocacy organization NDN Collective is raising funds for its LANDBACK.Art Campaign, a nationwide public art initiative that will uplift Native voices to raise awareness for the movement. In partnership with For Freedoms and INDÍGENA, they’ve invited 20 Indigenous artists and allies to design billboards that respond to the question: “What does land back mean to you?”
The signs will be prominently placed in locations across North America where communities are fighting for Indigenous rights and Native land protections. These include Everett, Washington, where tribes such as the Tulalip ceded acres of land to the US government in exchange for basic services and education; Jemez Pueblo (Navajo Nation) and Alamogordo (Apache Nation) in New Mexico, home to 23 pueblos and tribes; and Mandan (Standing Rock), North Dakota, where Native activists continue to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline over environmental concerns. Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Toronto are also on the list.
The artists selected for the project are primarily Indigenous, including Nadema Agard Winyan Luta (Woman Holy Red), Jeffrey Gibson, Cannupa Hanska Luger, and Xiuhtezcatl, or working closely with Native leaders and advocates.
“As a Native American (Cherokee/Lakota Powhatan) visual artist, I am an integral voice of my community and a vanguard of culture with a responsibility to promote the well being of our people on an intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional level,” said Agard Winyan Luta, whose billboard design superimposes images of babies in wombs on a hilly landscape with the messages “Earth is our Mother and “Water is Life.”
Nadema Agard’s billboard design.
Another participating artist, River Whittle, says that recognizing the effects of racism, slavery, and Native genocide involves returning physical land to Native people and providing reparations for Black descendants of enslaved Africans. Her billboard features a text that reads, “The land needs its people.”
“In the Native community, we talk a lot about generational trauma and also generation resilience. We inherit our ancestors’ experiences. White ancestors in America committed mass genocide, enslavement, and violence. That energy gets passed down generation to generation unless we face and heal it,” Whittle told Hyperallergic.
A billboard design by River Whittle.
A complete list of participating artists can be found on a Kickstarter page, which has so far raised $2,535 of its $40,000 goal. The organizers are accepting donations at different funding levels with varying rewards — supporters who give $25 will get a red vinyl “LANDBACK” flag, while $3,000 will help sponsor a billboard and earn the donor a unique printed photograph of the finished work.
“LANDBACK is not hyperbole,” said Demetrius Johnson, NDN Collective’s campaign organizer, in a statement. “LANDBACK is a commitment and promise to future generations … [It] creates a space for Indigenous peoples to communicate solutions that have worked, and will work, in protecting our ecosystem from capitalism, imperialism, and militarization.”