Haley Edmonds


Land is the central foundation around which all life is formed. Therefore,

societies must have a stable connection with the land in order to be structurally

sound. If this connection is weak or inflexible, every building-block of

civilization laid on top of it will inevitably crumble. Some societies have established

stable relationships with the land by working around and responding

to nature’s rhythms in order to satisfy their needs. Whereas other societies

have ignored nature’s intricacies and instead have tried to strong-arm

nature into yielding to their whims. These two diametrically

opposed approaches to conceiving of humans’ relationship with the land are

exemplified by America’s Indigenous peoples and Colonial immigrants, respectively.

Over the 15,000 plus years that American Indians have spent on

this continent, they have developed a system of land use that has allowed

them to live sustainably within their means. They have also created a system

of land stewardship that reflects their deep reverence for the land as a living,

breathing entity. This is in stark contrast to the system developed by White

immigrants, which treats the land as a commodity, and fails to devote resources

to its protection, unless it is benefitting a private interest. As this

paper will demonstrate, these conceptions of land are deeply entrenched in

each society’s identity. Thus, if America’s federal government is to find a

solution to its self-inflicted climate crisis, it must look outside of itself for

answers. It must instead look to the infinite stores of wisdom that have been

passed down for generations by our Nation’s original inhabitants. But America

must be careful not to perpetuate its appropriative track record by integrating

this wisdom into its existing management system without also integrating

the Indigenous peoples that provided it. Only by recognizing

American Indian land rights will America have a fighting chance in saving

this country from environmental extinction. As an achievable first step, the

U.S. federal government must recognize American Indians’ international law

right to Free, Prior, and Informed consent.