Runners for Public Lands is based on the ancestral homelands of the Chumash people. We express our gratitude for their knowledge and stewardship of the living lands through which we run, and honor the lands’ ethics of being good relatives to human and natural communities, and good ancestors to future generations.
While we at Runners for Public Lands celebrate the ecological, cultural, and recreational value of public lands, we’re committed to learning more about their painful history as stolen lands, and working with Indigenous and native runners for a more just present and future. Our view of public lands is informed by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi Nation. See her piece “Greed Does Not Have to Define Our Relationship to the Land” from which we quote at length below.
Let us remember that what the United States calls “public lands” (and, if the truth be told, all of what the United States calls private property as well) are in fact ancestral lands; they are the ancestral homelands of 562 different Indigenous peoples. A time-lapse map of North America would show the original lands of sovereign peoples diminishing in the onslaught of colonization and the conversion from tribal lands to public lands, some through treaty-making, some through treaty-breaking, some through illegal sale, and some through what were termed “just wars,” by executive action and “encroachment.”
Not only was the land taken and her people replaced, but colonization is also the intentional erasure of the original worldview, substituting the definitions and meanings of the colonizer. That time-lapse map of land taking would also show the replacement of the Indigenous idea of land as a commonly held gift with the notion of private property, while the battle between land as sacred home and land as capital stained the ground red. Of course our ideas were dangerous to the idea of Manifest Destiny; resisting the lie that the highest use of our public land is extraction, they stood in the way of converting a living, inspirited land into parcels of natural resources.
Native people have a different term for public lands: we call them home. We call them our sustainer, our library, our pharmacy, our sacred places. Indigenous identity and language are inseparable from land. Land is the residence of our more-than-human relatives, the dust of our ancestors, the holder of seeds, the makers of rain; our teacher. Land is not capital to which we have property rights; rather it is the place for which we have moral responsibility in reciprocity for its gift of life. Here is the question we must at last confront: Is land merely a source of belongings, or is it the source of our most profound sense of belonging? We can choose.