The Native Lands Advocacy Project and Native Land Information System is the product of nearly 20 years of grassroots organizing and advocacy work.
History of the Native Lands Advocacy Project (NLAP)
While the Native Lands Advocacy Project was founded in 2019, its strategy and approach has been under development for nearly 20 years through the work of Village Earth. Below is a brief chronology of events that lead to where we are today. A central philosophy within the Village Earth approach is the concept of “praxis” as described by Paulo Freire, where the path of social justice and liberation is guided by the interaction between theory and action. Below is a nearly 20 year chronology of our praxis as it relates to Native lands.
2001 - Pine Ridge Strategic Planning Workshops Facilitated by Village Earth
Village Earth was asked by the OST Housing Authority to facilitate a series of strategic planning workshops over one year with resident tenant organizations (RTOs) in each of the nine districts. We learned how, starting in the 1960's, the government's policy to address the poor standard of living on the Reservation was to move people off their lands and into clustered housing projects. This policy broke apart families and the relative self-sufficiency many families enjoyed on their own lands. This policy also made it easier for non-native to have nearly exclusive control over these lands through leasing. Overwhelmingly the participant's long-term vision was to move out of housing projects and back onto their own allotted lands with their tiospayes (extended families) and utilize them.
2003 - pilot project with Red Cloud family to support family land recovery efforts
In response to RTO workshops, Village Earth initiates pilot project to learn what obstacles exist to land recovery and partners with the Red Cloud family to help support their family-based land recovery efforts. Through this initiative we learn about the web of red tape in the way of Lakota families who desire to live on and utilize their legally allotted lands.
2004 to Present - Support land recovery projects across the Pine Ridge reservation
Village Earth supports families across Pine Ridge on land recover efforts including gardens, renewable energy, fencing, biodiesel, establishing a marketing cooperative for Lakota Bison Caretakers and releasing over 100 bison onto Lakota lands. Through this work we learned more about both the opportunities and obstacles to native land recovery and documented it.
2006 - Allottee Land Planning Map Book
In 2006, with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation we compiled what had learned about land recovery into a book and distributed it for free through a series of Strategic Land Planning Workshops across the Pine Ridge Reservation. The book included detailed maps and data that families need to create plans for their lands. We estimated the book would save a person at least a dozen trips to the BIA Realty office to get the same info.
2011 - Cutting through the red tape
Village Earth partnered with Indian Land Tenure Foundation on Message Runner Volume 5 which sought to replicate what we had developed for Pine Ridge in our Strategic Land Planning Map Book but on a national scale. This experience taught us that what we were doing on Pine Ridge was needed on a national scale.
2012 - Pine Ridge Land Information System
Taking advantage of advancing web-based mapping technology, we adapted our map book into an interactive online resource. Developed in partnership with the OST Land Office, the Pine Ridge Land Information System makes it possible for Lakota Landowners to search and locate their lands using their Tract ID. The site also includes historic treaty boundaries, original allotment maps, county platte maps, range units, and other data needed by the Tribe and Lakota land owners to manage and plan for their lands. We realized that technology is making data more user friendly and is making it possible to distribute massive amounts of data at a very low cost relative to print media.
2012 - Consulted on Pine Ridge maps for August issue of National Geographic Magazine
In 2012 Village Earth was asked to consult on the maps for the August 2012 edition of National Geographic. Through our research the status of Bennett County, SD came into question and we discovered that State of South Dakota's interpretation (that the county is not part of Pine Ridge) differeed from the Federal Interpretation as a restult, NGS decided to include it as part of the Reservation in their maps. Through this experience we realized that having access to boundary and land status data is necessary to be able to interrogate the legitimacy of those boundaries.
2017 - Feasibility Study to Calculate Lost Agriculture Revenue From Ceded Indian Lands
Upon invitation by the Indian Land Tenure Foundation we were asked to research whether we could obtain over 100 years of land status, agriculture and leasing data needed to perform such a calculation. We scoured the internet, academic libraries, the National Archives and Library of Congress, and submitted two FOIA requests to the BIA. We discovered that along with government's failure to protect native lands from being exploited by non-natives they have effectively been engaged in a cover-up of the extent of that exploitation by failing to property document and publish data on agriculture and leasing. We also discovered that there's a vast amount of data and information out there that would be valuable to Native peoples but can't be used because it is aggregated at the State and County levels and not within Reservation boundaries (which often overlap with those boundaries).
2019 - Birth of the Indian Land Information System and Native Lands Advocacy Project
The NLIS was born out of a continuation grant from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to build upon and share our findings from the feasibility study and to build a portal for continuing our strategy of making critical data available to native peoples.