Traveling on Stolen Land: How to Acknowledge and Respect Its Indigenous Identity

The first step towards decolonization? Acknowledging heritage and history

TripSavvy / Brianna Gilmartin

The recent confirmation of Laguna Pueblo member Deb Haaland to lead the Secretary of the Interior is a historic acknowledgment of the lands and lives stolen from Native Americans by the U.S. government. It wasn’t so long ago that North America—not to mention Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere—was a patchwork of Indigenous homelands.

Land was, and remains today, essential to the identity of Native communities. They depended on the land for survival, yes, but the forests and plains, rivers and oceans were more than just the resources they provided: they were part and parcel of Indigenous spirituality and worldview. Today, many of those landscapes are the same ones we flock to for rest, relaxation, and recreation.

The time has come for travelers, too, to recognize and repay the sacrifices of those who make our holidays possible. The first step towards decolonization? Acknowledging heritage and history. Here's how to do it right:

Acknowledge the Land's Original Inhabitants

The arrival of European settlers and the implementation of genocidal policies that destroyed communities and forcibly removed Indigenous people from their lands did not sever their connection to it. As Ojibwe elder and activist Great-Grandmother Mary Lyons says, “land is a part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future.”

Acknowledging the relationship between Indigenous people and their ancestral lands is an important way of recognizing the devastating impacts of colonialism and the fact that those impacts are still ongoing in Native communities. Before your trip, along with all the research you already do about where to stay and what to see, identify the people on whose land you’ll be travelling, their history and their present. Native Land Digital has mapped the ancestral territories of North and South America, as well as Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe and Asia in a free Smartphone app and website. Their interactive map even catalogs the Native languages and land treaties that checkered the landscape then and now.

Support Indigenous Activism

While it’s essential to acknowledge Indigenous communities' ancestral past, it’s just as important to consider their future. Native people worldwide face drastic inequities in everything from employment and education to health and political representation. Educating yourself and others about the obstacles facing those on whose ancestral land you're traveling is one way to help bring awareness to the lived reality of Indigenous communities today.

There are as many ways to learn more about the issues facing the Native communities of the region you’ll be visiting as there are to support them, including signing a petition, contacting local political representatives to urge them to support Indigenous issues, or volunteering your time. In the United States, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Native American Rights Fund are good places to get informed. For a more global perspective, try Cultural Survival, the Center for World Indigenous Studies, or the Climate Justice Alliance.

Support Indigenous Guides and Businesses

In robust Indigenous communities from Alaska to Guatemala, Native people run tour companies, ecotourism operations, and community-based hotels and restaurants. Supporting these businesses helps boost local Indigenous economies and gives you an important and often-overlooked perspective on your vacation destination. For help identifying Indigenous-run tourism operations in North America, check out the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association or the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. Australia and New Zealand also have organizations that promote Indigenous tourism nationally. In other locations, a simple web search can help identify the opportunities available.

Share on Social Media 

Alongside all those selfies and sunsets you’ll be posting to social media during and after your trip, share Indigenous origins of the land on which you’re traveling. Just a simple acknowledgment—“I’m at the Golden Gate Bridge on Ramaytush, Ohlone, and Muwekma ancestral land in what is today San Francisco,” for example—brings attention to the injustices that separated the community from its homeland. Go further by sharing some of the knowledge you’ve picked up about the Native past, present, and future along the way.

Contribute to Organizations That Support the Ancestral Community

If we all started donating to nonprofits or community groups that support the Indigenous people whose land we visit, we could make a serious dent in the inequities they face. Think of it as purchasing carbon offsets to decrease the impact of your travel on the environment. Donating to organizations or community funds that support those who currently or formerly lived on the land you’re visiting don’t just empower those individuals; they’re good for society, overall. If you can’t find a local organization, donate instead to one serving Native people nationally or globally, such as the American Indian College Fund, Native American Capital, the NDN Collective, Survival International, or the Forest Peoples Programme.

Article Sources
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  1. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a Rapidly Changing World."

  2. Ramaytush Ohlone. "Original People of San Francisco." Retrieved March 25, 2021