CA - Indigenous land trust empowers women to reclaim and restore ancestral land
Corrina Gould, co-founder of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, explains the concept behind rematriation and how it extends beyond the movement to return land to tribes.
In East Oakland, California, traditional and medicinal plants like sage, tobacco and mugwort grow on a quarter acre of land alongside fruits and vegetables. For Corrina Gould, it’s a piece of her tribe’s ancestral homelands.
Gould is the tribal chair for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, a tribe not recognized by the federal government. When that quarter acre was returned to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust — an organization Gould co-founded with other Indigenous women — it was the first step in a vision to reclaim Indigenous land, a process called rematriation.
The organization defines rematriation as “work to restore sacred relationships between Indigenous people and our ancestral land, honoring our matrilineal societies, and in opposition of patriarchal violence and dynamics.”
They want the country to move away from seeing the land and its resources as something to extract from — a practice that is often associated with men’s domination — and toward viewing the land as something to take care of. Indigenous, women-led conservation, in Gould’s view, is one way to bring that balance back to the land.
Since that initial success, the land trust has successfully secured several other land transfers, including five additional acres from the city of Oakland. On the land, they’ve built community gardens, held traditional ceremonies and invited the broader community to rebuild relationships with land that are based on reciprocity rather than ownership.
“We can imagine reopening creeks and fixing watersheds again, and bringing salmon home and teaching our kids how to restore things, and plant things that are good and to take out invasive things, and watch our bees return and be resilient,” Gould said. “Those are the dreams of rematriation.”
The success they’ve seen in Oakland is part of a growing trend. According to one tracker compiled by researchers at the University of Kansas, there have been at least 90 instances of land being returned to tribes publicly in the past five years as part of what’s become known as the Land Back movement.
The 19th spoke to Gould about the meaning of this larger movement, the work of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and how people living on stolen land can be a part of rematriation efforts.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jessica Kutz: Could you talk about what rematriation means? Is it synonymous with the Land Back movement, or is there a different meaning behind the word and what it symbolizes?
Corrina Gould: I think there are a whole bunch of different ways of looking at it: rematriation versus repatriation, for example. Repatriation is really about war and men having to repay back for the destruction that they’ve done. But rematriation is about bringing people in in a different kind of way.
It’s about looking at what our Indigenous epistemologies tell us about women’s leadership in our tribal ways and how our women are first leaders in our families, but also leaders of tribes in many cases. They’ve made the decisions of when people harvested in the ceremonies that happened, and in some cases went to war. It was the women and the mothers and the grandmothers that decided that because they’re their life givers. We are talking about women in broad terms. We are also talking about our nonbinary relatives who were an important part of our traditional ways.