'No ban on stolen land,' say Indigenous activists in U.S.

Indigenous people in the U.S. are joining the fight against President Donald Trump's travel ban policies, and trying to educate people in the process.

Native American activists join the fight against the U.S. immigration ban

Nick Estes and Melanie Yazzie joined protests against the U.S. travel ban at the Los Angeles International Airport this past weekend. (Christina Juscaz Wood)

Indigenous activists have started a social media campaign that has caught traction on both sides of the border using the slogan "no ban on stolen land."

They joined the protests at American airports this past weekend, standing in solidarity with Muslim people and their allies against U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban, and tried to educate the public at the same time. 

Nick Estes, who is from the The Lower Brulé Indian Reservation in South Dakota, decided to participate in the protests last Sunday at the Los Angeles International airport.

"People were singing things like This Land Is Your Land or The Star-Spangled Banner, and it was a very jarring experience for a lot of Native folks that were there," said Estes.

"It didn't accurately tell the history of exclusion and banning people, and whose lands it actually belong to," he said.

"It's not that we have to say we're pro-immigration for people to come and steal our lands. It means that if people are gonna come here and coexist peacefully, it has to be on the terms of the people whose land it is to begin with," said Estes.

Native American activists led a march at the Los Angeles airport on Sunday. (Nick Estes)
He said there was a welcoming ceremony held at the airport by the Tongva people — the original peoples of the Los Angeles area — for people who were detained there because of the travel ban.

As passengers got off their flights, the Indigenous people invited them to partake in the welcoming ceremony.

"We took in some refugee and Muslim families and recognized their humanity in distinction to the United States which claims exclusive ownership over who and what counts as human," said Estes.

"It means something much different if you're being welcomed by the original peoples, versus a colonial government."

He said he sees the welcoming ceremony as a means of asserting jurisdiction over the land.

"It means that the United States, as a settler nation, does not have the final say on who or what comes into the country because it's not theirs to own," said Estes.

"When we do that as Indigenous people, it's reclaiming our sovereignty, our citizenship, and more importantly our kinship.

Native-led march

The hashtags and signs started when Melanie Yazzie, who is from the Navajo nation, noticed that the American national anthem was being sung at the airport protests on Saturday.

"Native people were here before, and we can't be counted in that immigrant category that's glorified through the 'U.S.A.' chant that is happening," said Yazzie.

Yazzie had been watching the commentary on social media on Saturday night and came up with the hashtag on Sunday: #NoBanOnStolenLand.

She sees the hashtag and signs as a form of education for people who are unaware of Native American history. 

"I think what's important is that the hashtag has gained mobility but it's out there on the street now," she said.

"Because these kinds of movements are very organic, it creates political education literally on the streets while you're with groups of people.

"People showed up with the 'no bans on stolen lands' signs, we got a lot of confused looks from people," said Yazzie. "We were able to take charge, we led a whole march and basically shut down traffic at the airport."

The march was eventually led by rallying cries of "no bans on stolen lands,"  instead of the "U.S.A." chants.

"It makes them think more about their politics and how is it that we can engage in fighting back against something that is incredibly racist … like a ban on Muslims, while at the same time continuing to be in solidarity with Native people," said Yazzie.

Protest extends past American border

Nigit'stil Norbert is a Gwich'in artist and activist from Yellowknife. She shared the graphic this weekend in solidarity with the people who were protesting in the U.S.

"'No bans on stolen lands' is really poignant in the sense that we were here first. This is the true history, if you want to talk about it, we can learn from this history and move together," she said.

"We want to come in and change that narrative and share what that history actually is, and what these countries were actually built on."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1