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GBLA Resource Tool: The Land Back Spider Graph

How can tribes and non-Native entities work together to build tribal capacity in order to engage in land back?


Today, we're exploring a new resource tool that helps tribes and non-Native entities assess options when it comes to land return initiatives. It’s called the Land Back Spider Graph.



What is Land Back?

In general, the term Land Back refers to a movement that calls for the return of Indigenous lands to Indigenous peoples. It seeks to address historical and ongoing injustices related to colonialism, land dispossession, and the violation of Indigenous sovereignty and rights. Land Back advocates for the restoration of land rights and the empowerment of Indigenous communities to steward their ancestral territories. 


Land Back is a form of reparations and is another way to strengthen Tribal sovereignty.  


Land Back can look like many different things. We often think of Land Back in terms of ownership, or owning land, but Land Back actually includes a variety of pathways or steps to address the impacts of colonization.  While ownership is the ultimate goal for many tribes, it's not always the first option - tribal capacity challenges, access to capital, and other factors can make ownership unachievable in the immediate sense. When ownership isn't on the table, tribes need other options for restoring their relationships with their ancestral lands, while moving towards eventual ownership.


Land Back is not only beneficial to Tribal communities.  It supports Tribal sovereignty, which gives Indigenous people the power to nourish our ecosystems, provide solutions for climate change, and elevate public health outcomes and overall well-being for everyone. We all benefit from Land Back.


Photo: Chairwoman Corrina Gould hosting Redbud's Right Relations program, April 2024


What is the Land Back Spider Graph?

If Land Back is more than transferring ownership of land to Tribal communities, then what are the other options aside from "ownership"?


The Land Back Spider Graph is a Redbud evaluation tool that shows how well different land return initiatives are doing. It helps entities view their projects through six aspects related to land back, highlighting successes and areas for improvement in tribal relations. Using this graph to assess tribal and non-tribal relationships can guide strategies for improving these interactions.


The Spider Graph examines five areas:

  1. Access

  2. Consultation

  3. Stewardship

  4. Leadership

  5. Ownership


Let’s break down each of these areas to understand how they contribute to a land return initiative.

  • Access ensures that Tribal communities can physically and legally be on their Ancestral lands. 

  • Consultation involves engaging and including Tribal communities in meaningful conversations and decision-making processes about their Ancestral lands.

  • Stewardship focuses on how the land is managed and cared for by Tribal communities.

  • Leadership examines who is making decisions about the land.  For example, are Tribal leaders or community members involved in the decision-making process?

  • Ownership is about having legal rights to the land. It’s not just about using the land but having official recognition of ownership, giving Tribal communities the power and security that come with legally owning their Ancestral lands.


How Does the Spider Graph Work?

The graph is designed to create a spider web with five lines radiating from the center, each representing one of the key areas: Access, Consultation, Stewardship, Leadership, and Ownership.


Each line is scored from 0 to 25, with 0 meaning non-existent to higher scores indicating better performance in that area.


When you connect the scores on each line, you create a shape. The graph’s shape will give you a snapshot of where you are in the land return process.  Some areas on the graph may appear “successful” while other areas may need improvement. After evaluating each area, you will most likely have questions. It is important to recognize that this assessment process is subjective and influenced by various factors like your starting point or Tribal capacity, etc. 


To deepen your understanding, we strongly recommend using Redbud’s allyship and sovereignty spectrum resources, tools that help you see where you stand in your engagement with Tribal communities.




Why is the Spider Graph Important?

The Land Back Spider Graph is a vital tool because it provides a clear picture of how well land return initiatives are working. It helps individuals, organizations, public agencies, both Native and non-Native communities, identify strengths and areas that need more attention in the land return initiative.  By focusing on Access, Consultation, Stewardship, Leadership, and Ownership, the Spider Graph ensures that land return efforts are not only comprehensive, respectful and inclusive of Tribal communities, the Spider Graph also creates a pathway to build mutually beneficial partnerships while strengthening Tribal sovereignty. 


Imagine using the graph to reflect on your own tribal relations strategies. How might this give you insight into ways you can improve your approach?


Imagine you are a tribe; how might using this graph to map out your community goals help you navigate relationships with non-Native entities?


Understanding what is going well and what isn't in regard to Land Back can point the way towards next steps.


Where to find the Land Back Spider Graph

You can find the Land Back Spider Graph on Redbud Resource Group's Going Beyond Land Acknowledgements (GBLA) Resource Database, available on our website at www.redbudresourcegroup.org. You can also find an instructional video here How to Use the Land Back Spider Graph, and you can download a PDF copy of the Spider Graph. Additionally, check out Redbud's YouTube channel for our video series, Steps to Land Back, where you can practice using the Spider Graph!


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