To dismantle oppressive systems on a structural level requires rewriting the standard philanthropic dynamic. The way people think about, organize around, and discuss change, and ultimately the legal and political contexts in which movements work to make change, are prescribed by who holds money and other resources. This “who” needs to change.

Community-driven solutions to persistent racial injustice, environmental degradation, and the lack of housing, food security, healthcare, and more can only happen when communities themselves are given the time, space, and resources needed to directly impact their people. A philanthropic model based on asset reallocation would make such a shift possible. Indeed, the impact of such reallocation could be monumental, fundamentally changing land conservation in the United States and empowering a bold new vision for ecological preservation and climate change mitigation. The Land Back and resource redistribution movements understand that these issues, and our communities, are interconnected.

When the NDN Collective talks about Land Back, we’re not just talking about the literal repatriation of stolen lands. We’re talking about dismantling the systems that made land theft possible in the first place. Public lands across the United States are being mismanaged, whether by the federal government or private interests, in ways that mirror the relationship these powers have had with Native people for centuries.

Placing philanthropic resources under Native communities’ control would help Native peoples challenge both public and private centers of power, which have perpetuated subjugation through displacement, and settler-colonialism’s legal and economic systems, which made this theft possible and sustained it. It would support Native peoples to reclaim Indigenous lands and reassert tribal sovereignty, benefitting Native peoples while also empowering their efforts to mitigate climate change, which benefits everyone. Extractive industries and corporate powers work to silo the issues we all face, from economic inequities to climate disaster.

Traditional, white-led conservation efforts too often treat the protection of lands like a real-estate venture. Conservation in this context often operates as colonization, with white settler conservationists and their organizations asserting de facto ownership over lands stolen from Indigenous peoples. The management of millions of acres of land by Indigenous people, supported by new capital resources, would allow Indigenous cultures and languages to flourish again.

We must allow ourselves to imagine the possibilities a transformative future. The Land Back movement is a pathway to liberation and justice for all. It encourages us to rethink some of philanthropy’s fundamental problems—its enforced scarcity, groupthink, and refusal to cede power. If its call is heeded, it can enable us to address systemic problems in a truly systematic way.

Read the full article about the Land Back movement by Nick Tilsen and Gaby Strong at Nonprofit Quarterly.