and Climate Change in the Midwest

Colonization and Climate Change in the Midwest

Through ecological disruption, destruction of healthy soil, forced displacement of Native people, and attempted genocide, it is clear that colonization lies at the root of today’s climate crisis.

Native peoples have been living in the Midwest and stewarding the land since time immemorial. European settlers used violence and other unjust means to colonize what is now Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska and forcibly remove the Ho Chunk/Winnebago, Ioway, Meskwaki/Fox, Sauk, and the Oceti Sakowin peoples in order to make way for white settlement. (See “history.”)

In her essay “Tallgrass,” Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of the Midwest: “It all got “broke” at the same time — the prairie, the treaties, and the relationship between people and land…Between 1800 and 1930, 95% of the world’s Tallgrass prairie was converted to farmland… What took 12,000 years to become rich with thousands of species, took only 120 years to turn into an ecological desert, composed essentially of two species: corn and soybeans.”

Before 1800, more than 60 million bison roamed this continent. Bison played a vital role in maintaining prairie and thriving ecosystems, as well as sinking carbon into the soil. When Indigenous people resisted their forced relocation to reservations (which functioned as open-air prisons) U.S. cavalrymen began to force submission by intentionally destroying the buffalo herds on which Native people depended for food and survival. By the late 1870s, 5,000 bison were being killed every day. By 1870, no bison remained in Iowa.

Today in the Midwest, as in all of the United States, over 98% of agricultural land is now owned by white people (USDA).

The Indigenous-led Great Plains Action Society seeks to resist such colonization by rematriating land in the Midwest, and particularly in Iowa, to Indigenous stewardship.

What is Rematriation?

Rematriation means both the physical return of land to the Indigenous people from whom land was stolen, as well as the Indigenous-led work of restoring sacred relationships between Indigenous people and their ancestral land.

Why Iowa?

Due to colonial agriculture and the forced removal of Indigenous people, Iowa is the most biologically altered state in the U.S.:

Non-Native people living in the Midwest can take a concrete step toward repairing this harm by supporting land return and rematriation to Indigenous stewardship.