On the Present Past and the Struggle for Land Justice

by Kathleen Nay

On Wednesday, September 20th, Grassroots International hosted a reading and panel discussion with authors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons at the Tufts Health Sciences Campus. The event was co-sponsored in part by the Tufts Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEP) program, Friedman Justice League, and Friedman Student Council. Student Kathleen Nay reflects on what she learned. (A version of this article was also published at UEP’s Practical Visionaries blog.)

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

In undergrad, I had a history professor who liked to remind us that “the past is always present.” He opened each class period with a quirky anecdote tying the distant past to today. We learned things like the origin of the phrase “to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and the ancient beginnings of practices we think of as quite modern: applying makeup or playing table games. He used the phrase as a mnemonic device to encourage students to remember the importance of history. While most of the historical snippets he shared escape me now, the idea that the roots of the past reach like tendrils into the present is something I still think about often.

But history is not always a quirky story about babies and bathwater. For many, historical oppression manifests as inherited present-day trauma. I’ve been reminded of this throughout my time in the Friedman and UEP programs, where I’m not only learning what it means to be an expert in my field (environmental and agricultural policy), but also where I’m learning to confront privilege in my life and practice, so as not to become a policy “expert” who ignores the lived experiences of others.

On the evening of September 20, around sixty people gathered to hear from the editor and coauthors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States. Land justice is the idea that people and communities that have been historically oppressed have a right to land and territory. The book’s 20 contributors examine themes of privilege in property ownership; black agrarianism and liberation; women’s work on the land; indigenous leadership; migration and dispossession; the implications of transnational food regimes; land-based racism; and finally, opportunities for activism and healing. Notably, the volume includes a chapter on land access written by Caitlyn Hachmyer, a 2013 alum of Tufts University’s Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy program.

The evening began with a short mistica ceremony that grounded us, leading us to reflect on our relationship with the Earth and our place upon it. We honored those who have sacrificed (and are sacrificing) everything on the front lines of land justice; and reflected upon the ways in which we might continue learning and offering solidarity to those fighting for land justice. On the ground in front of us were seeds, soil, and signifiers of the struggle against capitalist interests and colonialist occupiers of contested land.

Mistica Ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Mistica ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Director of Food First and coeditor of the new book, Eric Holt-Gimenez opened with a reading from the volume’s introduction, which reflects on a mythos well-known to Americans and to New Englanders in particular, wherein Squanto [Tisquantum] shows the pilgrims how to plant herring alongside corn, to nourish the crop and ensure a plentiful harvest. What the mythic Thanksgiving story fails to capture, however, is that Tisquantum was a captive of European explorers. While held in Europe for 16 years, his tribes—the Massasoit and Wampanoag peoples of the “New World”—were decimated by disease introduced by the colonists who overtook their homeland.

The story of early America doesn’t offer much more hope for agrarianism. Over the next centuries, dispossessed British, Nordic, and European peasants led the transition from agrarianism to the Industrial Revolution, and over time agriculture became less about feeding people and more about feeding the capitalist machine that is corporate agriculture. Holt-Gimenez’s introduction to the book sets the historical stage by emphasizing that “racial injustice and the stark inequities in property and wealth in the US countryside aren’t just a quirk of history, but a structural feature of capitalist agriculture… In order to succeed in building an alternative agrarian future, today’s social movements will have to dismantle those structures.” When you begin to examine—really examine—the root causes of hunger in our country, he says, it all comes back to the land. The past is always present.

But there are seeds of resistance, and their stories are told in Land Justice.

The first author to speak at Wednesday’s panel was Kirtrina Baxter, whose contribution to the book centers on black women healing through innate agrarian artistry. In her talk, she introduced the concept of women as seed keepers. “Black women’s acts of creating are often relegated to carrying the seeds of the human population,” Baxter and her chapter coauthors write, but “through historical and contemporary narratives of Black women agrarians, activists, and organizers, we describe innate agrarian artistry as the creative, feminine use of land-based resistance to simultaneously preserve the people and soil.” Baxter et al. acknowledge women as creators—not simply as prolific wombs, but also as literal and spiritual seed keepers, carrying on the traditions of seed saving and telling “seed stories,” (the cultural missives that get passed down along with the seeds). Baxter’s chapter in Land Justice celebrates the historical resistance “of which Black women have woven quilts, sang spirituals, and foraged from the land for survival.”

Suyapa Gonzalez was the next panelist to speak. Though not a contributing author, Gonzalez is an organizer with GreenRoots, a community-based organization in Chelsea, Massachusetts committed to achieving environmental justice through collective action, unity, education, and youth leadership. Through a translator, she gave a rousing appeal for land justice in Chelsea, where much of the soil is contaminated from years of chemical dumping, and where 72% of households are renter-occupied. “After God, it is to la madre Tierra that we owe our lives. If [our Mother Earth] dies, we will also die,” she opened, and ended with a call for everyone to demand better protections for the land that gives life.

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, Suyapa Gonzalez (and Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, and Suyapa Gonzalez (with Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

The final coauthor to speak was Hartman Deetz, a member of the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe and an activist for land justice and indigenous rights. Deetz owns two acres of Mashpee land in Cape Cod—two acres of land, he emphasized, which has perpetually been under Mashpee ownership and never owned by white men. He pointed out that North America is entirely stolen land, evidenced by the many places across the continent bearing now-familiar American and Canadian names, but rooted in indigenous words: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; Narragansett, Rhode Island; Nashua, New Hampshire; the Dakotas; Ottawa, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; even Massachusetts itself. It’s a long list.

But the taking of indigenous land is not simply a footnote in the distant past. Here too, the past is present. Today the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe is fighting the government for federal recognition of their tribal status and rights to retain ownership over 11,000 acres of ancestral land. Unfortunately, it’s a situation not unique to the Mashpee; in his Land Justice chapter, Deetz recounts his experience standing alongside the Standing Rock Sioux in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People are still losing lives and livelihoods in the struggle for land justice.

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The evening closed with a chance for attendees to break into small groups for discussion and reflection. My group took the opportunity to consider just how present the past really is. We reflected on how the histories of indigenous peoples and people of color, so deeply tied to land ownership (or lack thereof), are all but erased in our culture. I left with a deeper resolve to seek out those hidden histories, to use my profession and practice to amplify efforts for democratic community control of land, and to lend my support to organizations that do the same.

Kathleen Nay is a third year AFE/UEP dual degree student. This summer she discovered Native-Land.ca, a resource to help North Americans learn more about the indigenous histories and languages of the region where they live. If you have a zip or postal code, you too can learn more about your home on native land.

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Hello Friedman!

by Danielle Krobath, Friedman Student Council

A birds-eye view of the 2016 Welcome Back picnic. Photo: Friedman Student Council

A birds-eye view of the 2016 Welcome Back picnic. Photo: Friedman Student Council

Welcome to all the new and returning students. Having spent the summer here in Boston with a handful of other Friedman Jumbos, it is certainly a welcome sight to see the halls of Jaharis filled with people again. To kick off the semester, Student Council is busy planning the legendary “Welcome Back Picnic,” to take place near the docks on the Esplanade on Saturday September 16th at noon. We provide the food, you just bring yourself (and your friends, family, children, etc.)—we really hope to see you there!

Meeting other students across the various academic concentrations here at Friedman is one of the things that I enjoy most about serving as co-chair on Student Council. The chance to meet so many new people has been thanks in large part to the various events planned by the Social Chairs last year. Events range from the popular Friedman Fridays at Jacob Wirth’s (although if you go on Monday’s it is 45-cent wing night—yes, you can eat wings in nutrition school), to the trampoline park. The most memorable weekend for many Friedman students was the ski trip, when over 30 Friedman students trekked up to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine for the weekend. A special shout out goes to FPAN doctoral student, Sara John, who broke her wrist learning to snowboard but still made it to Taco Night six hours later! Hannah Kitchel, External Social Chair, has begun putting together a list of events for the upcoming year, and encourages any suggestions you may have. The best way to reach Student Council is through email (friedmanstc@gmail.com) or to visit our brand-new Facebook page. After you click Like, send us a message.

Another pertinent role of the Friedman Student Council is to act as a liaison for the entire student body to the school administration. Historically this begins with a student feedback seminar each Fall. This year the feedback seminar is scheduled for Wednesday, October 25th at noon (look for more details via email and social media soon). In the Winter, the Student Life Representatives, Kelly Kundratic and Rachel Hoh, will take the ideas echoed at the feedback event and create a student life survey, the results of which are then disseminated in the Spring. Last year’s feedback events saw notable success, illustrated by the Jaharis Masters Student Lounge, where brand new desktop computers were installed this summer. If you are looking for more recreational or academic space, we encourage you to take advantage of the newly built Friedman Student Lounge on the second floor of Jaharis, in the smaller area outside of Jaharis 156 where there are new couches and desks, or in any the individual or group huddle rooms located on the 8th floor of 75 Kneeland Street.

Lastly, Friedman Student Council funds many of the unique student organizations formed here at the school. One student organization that Student Council was proud to contribute to was Let’s Talk. Let’s Talk was a month-long seminar, developed by four first-year students at our school, where Friedman students willingly engaged in bi-partisan dialogue with others at West Virginia University, in response to the political landscape that followed the presidential election.

Being involved in the activities hosted by Student Council and any of the other student groups at Friedman is a fun way to truly appreciate the grad school experience, without the stress of exams and deadlines. This sentiment is echoed by current Student Life Representative, Rachel Hoh: “We’re all extremely busy people. The wonderful thing about being a part of Student Council, and the greater Friedman Community, is coming to events, taking a deep breath, and spending a fun and TASTY time with my peers!”

When you want to take a break from your studies, get involved with the running of our school, and get to know your Friedman fellows, we sincerely hope Student Council can serve as a valued resource. All of us on Council look forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones throughout the upcoming year!

Happy Fall!

Danielle Krobath
Friedman Student Council Co-Chair
Food Policy & Applied Nutrition Class of ‘18

Bringing Friedman Together: A Welcome Letter From Student Council

by John VanderHeide

At the heart of the Friedman community sits our Student Council, who is busy planning a host of opportunities to bring Friedmanites together this year. Don’t miss out on these fun events–read this letter from John VanderHeide, Student Council Co-Chair, on how you can get involved.

Getting in touch with our silly sides at Friedman Field Day on Georges Island last semester.

Getting in touch with our silly sides at Friedman Field Day, a Student Council sponsored event on Georges Island last semester.

Hello Friedman,

I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome you to (or back to, as the case may be) school after what I hope was an amazing summer. To celebrate our wonderful community the Student Council will be hosting a picnic on Sunday September 11 near the docks on the Esplanade. We bring the food, you bring yourselves and your favorite lawn game or sporting activity. It will be a great way to enjoy a summer day before Boston remembers that it is supposed to be cold here and we have to go inside again.

Finding ways to bring the Friedman community together is one of the things that I enjoy most about serving on the Friedman Student Council. Last year we were able to organize 16 different social events ranging from an “Orphan Thanksgiving” for students staying in town over the short break to the end of year “Friedman Field Day” on Georges Island where we celebrated ending our studies with some fun in the sun. Looking ahead to the coming year, Social Chair Orion Kobayashi has already started putting together a list of events, big and small, that should be a ton of fun. Let him know if you have any ideas or suggestions, and I look forward to seeing you all when you need a diversion from your studies.

Building community structures is another part of the Friedman Student Council that I have found particularly rewarding. One of our roles is to serve as a connection between the student body and the administration of the school. As part of that function we organize a student feedback event each semester to ask your opinion on your experience at the school and how it is being run. In the fall we will be holding a town hall-style feedback event on Thursday, November 3–come and be opinionated. There are also many other less formal ways in which we are able to provide feedback to the administration, so never hesitate to let us know how things are going or if you need anything from us as your representatives. An easy place to reach us is at friedmanstc@gmail.com.

The last of our major functions is to provide funding to the many vibrant student organizations that operate at the Friedman School. During the 2015-2016 school year we were able to fund $3,608 in requests made by seven different student groups such as Friedman Justice League, Slow Food, and Business Link, among others. They used these funds to put on 48 additional events ranging from an Environmental Justice tour of Roxbury to five TED-style talks on new issues in nutrition. We are really excited about seeing the great ideas that you all come up with this year—hopefully we can beat last year’s student funding levels and give you all more money for cool activities.

For those of you interested helping us do this fun and important work, we are looking to fill 11 council positions this fall, including Treasurer, Curriculum and Degrees Representative, Co-Chair, and others. Being on council has been a lot of fun for me, and really great way to connect to the Friedman School. Rachel Hoh, current Student Life Representative, agrees saying, “I started in AFE last spring, halfway through the 2015-2016 academic year. Because of that, I was worried I was going to be playing catch up all semester! Being a part of Student Council has been an immersive experience, allowing me to jump right into social and academic life at the Friedman School.”

So, if anything you read here sounds interesting we will be holding informational meetings the first couple of weeks of the semester with applications due September 16, and elections on September 20-21–watch for more information in your inbox and on social media soon! Having you join us would be a pleasure.

Cheers,

John VanderHeide
Friedman Student Council Co-Chair
AFE/UEP Class of ‘18

John VanderHeide is a second-year AFE /UEP dual degree student studying food system planning and policy in the developing world. He recently spent the summer interning with the UN World Food Programme in Rwanda.