PACD and LANDBACK™

Scott Bentley
9 min readOct 4, 2021
Photograph of activists from January 26, 2021, Invasion Day Rally in Melbourne by Matt Hrkac

PACD the YouTube channel with Peter Coffin and Astronaut Cowboy Doctor recently did a live-streamed video on LANDBACK which featured Caleb Maupin & Space Commune. In the video, PACD criticizes the LANDBACK movement as intellectual property, as a corporate brand trademark from the NDN Collective organization which accepts donations from organizations funded by Jeff Bezos and other corporate donors.

I was glad to see PACD start the video by acknowledging as communists they agree with the rhetoric of the LANDBACK.org manifesto. I am familiar with PACD’s formula of creating content criticizing a Twitter or BreadTube/YouTube trend as not communist or radical enough. As a long-time Peter Coffin and PACD viewer, I anticipated their criticism. PACD states the reason they do this is because these platforms play a major role in what is considered relevant to politics. And it’s accurate to characterize the NDN Collectives and LANDBACK campaign efforts as utilizing social media.

I wanted to address this video because I am a mixed Indigenous artist and I’m friends with racialized Indigenous artists. DA Navoti who is Hopi/O’otham/Zuni/Yavapai-Apache and Ruth Goffre received a one-year grant from the NDN collective for their performance series “Fight For Our Lives.” The series showcases Puget Sound artists, writers, and performers, and raised funds for other nonprofit organizations. For the sake of transparency, Navoti and Joffre have helped me to secure funding for my artistic work. Navoti donates his time unpaid to help BIPOC artists find professional funding opportunities. I admire Goffre’s and Navoti’s work, and the NDN Collective funding Fight For Our Lives is materially compatible with their political messaging.

I also wanted to write about this video because I cite the political rhetoric of the NDN Collective alongside The Red Nation and Indigenous Action organizations in my Master of Fine Arts thesis as an influence on my artwork. The thesis “Bwai \ Remapping” was recently published by Ann Arbor in 2021 and is available through the University of Washington Library and ProQuest.

I found Coffin’s characterization of LANDBACK as “a meme started in 2018” reductive towards Indigenous people’s liberation from colonialism since many views it as a method of Indigenous Liberation. PACD is aware that historically the struggle for Indigenous liberation from colonialism dates to the first occurrences of settler colonialism which were met with Indigenous resistance but thinks LANDBACK should not be a method for liberation moving forward.

For audiences unfamiliar with the concepts of LANDBACK I recommend the Indigenous Actions’ podcast recordings and Saint Andrewism’s video “LandBack: The Indigenous Liberation Movement” as starting points for information.

The day before watching PACD’s video and writing this essay, I did a live video for the University of Washington Bothell Master of Fine Arts 2021 Fall Convergence with Krista Franklin and Deborah Miranda. Both Franklin and Miranda are visual artists and authors whose work is related to the experience of being institutionally exploited because of their race. I recommend reading their work and had a nice conversation with them both. Miranda is mixed Chumash and Ohlone-Costanoan Esslen, her book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir published by Heyday in 2013 is informational regarding the ways racialized Indigenous people resist exploitation and erasure.

Something that bothered me about the video is that no one in PACD’s video was racialized as Indigenous. No racialized Indigenous people were allowed to participate in the conversation. When viewers mentioned in the chat that they were uncomfortable with the way LANDBACK was being characterized and the fact that no Indigenous people were invited on the stream, ACD responds that LANDBACK monoliths Indigenous communities and that Indigenous people and organizations are not a monolith. Indigenous people are not a monolith nor are Indigenous organizations. This statement is true regardless of how the person making it is racialized.

Indigenous activist, IllumiNative founder, and member of the NDN Collective board of directors Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee) has conducted original research into the ways Indigenous communities are being monolithed. According to Illuminative, Echo Hawk “designed and co-led the 2-year, $3.2 million research and strategy setting initiative Reclaiming Native Truth Project. The project was completed in June 2018 with the national release of the research findings.” According to the NDN Collective, Echo Hawk’s RNT project research is “the largest public opinion research and strategy setting initiative ever conducted for, and about, Native Americans.” In 2019, Echo Hawk spoke with Jordan Klepper on Comedy Central about the research findings and the social issues of Native Americans. Artist Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lokata) also spoke with Klepper about the ways Indigenous communities are being monolithed.

Critics of PACD in the chat were characterized as race reductionists who were too stupid to understand the dialectics of the conversation. When I said in the chat, “I’m not glad that no Indigenous activists were included” on the stream, ACD said, “I don’t know how to say this, but if they are supporting Amazon in their contributions to LANDBACK then I don’t give a fvck.” However, Peter Coffin who sells their book on Amazon was allowed to participate in the stream.

I understand PACD does not fvck with the NDN Collective, and not wanting to platform someone affiliated with LANDBACK.org and the NDN Collective on their channel. In my video and essay, “The Met Gala in Colonial Trash” I state I don’t fvck with the Met Gala and I also don’t fvck with people that do fvck with it. However, for the sake of research, I did reach out by email to the museum and asked an employee about the process for repatriating items to Indigenous nations, but no one ever responded to my email inquiry.

I wonder if PACD didn’t do their research to find racialized Indigenous people who would be willing to make similar criticisms of LANDBACK as a trademark or intellectual property with ties to corporations. As if they couldn’t find racialized Indigenous people who could criticize the way Indigenous organizations operate. This criticism wouldn’t be a form of horizontal racism, it could offer alternative solutions for how to practice land management, reformation, and reclamation. Racialized Indigenous people from different perspectives and who are critical of how organizations operate, critical of how organizations get their funding, or how some organizations are privatizing land when returning land to Indigenous nations exist. Racialized Indigenous people willing to criticize the corporatization and profiting of Indigenous liberation politics exist, PACD just didn’t include them in the conversation.

Mexie published a video on YouTube title “LAND BACK Hawaii, Indigenous Futurism, & Neofeud with Silver Spook,” In the video, Silver Spook talks critically about their experience employed by a Non-Profit Organization to teach life skills and STEM to Hawaiians. Silver Spook talks about how the organization secured funding from billionaires, how it operated, and how it paid them an unlivable wage which led to them leaving that organization. Silver Spook later created Silver Spook Games which operates as a co-operative which does not charge rent and developed the video game Neofued. Silver Spook made the point they don’t represent all racialized Indigenous people and Hawaiians. I appreciate Mexie including Silver Spook in the conversation and platforming Silver Spook Games.

In the PACD video, Space Commune’s statement regarding casinos as an example of decolonization is a bad way of discussing Indigenous issues. As were Space Communist comments that they can’t possibly be settler colonials because they didn’t choose to be born on occupied Indigenous territory. Indigenous nations can open casinos due to sovereignty from laws that prohibit gambling. To declare all Indigenous-owned casino businesses as decolonization and LANDBACK is a misrepresentation. Implying casinos are examples of why people should not support Indigenous liberation, land reclamation, or decolonization is colonial trash.

In the video, Caleb Maupin defends LANDBACK from the mischaracterization of racist separatism and apartheid ethnostates. Coffin also points out some discourse concerning LANDBACK can repackage the racist noble savage trope. In the Mexie video, Silver Spook talks about the societal advances made by Kanaka Maoli, Indigenous Hawaiians, and combats these tropes. I also wrote in my thesis about the experience of the Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry (ALOHA) and Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana as Indigenous Hawaiian organizations which faced criminalization under US occupation while protesting for the return of Kaho’olawe from the US military.

Similar to PACD, I am also critical of NGOs and NPOs. At best these organizations function as band-aids to larger problems in need of reform. At worst, these organizations are hella corrupt big philanthropy. PACDs criticizes LANDBACK as a movement currently “contingent on corporate investments which antagonizes what it purports to be doing.” Indigenous nations should not have to pay for stolen land. Since many Indigenous nations should not have to buy back stolen land and in some cases cannot afford to buy the land back many rely on the fundraising efforts of NGOs/NPOs. These fundraising efforts allow Indigenous nations to buy back traditional territory which would not be returned otherwise.

Organizers and Indigenous nations petition for public lands to be returned by governments without purchase and this sometimes happens like with Kaho’olawe, although like I stated previously this land reclamation took years of protesters facing criminalization. Other times publicly owned land is leased to Indigenous nations under treaty laws at little or no cost while still being owed by the colonial government. Other times colonial governments ignore and fail to enforce these treaties. Colonial governments still publicly owning traditional territory presents issues to Indigenous nations when these colonial governments can decide to no longer lease the land or to build power plants, fracking sites or pipelines on the territory. Not ownling the land outright leaves Indigenous Nations in precarious positions regarding the ability to have access to this territory for things like housing or traditional and cultural ceremonies, or when trying to present legal challenges to the construction of power plants, fracking sites, or pipelines. These are things that PACD, Maupin, and Space Commune either didn’t know (perhaps it didn’t occur to them in their settler colonial mindset which is why they should have had Indigenous people on the stream), or these are things that PACD didn’t bother to research, or decided to conveniently not talk about when discussing potential benefits for Indigenous nation’s privatizing land which was previously publicly owned by colonial governments because it was too inconvenient for the dialectics of the conversation regarding private property abolition.

PACD points out Indigenous nations would not have to pay for traditional territory if private property ownership was abolished, and this abolition is the exact land reform PACD supports as communists. That future abolition does nothing for the people who are currently forced to live under the current material conditions on reservations, in cities and suburbs not in a communist utopia. It also does not offer any guarantees that Indigenous nations would have access to land once private property is abolished.

In the video, Space Commune says that LANDBACK is “just a name which is no longer useful to us” because the name is working for the capitalist class interest. “Us” refers to people supporting communist land reform and when Space Commune says “the name LANDBACK is no longer useful to us” they mean it’s no longer useful to them, and they haven’t done the work to include Indigenous voices in the conversation.

I end my criticism with two calls to action. My first call to action is to include Indigenous people and cite Indigenous people as sources when discussing Indigenous issues or you’ll end up talking about these issues in a bad (colonial trash) way. My second is if you don’t want Indigenous organizations taking donations from corporations like Amazon you should donate, volunteer, and support grassroots efforts or mutual aid organizations so they don’t have to rely on corporate funding. I’ll link to a list I compiled of different Indigenous organizations.

One of these organizations Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment (also called RISE Indigenous) posted to its followers on social media that “LAND BACK is not a trademark or slogan and neither is it to be co-opted by the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” and encouraged people to “give money and resources to the communities who are at the heart of LAND BACK initiatives first and foremost. ” RISE is an Indigenous artist initiative dedicated to the amplification & evolution of Indigenous art & culture. RISE says when “the money gets funneled back into corporate America. That’s not LAND BACK at all.”

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Scott Bentley

Scott received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington, Bothell.