Exerting Native Sovereignty in the Time of “Something Else”

By Drs. Nicole Blalock and Cueponcaxochitl D. Moreno Sandoval

Feature Photo, courtesy of Dr. Vanessa Esquivido (Nor Rel Muk Wintu, Hupa, and Xicana)

Embedded within the United States are five hundred and seventy-four federally recognized, and dozens of state recognized, Native nations [1], and more that are neither state nor federally recognized. These first peoples of the land were her original caretakers before settler colonization, broken treaties, and genocide stole 98% of the land, decimated populations, and removed Native peoples to reservations, pueblos, rancherias, missions, villages, and communities. [2] Yet, we are still here.

Asserting that we are still here, land acknowledgement [3, 4] as a movement has seen rapid spread in recent years across Turtle Island (what we currently know as Canada, the United States, and Mexico). [5] And while it is an important first step, it is just that – a beginning. There is a history and a present that has brought us and you, dear reader, to reside on the stolen land of Native nations.

In understanding that all land is Native land, and that most of us are uninvited guests as a result of settler colonialism, we assert the inherent sovereignty of Native nations. But, in these relationships, the responsibility lies with all of us to recognize tribal sovereignty, countless treaties, and basic human rights. Colonialism is an on-going structure that reifies antiquated ideas about comparative human worth. Uprooting colonial systems requires dismantling the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and connecting to worldwide efforts to repudiate the doctrine. The United Nations assert in the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [6] that Indigenous Nations have the right to prior free and informed consent. Indigenous human rights benefit all life. To advance the process of co-liberation, we must not wait for federal or state governments to honor Native sovereignty, we (all of us, dear reader) must exert our human rights and supersede any inhumane process to erase us/Native nations.    

CNN anchor discussing presidential exit poll results on November 3, 2020. The category “Something Else” is used to describe anyone not identifying as White, Latino, Black, or Asian.

We are not “Something Else” as CNN categorized us this past November 3rd. We cannot be written out of history or the democratic process. Despite being the land’s original peoples, it has been less than 100 years in this country that the citizens of Native nations have held United States citizenship, and voting rights have been protected in all 50 states only since 1962. That’s 58 years. That’s our parents’ generation. And yet, despite long-standing and widespread disenfranchisement and barriers to voting [7], data consistently show just how much the Native vote matters. A Summer 2020 report by the Native American Rights Fund documented numerous instances where the Native vote decided Senator elections and where increased Native voter turnout could have changed outcomes. Initial reporting over the last week shows that this year is no different – in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, the Native vote was integral in election results. [8] By referring to Native Nations as “Something Else”, mass media channels perpetuate Native nation erasure, one of the greatest threats to humanity and earth sustainability. 

Map showing how different Arizona precincts voted in the 2020 Presidential election (left). 

Map of tribal lands in Arizona (right).

Garrett Archer/ABC 15 Arizona (left) and Environmental Protection Agency (right). 

As presented and captioned by High Country News, November 6, 2020.

When we consider furthing Native sovereignty in our work as Native women artivist scholars and professors [9], we approach it through a practice of strengthening kinships – engaging our institutions in contemporary practices of land acknowledgement, building coalition with diverse communities of peoples, and creating linkages between disciplines so as to support our students in generating new Native knowledge or finding a respect for Indigenous knowledge. Our on-going and relational work continually builds upon itself with new questions constantly generated as student, colleague, and community teachers inform our practice. As such, our responsibility as uninvited guests on others’ land is to explore with the Native peoples of the land and surrounding areas how to be in good relationship and to help others engage in continued critical conversation and action towards Native land acknowledgement, responsibility and co-liberation.

Action can take many shapes and is happening all around if you look for it – if you don’t know whose land you are on, find out

  • Follow and support local Native nation causes
  • Support and advocate for the #LandBack movement
  • Protect waterways
  • Organize for the (re)naming of Euro-centric spaces and the removal of colonial monuments
  • Advocate for #NotYourMascot in all levels of sports and schools
  • Co-create in partnership with Native nations and communities
  • Advance #BlackLivesMatter on Native Land
  • Build bridges with other Native communities across the Western Hemisphere

Protectors from Nor Rel Muk Wintu, Hupa, and Pomo standing for Black Lives Matter at an Anti Police Terror Project event in Cesar Chavez Park, Sacramento, California on June 3, 2020. This day, the state and federal governments brought out the military to “protect buildings” and curfews were implemented.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Vanessa Esquivido (Nor Rel Muk Wintu, Hupa, and Xicana) 

If the earth could speak, what would she say?  

She might not categorize the keepers of her languages, “Something Else”. She might encourage her visitors to learn whose land you are on. She might inspire you to engage in parallel processes that embody the responsibility of protecting the land and the Native nations of the land in which we live, as well as interrogate our ancestral, earth-based stories. Who are we in relationship to the Native Stewarts of the land in which we live and work, towards co-liberation? Honoring Native land goes beyond wordsmithing a welcome. Native land acknowledgements invite an opportunity for healing intergenerational wounds of colonial systems of oppression. Aurora Levins Morales reminds us that healing is a process of engaging in medicine stories, unwinding colonial structures to collectively heal with the earth. [10] May we walk together to reveal the stories of the earth encoded in the Native songs, languages, foods, and stories of long-time protectors of the land.


[1] We recognize that words hold power, and that Native studies in particular must address the use of terminology. For consistency, throughout this essay, we have selected the terms Native, Native peoples, and Native nations, to refer to the Indigenous/American Indian/Native American/Alaska Native/First Nations peoples of what is currently Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

[2] Not every recognized Native nation has a designated land-base. There are 326 reservations and some 700 trust land and state designated tribal statistical areas. Explore Native Land Representation Areas in the United States.  

[3] Here is a toolkit that can give insight into how to responsibly adopt Native Land Acknowledgements, specifically in California. California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center’s Toolkit: Land Acknowledgement – You’re on California Indian Land, Now What? 

[4] U.S. Department of Arts and Culture #HonorNativeLand

[5] Recognizing that colonialism is an on-going structure, “what we currently know as” imagines a future for the land more influenced by Native nations.  

[6] United Nations, “United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2017.

[7] Native American Voting Rights Coalition, “Obstacles at Every Turn.” Native American Rights Fund. Published June 4, 2020. NARF reports on 11 key barriers to the Native vote, which includes challenges related to geographic isolation, technological infrastructure, housing insecurity and lack of traditional addresses on reservations, lack of government identification, and language. 

[8] Smith, Anna V., “How Indigenous Voters Swung the 2020 Election.” High Country News. Published November 6, 2020. 

[9] It is important to note that in providing a written order to these identities, this order does not suppose these identities to be hierarchical. Like Arvin, Tuck, and Morill (“Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatricarchy”, 2013), we choose instead to problematize inclusion as Native, as women, as activists, as scholars, or as professors to mean exclusions of the issues and struggles of the other identities. The struggle undertaken as one identity is inextricably linked to the struggles of the collective of identities we hold. 

[10] Morales, A. L., “Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals”. Duke University Press. 2019.

Suggested citation: Blalock, N. & Moreno Sandoval, C.D. (2020, November 26). Exerting Native sovereignty in the time of “Something Else”. Re/Visionist: An online publication from the women’s history program at Sarah Lawrence College.


Dr. Nicole Blalock is of Crow, Cherokee, Chickasaw, settler-Danish, and settler-English descent, currently learning, teaching, and building co-resistance as a guest in Sesevenga, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Sesevitam, whose descendants are citizens of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. She is in her first year of the tenure track as faculty in the American Indian Studies Program at California State University, Northridge, where she also serves as faculty in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies doctoral program. Her community work and scholarship focuses on access, retention, and success in education, healing from intergenerational trauma, and building culturally sustaining, artivist programs. 

Cueponcaxochitl D. Moreno Sandoval is Caxcan, Xicanx and Izkalotekah, currently living, learning and teaching as an uninvited guest on California Northern Valley Yokut Lands. She is an assistant professor of Native American and Mexican Indigenous Studies at Stanislaus State. She was awarded the Faculty Innovative Leadership Award by the California State University Chancellor’s Office in 2020. Her research focuses on connecting to and revitalizing ancestral knowledge systems. The goals of her research are to increase student voice and community engagement towards co-liberation of Mother Earth, Black, Indigenous, People of Color and the oppressors. She has published a book entitled Ancestral Knowledge Meets Computer Science Education: Environmental Change in Community. She is currently co-researching with students on the impact of learning son jarocho in the Central Valley and the experiences of women of color learning computer science education. She loves to walk barefoot on the earth, garden, play son jarocho, learn Nahuatl songs and use coloring utensils with her toddler-teacher, partner, extended family and community. 

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