hiking on indigenous land

Hiking on Sacred, Indigenous Land — Is It Ethical?

Hiking on Sacred, Indigenous Land

Photo by MonkeyBusinessImages via iStock by Getty Images

Hiking continues to be one of the greatest pastimes for people all over the country, and since America is particularly known for having plenty of places to explore and vast swatches of land to enjoy, this is a prime place to do it. However, if you love hiking and exploring, then you need to do your research because you want to be respectful of other cultures, especially because there is a lot of sacred, indigenous land across our great nation.

You need to think about whether walking on indigenous land is ethical, and the answer will depend on how you go about exploring these areas. You need to do your research and take the proper steps to respect the land during your trip. Let’s talk a bit more about the subject and some tips to keep in mind during your outdoor adventure.

Research Your Route Before You Go

A look back at history will show how the land in the United States was forcibly taken from the indigenous people who were here before. Technically, you are always on native land. Even so, there are some places considered especially sacred and which have incredible significance to the people who have always called these places home. That is why it is so important to research your route before you go so you can ensure you aren’t going to trample over a sacred place.

There are maps of native land online to help you to spot the indigenous territories around the world. This will help you see if you will be close to these locations and plan your route accordingly. You can also look online to research land acknowledgments in the area, which are location tags that honor and recognize the indigenous people who have inhabited those lands. Even if you are not planning to hike in the area, it is still important to understand the significance of the location.

Another way you could ensure you are staying off of sacred land and honoring the people who call a certain place home is by taking a hiking tour with indigenous people from the area with an organization like Indigenous Women Hike. It is a great way to learn about the land and how to properly respect the Earth and the cultures that have thrived there.

Properly Traverse Indigenous Land

Even if you get approval, or otherwise learn you are free to hike across indigenous land, it is important to do your research ahead of time so you can ensure you aren’t causing harm to these important swatches of land. At a bare minimum, you should learn more about the people whose land you are on. Then, even if you don’t walk across a sacred place, you can still talk and think about the importance of the place during your hike.

If you really want to learn about the culture of the area, it is a good idea to hire a guide that is part of the tribe who owns the land. They can lead you through the best routes and teach you a lot of history along the way. You can either hike on foot or experience many of these routes by raft or on horseback.

As you hike, you are bound to see land acknowledgments and signage explaining the area you are about to pass is sacred land. You may also be asked to follow certain sacred-land guidelines. An example is, in some areas, they may ask women not to walk through a certain site if they are menstruating. Although they may be difficult to understand at times, it is still important to think about the desires of the native people. Once again, if you have a guide to lead you, they can help to explain many of these nuances and keep you in the good graces of the indigenous people.

Leave the Earth as You Found It

A major commonality you will see among many indigenous people is their connection to the Earth and the many gifts Mother Nature provides for us every day. When you are hiking, it is important to do your best to preserve the land and not cause unnecessary harm to the world around you. The world is already in jeopardy of deforestation and pollution as it is. Plus, the Earth does so much for us as it helps to grow natural lawns and gardens, provide cleaner air and beautify our homes, so this is one area where you will want to be respectful.

Whenever possible, stay on marked trails and hike in a straight line so you and your group cause as little destruction as possible. Remember any harm we do to our environment can cause ripple effects throughout the world. For instance, if you destroy the habitat of bees or other pests, then they could move to other places to build a new habitat that may not be hospitable — or they could hurt the people living in the new place. It doesn’t take a lot to damage the ecosystem, so if we all work together to avoid destruction and promote clean nature, then we can do wonders to help the environment. 

The indigenous people of the land will also appreciate you respecting them enough to treat their land with care and dignity. If you want to show more appreciation, then you can donate to indigenous communities through charities like the Native American Rights Fund and the Native Wellness Institute.

In Summary

Once again, the ethics of hiking on sacred, indigenous land depend on how you approach the history and seriousness of indigenous land. Follow the tips discussed here and you can have a great hike while also respecting the cultures that came before you.

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