Yale Forests & Indigenous Narratives: A Working Syllabus

Welcome. This syllabus came out of the Yale Forests Reading Group, a learning journey begun by post-graduate fellows and students in the summer of 2020. We started the reading group because we’d learned so much about the soils, trees, climate, light, and hydrology of Yale-Myers Forest – where we study, manage, conduct research, and sometimes live – but little about the Indigenous Nations that hold and have held deep connections to this land for thousands of years. If you live or steward land in northeast Connecticut, we hope this syllabus will help shape your understanding of the Indigenous peoples who have long maintained relationships with this landscape. If you are located elsewhere, we hope you can use the resources gathered here as a guide in your own work towards a more complete understanding of the Indigenous narratives of place where you are.

Listening to Indigenous narratives is one step on the path towards land stewardship that benefits and empowers both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, rather than propagating erasure. Many of the themes in this syllabus are interconnected and do not fit neatly into categories. If you find yourself moving through different subjects or time periods, don’t worry about the order. Each resource explores the history and continuance of Native peoples and connection to place. We hope you’ll find the work of the Indigenous scholars, activists, aut​hors, podcasters, and filmmakers that we’ve collected to be as profound as we have. We would also like to express our immense gratitude to those whose work we’ve shared; thank you.


Are there any topics you would like to learn more about and see highlighted in the syllabus? Let us know by email: yale-forests-reading-group@mailman.yale.edu.

Indigenous Erasure in the Environmental Movement

In the Northeast, dominant narratives about Native nations propagate false understandings and misconceptions—that Indigenous peoples were here once, but they didn’t have much impact on the land, and they’re not here anymore. These problematic assumptions erase Indigenous peoples’ continued life and presence in our region. At the same time, it flattens and hides the enduring web of connections between Native peoples and their homelands. Where do these narratives come from? Who do they service, and who do they erase? 


Prompt: Explore the world around you. How is erasure woven into your understanding of the landscape you’re in? What are examples of erasure you’ve seen?

Erasure and Wilderness

Pristine Forests and other Lies - Justin Robinson (@countrygentlemancooks), IGTV video 

Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England Interview - Jean O’Brien, hosted by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond podcast

The Myth of a Wilderness Without Humans - Mark Dowie, The MIT Press Reader

Indigenous Geographies and the Value of Place-Based Knowledge

Ideas of space, place, and landscape are as varied and complex as the cultures and histories of the people who hold them. They aren’t restricted to the physical, spatial areas but deeply tied to ancestry, culture, relationships, and identity. It is important for us to understand and respect one another’s relationships to the land. 


Prompt: Explore the map at https://native-land.ca/

Where are We?

The Rights of the Land - Robin Wall Kimmerer, Orion Magazine

Introducing: Indigenous Geographies - Meghanlata Gupta, Indigenizing the News December 2019 Special Edition

Land Dispossession

Private property is so integrated into the ways many of us relate to land that we hardly take a moment to consider it. Land is owned and passed from one property owner to the next; links in a never-ending sequence of possession. But this sequence began with dispossession: the massive theft of Native lands across the North American continent. Through coercion, manipulation, and violence, the wealth of the United States was built on stolen land. 


Prompt: Learn about the current crisis facing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe here.

Explore the resources outlined in Continuance from Our Beloved Kin to further engage with the “continuance of Native nations in New England.” 

Land Theft and King Philip’s War

We Shall Remain: Episode 1, After the Mayflower - PBS, American Experience Series

Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip’s War - Lisa Brooks, interactive website and book

Guardianship, Land Allotments, and the Dawes Act

The Land Grab - hosted by Rebecca Nagle, This Land podcast

The Dawes Act Started the U.S. Land-Grab of Native Territory - Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today

Land Theft and University Wealth

Land-grab universities: Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system - Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, High Country News

How universities benefit from stolen land w/ Tristan Ahtone & Bobby Lee - hosted by Nick Estes, The Red Nation Podcast

Tribal Sovereignty and Recognition

Tribal sovereignty is the inherent right of a Native nation to govern itself and to determine its own future. The United States operates with three types of sovereigns—federal, state, and tribal governments. Tribal sovereignty is critical to understanding the history and present of Indigenous peoples in North America. 


Prompt: Learn about which tribes are recognized by the state and/or federal government where you live here. Buy and eat from Native-owned food companies, farms, and restaurants. This list is a great place to start.

Tribal Sovereignty and Land

Professor Breaks Down Sovereignty and Explains its Significance - Shaawano Chad Uran, Indian Country Today

Tribal Sovereignty and Indigenous Rights: Part I & II: Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation - hosted by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond podcast


The Nipmuc Nation, Federal Acknowledgement, and a Case of Mistaken Identity - Rae Gould, (book chapter in Recognition, Sovereignty, Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States: A Sourcebook, edited by Amy E. Den & Jean M. O’Brien, 2013) 

Judge dismisses Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s lawsuit in land seizure dispute - Dave Collins, The Associated Press, Norwich Bulletin

Food Sovereignty

Episode 6: Food Sovereignty with Dr. Elizabeth Hoover - hosted by Andi Murphy, Toasted Sister Podcast

The Thanksgiving Tribe Is Still Fighting for Food Sovereignty - Alexandra Talty, Civil Eats

Gather film 


It is absolutely essential that we both hold ourselves accountable for the ways in which we have perpetuated anti-Blackness, continue to educate ourselves, and work to center Black voices and organizing efforts in all that we do. 


Prompt: Connect with local Black Lives Matter initiatives through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (in New Haven: here, here, and here). Explore IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas at this link.

BLM and Intersectionality

Beyond Blood Quantum - Matika Wilbur & Adrienne Keene, All My Relations podcast

An Indigenous View on #BlackLivesMatter - Leanne Simpson, Yes Magazine

Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty Are Interconnected - Josué Rivas, The Nation

Further Resources

For further resources, please see the posts (as Instagram post or listserv) below:

The authors would like to thank the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition. The format of this syllabus was largely inspired by their excellent Disorientation Syllabus. Thank you.