Landback: The Return Of All Federal Lands to Native Americans

Joe Whittle is a writer and photographer who focuses on Indigenous and conservation storytelling.

Artist Bio

This project will focus on the idea of landback and the Project Drawdown solution Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure, which has been estimated to have the capacity to reduce/sequester over 12 gigatons of carbon-dioxide emissions by protecting/returning land tenure to Indigenous communities. Whittle will be writing and photographing a series of seven exemplary essays focusing on different Indigenous peoples in diverse US ecoregions and their caretaker relationships with their homelands. He is proposing that the United States return all federal land to Native American tribes as a matter of addressing climate change, conservation, reparations, and a legal requirement due to the unconstitutional violation of every treaty the US ever signed with Native Americans. Fossil-fuel extraction on public lands is responsible for nearly a quarter of US carbon-dioxide emissions, making public lands a net emitter of greenhouse gas. This land return would address long overdue Indigenous reparations and turn public lands into a carbon sink rather than a carbon emitter. The essays will be published in various traditional media outlets to introduce the concept to a broad audience. They will also take the form of multimedia storytelling and community engagement events within the local communities of each ecoregion featured, to attempt to gain grassroots support from those communities. Support for returning federal lands to tribes from the local nonIndigenous communities around those lands could do much to sway broader public and political support for the idea. Everyone will benefit from Indigenous land return/tenure, and this project will demonstrate that.

Sustainable Development Goals icon SDG Goal icon for Climate Action.

Award Year

In Progress

Creative Capital Carnival 2023


Joe Whittle

Joseph, OR

As an enrolled tribal citizen of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and a descendant of the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, Whittle’s cultural teachings guide the work that he does as a storyteller to support his own and all Indigenous communities of life, be they human or more-than-human. The majority of Whittle’s creative practice has been in developing storytelling packages that share Indigenous values, issues, and stories, frequently including how those narratives tie to conservation work. He typically provides both the writing and the photography for the stories he publishes, building the literary and visual story together as one cohesive narrative. Whittle tries to weave his Indigenous teachings of reciprocity into his creative process. Every story shared with him is a gift, and he strives to treat them that way.