The Student Movement For Gaza is LANDBACK; a Struggle Against Genocide, Militarization, and Colonization

“This is not about encampments. This is about stopping a genocide.”

Nick Estes, Lower Brule Sioux, Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota (UMN) who spoke to hundreds of people at the UMN Gaza Encampment on April 23, 2024.

There are no universities left standing in Gaza after the constant bombing campaign Israel unleashed on a civilian population of two million, half of which are children. Over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, and hundreds more in the West Bank, by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) since October 7, 2023. Indigenous Nations, communities, and organizations have joined the global protests for a permanent ceasefire, the end of the genocide in Gaza, and the end of Israeli occupation in Palestine.

NDN Collective’s Tactical Media team deployed to universities across Turtle Island to get on-the-ground accounts of encampments. The list of universities includes Brown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, University of Minnesota, and Northeastern University. While at Columbia we spoke to a few Indigenous students:

As Indigenous Peoples’ living in the United States, we understand this movement to end the genocide in Gaza and the Palestinian Right of Return shares the decolonial demands that the Indigenous LANDBACK movement outlines. LANDBACK is a movement to return the land back to Indigenous Peoples’; the original stewards of the land. LANDBACK is also a call for decolonization; for the return of healthy waterways; and for the return of our children. It is a movement for justice. It is a movement for life. 

In the face of state repression, arrest, and far-right retaliation, university students and staff are putting their bodies and their futures on the line to stop an ongoing genocide. The demands coming from these protests are universally aligned with the original demands coming from Columbia University– the site of the first Gaza solidarity encampments –  which are a divestment from Israel by the university, transparency about the university’s investments, and amnesty for students protesting. For these demands, police have arrested and brutalized thousands of university students, staff, faculty, university department heads, and supporters; including others who were injured by zionist retaliation— some of the most violent incidents erupted at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) encampment on May 1, 2024. 

These extreme acts of violence are nothing new. Violence was used to seize land from Indigenous People. Violence was used to build the foundation of the United States. Violence maintains the United States. Violence is the currency of the United States. It cannot operate without it. This is called settler-colonialism. The only remedy for settler-colonialism is decolonization.

The Importance of Telling Our Own Stories

“Today, America’s tongue is cloaked in ignorance and racism and imperialism as much as it was during the westward-movement era; and “removal” is still the infuriating thrust of Indian/white relations… It is because of this reality that I write,” said Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (2001), Anti-Indianism in Modern America.

The graphic videos of police and zionist violence upon the warriors at the encampments are difficult to watch but serve as a spotlight to illuminate the carnage happening right now across the country. As Dakota scholar and author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn emphasized the importance of writing and telling our own stories as Indigenous Peoples’, we must listen and continue to do so, or else others will tell them for us. If they cover it at all.

On May 2, 2024, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton called the university encampments “little Gaza cesspools of anti-semitic hate.” Cotton’s statement followed President Biden’s own condemnation of the encampment warriors saying, “It is against the law when violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It is against the law– vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations.” 

He said this after pledging to swiftly sign a $26B military aid package to Israel, who flattened every Gaza university with American-made artillery. This is “America’s tongue.”

There is a shift happening, however. The voices of the people, demands from the encampments, and the use of social media have overtaken mainstream media outlets. The response by the U.S. to popular education, on-the-ground media, and political programs is to restrict, ban, and vilify it. On April 24, 2024, U.S. Senator Pete Ricketts outlined why TikTok is facing a ban stating, “nearly a third of adults age 18-29 these young people are getting their news exclusively from TikTok. Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Hamas hashtags are generating 50 times the views on TikTok right now.” 

A video released on May 4, 2024, from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) showed the police investigations at the New York University encampment from the perspective of the police department. Allegations of “professional agitators that are radicalizing our students” were made by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Kaz Daughtry, and that the “radicalization is real” as they were sifting through political education material such as zines, pamphlets, and books. So, let’s continue to be “real” and share the history of the universities where some of the encampments exist.

Land-Grab Universities

“Hundreds of violence-backed treaties and seizures extinguished Indigenous title to over 2 billion acres of the United States. Nearly 11 million of those acres jump-started 52 land-grab institutions. Today, these acres form the landscape of the United States.”

– An excerpt from

The sites of these encampments are on Indigenous land. The history of the U.S. begins with the removal and genocide of Indigenous People; Universities in the US are an extension of that. The University of Minnesota, along with 51 other universities, are beneficiaries of the Morrill Act— an Act passed by U.S. Congress in 1862 that paid endowments for universities through the seizure of Indigenous land and resources. This means that the initial seed money that these universities received, and still use today, came from stolen land. These universities are called “Land-Grab Universities” (LGUs). 

Today, it is calculated that 79,461 parcels of land totaling 10.7 million acres valued at $495M were taken from Indigenous People across the US for these LGUs. The money that was to be given to Tribal Nations for this nonconsensual land theft was meager, or non-existent. To quote High Country News, “not a single dollar was paid for more than a quarter of the parcels that supplied the grants— land confiscated through outright seizure or by treaties that were never ratified by the federal government.” The University of California is one of the LGUs that benefit from an unratified treaty as all California treaties were never ratified by the federal government.

The University of Minnesota, an LGU that continues to exist and benefit from stolen Dakota, Anishinaabeg, and Ho-Chunk land and resources, maintains its wealth and status from the genocide of Indigenous Peoples’. When the University of Minnesota was granted nearly 50,000 acres of Dakota land purchased for $0.12 an acre due to the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, University regents that also signed the treaty chose timberlands near Rum River. To this day, the University of Minnesota still maintains that land in the region. Because of this, the arrest of the 9 people by the University of Minnesota Police Department on April 23, 2024, who were faced with trespassing charges, and some a 1-year ban from campus is ironic. It’s ironic because the land that UMN maintains is on stolen land. Furthermore, these students were advocating for UMN to stop funding Israel’s genocide of Indigenous Palestinians on Palestinian land. There should be no ban on stolen Indigenous land placed on students enacted from institutions that operate off the genocide of Indigenous Peoples’.


“When we talk about repression, I think it’s important to say it’s not just the state and its official organs that are oppressing us, but different non-state actors that do that work as well and work in tandem with the state. ”- Lenna Nasr, Palestinian Youth Movement, on NDN LIVE: Building Movements During Times of State Repression

For protesting genocide, students, staff, and faculty have faced swift repression from their respective universities. Since the first encampment at Columbia University on April 18 to the publication of this blog, over 2,300 arrests have been made across 52 universities in the US. This fast-acting to arrest and brutalize their students and faculty contrasts the response of universities when it comes time to protect their students and faculty from Zionist organizations who reveal their personal information publicly.

On October 12, 2023, at Harvard University, a billboard truck drove around campus with students’ names and faces of those in the Harvard Undergraduate Palestinian Solidarity Committee who signed a statement in support of Palestine. This doxxing stunt was funded by a conservative media advocacy group, Accuracy in Media. The response by Harvard officials was to send an email to those doxxed, and who were in fear of being doxxed, some campus resources. No arrests were made from this. More recently, on April 3, 2024, Harvard Law Students were also the target of a billboard truck doxxing attack after passing a resolution asking for the university to divest from Israel. Funds for this attack came from the Jewish Leadership Project. Again, the university was only compelled to act after students organized a high volume of emails to the Office of Public Interest and Advising to get their personal and employment information off internal university lists. Again, no arrests were made.

A statement written in December 2023 by the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies faculty in response to the genocide in Gaza encapsulates what state repression looks like on universities today, “Like other universities in nation-states whose existence is procured through the genocide and removal of Indigenous peoples, UMN risks functioning as a proxy for mounting state repression of resistance and justice.” That is what we have observed in our deployments to university encampments.

NDN Deployments

Our first live stream came on April 23, 2024, from Dakota, Anishinaabeg, and Ho-Chunk lands at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Throughout the day, cries and shouts for “LANDBACK” could be heard in addition to exclamations of “this is Dakota land.” However, the encampment was evicted (link) that night with the combined efforts of the UMN Police Department, Minnesota State Police, and the Minneapolis Police Department ordered by UMN admin.

In the early morning of April 27, on Massachusett and Wampanoag lands, the encampment at Northeastern University was raided by the Boston Police Department, Northeastern University Police, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. Catalyzed by outside agitation from counter-protestors with Israeli flags who entered the encampment the night before yelling “Kill the Jews,” Northeastern University administration enlisted local agencies to remove the camp less than 48 hours after its erection.

Students responded to escalating police violence, on some campuses linking arms to hold space, and in others like Columbia taking over campus buildings to fortify their encampments. Despite these attempts, police escalated violence on campuses across Turtle Island raiding Columbia with hundreds of police officers and using an armored vehicle with a ramp to smash through windows to enter buildings. Where one officer discharged their firearm leading officers pontificating on how they may have shot a student. This was after batons and various crowd control munitions were used against CUNY students an hour or two earlier.

Despite these overt displays of police violence, administrations, and governmental officials have gone to their podiums to laud praises on their law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, students continue to maintain encampments, calling for an end to the genocide in Gaza, and demanding their universities disclose their endowment investments and divest from weapons developers and war profiteers.

Photo by Lorenzo Serna, NDN Collective at the April 23, 2024, University of Minnesota- Twin Cities Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

Photo by Sherrie Hart, NDN Collective – On April 27, 2024, over 100 arrests were made at Northeastern University, Boston meanwhile police and onlookers observed from the sidelines.

Photo taken by Sherrie Hart, NDN Collective – on April 30, 2024, shows supporters of the Columbia University encampments cheering and rallying for those arrested and taken away in NYPD buses.

Live streams for Columbia University can be found on our NDN Collective YouTube page here.

Photo taken by Sherrie Hart, NDN Collective at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student encampment on May 4, 2024.

Video by Sherrie Hart, NDN Collective shows a banner being created that reads “From Moshassuck to Palestine LANDBACK” at the Brown University encampment.

The student encampment demands for divestment are courageous tactics of solidarity with our Palestinian relatives.  As Nick Estes was quoted in the beginning, the student movements are not just about encampments, but a call for the end of genocide. Indigenous People have experienced settler-colonialism for over 500 years. Palestinians have experienced it for almost 80 years. As we continue to tell our stories in the immediate, we can use these stories to look to the future. We see through the repression, the dehumanization of the warriors, and the injustice, that there is a more beautiful future. And it is because of the light that Palestinians in Gaza continue to show us that there is a way to make that future a reality. Zionism, settler-colonialism, and the US are losing the narrative battle. They are losing because those that side against settler-colonialism, and have won struggles against it, continue to tell their stories. So let’s continue to tell them.

Take Action: Show Solidarity with Students, Faculty, and Gaza

Follow these accounts on social media for updates on Palestine, Gaza, Rafah, and university encampments:

Related Stories:

NDN LIVE | University of Minnesota Live Gaza Solidarity Encampment. April 23rd 2024.


  • Demetrius Johnson

    Demetrius Johnson, he/him (Diné) is Bitter Water, born for Black Streak Wood People and is from Ganado, Arizona. Demetrius is…