Land acknowledgments are growing in popularity. Perhaps you noticed the one that was featured in the recent 94th Annual Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade. Maybe you attended a meeting or gathering that began with one. Or perhaps you heard about them via podcast, from a friend, loved one, or a colleague in passing.
If you are curious about this practice or should you want to embed this practice into your organizational culture or way of living, it’s important to understand what they are, why they are significant, how to do them, and where to learn more about them.
What are Land Acknowledgments?
At their core, land acknowledgments are verbal or written statements that formally and publicly pay tribute to the original indigenous inhabitants of the land. In some instances, the acknowledgment extends to the actual land itself, which holds great cultural and spiritual significance for many indigenous peoples. In parts of the world such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, land acknowledgments are common. Events such as graduation ceremonies, business meetings, conferences, websites, school meetings, and even sporting events routinely begin with land acknowledgments. In Australia, you can even include land acknowledgments when you send mail!
What is the Meaning & Significance of Land Acknowledgments?
Land acknowledgments are intended to show respect and reverence for indigenous people and to recognize their relationship and tie to the land. This is a practice that indigenous people have done for centuries.
Contemporary land acknowledgments tend to focus on the social and political histories of indigenous people in certain geographical spaces. However, for some indigenous peoples, the land acknowledgment is also a way to honor the Earth itself as a sacred living entity and being.
When viewed through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, land acknowledgments are a very important practice. They educate people about the land and the people who are connected to it. More importantly, they disrupt the erasure, denial, silence, and suppression of indigenous people from history and the legacy of stolen land. They also serve to begin to decolonize the narratives and myths that we learned in school about America’s beginnings.
Through land acknowledgments, we start to acknowledge and confront the impacts that colonization, oppression, and systemic & structural racism have had on indigenous peoples and their communities in this country. This powerful practice is also an invitation to contemplate the harsh realities and uncomfortable truths that have brought us to this moment, requiring us to reflect on questions such as:
- What does it mean that our / my settlement is occupying space that belonged to people who are still here?
- What responsibility do we / I have to be accountable for the harm that was caused historically?
- What role will we / I play in creating a new relationship with the original inhabitants of the land and the land itself now and going forward?
How are Land Acknowledgments Done?
There are currently 574 federally recognized tribal nations and 63 state-recognized tribes in the U.S. Each group has their own history and protocols for doing land acknowledgments. There is no standard protocol or “right” way to do a land acknowledgment. Acknowledgments might be short or they might be detailed and specific.
The Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment published by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture recommends the following steps & framework:
Step 1: Identify
Naming and identifying the traditional inhabitants of the land where your gathering or event takes place is the first step in preparing to deliver a land acknowledgment. Finding this information can be difficult given the fraught histories of settlement, resettlement, and recognition of indigenous people. Multiple tribal groups may also claim a connection to the land. As the goal is to recognize and uplift rather than cause further division, it may be necessary to name and research various tribal groups that are connected to the land. So, prepare to do your research.
Leverage online resources, universities, and cultural institutions and organizations as you research. Also consider building relationships by consulting local indigenous elders and cultural stewards to best honor their wishes around naming, learn how to pronounce names properly, and positioning their stories – both past and present. Doing so will help you implement this practice in a way that honors and benefits their communities.
Step 2: Articulate
As mentioned earlier, land acknowledgments can be a short, simple sentence acknowledging the original inhabitants connected to the land. It could be as brief as this:
Good morning/afternoon/evening. As we begin this meeting, it’s important to pay respect to and acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the ____ People.
There are various levels of details that you may choose to add and weave into your statement based on your research and findings from Step 1. This could include acknowledging and honoring elders and ancestors as seen in the statement below:
Good morning/afternoon/evening. As we begin this meeting, it’s important to pay respect to and acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the ____ People and additionally pay respect to elders both past and present.
Lengthier statements may reference specific treaties by which a land was designated and/or an acknowledgment of the fraught history of violence, displacement, enslavement, migration, and settlement that inform both historical and current realities as seen in the example below:
Good morning/afternoon/evening. I would like to respectfully acknowledge that we are gathering on occupied/unceded/seized territory of the ___ People. We pay respect to their elders both past and present who have been stewards of this land throughout many generations. As we honor these peoples, let us also consider the legacy of violence, displacement, forced migration, and settlement that bring us together on this land today. Please join us in uncovering such truths and consider what actions we can take to enter into a right relationship with these original peoples and the land on which we are gathered.
Step 3: Deliver
Land acknowledgments should be more than just another protocol or routine item to complete at the beginning of a meeting, event, or gathering. Delivering land acknowledgments requires full presence, awareness, humility, and deep reverence for the original people and the land. Every delivery is an invitation to ground, reflect, and anchor the words in the significance of the act. Strive to deliver it with the intention of meaningfully honoring indigenous people and the land and inspiring attendees to consider their place and responsibility in undoing the devastating legacy of colonization.
Where Can I Learn More?
Land acknowledgment is a small first step towards reconciliation and creating equitable relationships with indigineous communities. It is not the only step though. Land acknowledgments are best done when coupled with deeper learning and meaningful, informed actions that decolonize relationships with indigenous communities such as improving education, creating economic opportunities for them, protecting sacred places, donating to them, and centering their voices.
To learn more, check out any of the resources that we compiled for you below:
- Articles: Why Land Acknowledgments Matter (Sapiens); Indigenous Land Acknowledgment (Native Governance Center); Indigenous Land Acknowledgement, Explained (Teen Vogue)
- Guides: U.S. Department of Arts & Culture Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment (U.S. Department of Arts & Culture) and A Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples and Traditional Lands (Engineers Canada)
- Land Map: Interactive Native Land Map (Native Land Digital)
- Social media campaign: Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement (U.S. Department of Arts & Culture)