It’s becoming common to have “land acknowledgements” at justice focused gatherings. This is a way to recognize and respect Native peoples and their relationship with the land we colonizers stole from them. It also strengthens everyone’s relationship to nature, the lands we occupy, and the communities our dominant cultures often never take the time to see. Sometimes a land acknowledgement is simply asking people to name the traditional territory they reside on as part of their introduction, and sometimes it’s one person bringing a deeper discussion to the gathering. I delivered this land acknowledgement February 12, 2021 to a SheEO gathering. SheEO is a radically generous community supporting women + non-binary people working on the World’s To-Do List. It is an uplifting community for women + non-binary folks starting a social impact business and for anyone who supports social impact businesses through advice, caring, sponsorship, and funding.
Thank you for taking part in today’s land acknowledgement. I encourage those unfamiliar with the practice to learn more about why it is so important and incorporate it into your own communities. I encourage you to use one of the land maps such as https://native-land.ca/ to find what land you occupy, then visit those nations’ sites to get their thoughts on land acknowledgements and how we help each other thrive.
We, I, still benefit from institutions, including governments and schools, built on land stolen from indigenous folk, built with the labor of Black people ripped from their own indigenous homelands.
I am a descendant of both the colonizers and those they tried to destroy – the Lenape, now known as the Delaware, who greeted tired, starving travelers on America’s east coast, and welcomed them to this continent. Our society still suffers from the suppression of the matrilineal cultures of so many indigenous tribes, and we will grow and thrive when we reclaim more of those community focused traits we’ve coded as too feminine and therefore not valuable.
I am descended from the Lenape peoples, and I am a citizen of two Native nations. I know my legally defined blood quantum, but that doesn’t tell me which parts of my DNA are typically found in any specific Native population. DNA does not, cannot, indicate race, cultural connection, or citizenship. My tribal citizenship also doesn’t confer automatic cultural connections – I have few cultural touchstones with own my Native nations. It’s a complex situation – citizenship, DNA, lineage, and cultural connection are all distinct and often inappropriately mixed ways to talk about who is Native. The terms Native, or indigenous, or Indian are also problematic. If you know someone or are talking to or about someone who identifies as Native, use their terminology and where possible their specific Native affiliation.
Remember that native people are still here, still suffering from systemic oppression, and still loving, laughing, and thriving. Choose to honor them, don’t appropriate from them. Live by the idea of “Inspired Natives, not inspired by Natives.” Research when and where it’s appropriate for someone not a citizen of a given Native nation or tribe to use, buy, or wear Native items and imagery. My earrings today for example are made by Lakota artists and sold to support an Indian school. Honor the people behind the items and images you do use. Support Native owned and Native led businesses, community groups, and organizations such as the Navajo Water Project.
Thank you for pausing to SEE and LISTEN TO the Native folks around us.
My land acknowledgement is personal and action oriented. It acknowledges the past, sees Native peoples in the present, and envisions a more equitable future. Native peoples are still here. They are multi-dimensional, complex humans existing in countries that are often openly hostile to their existence as individuals and sovereign nations. This acknowledgement is specific and models good anti-racism practices. Where it was available and clear I used the language preferred by the people I refer to, even where it was inconsistent throughout my story. The bolded line above can be used as part of your introduction to any group – simple and straight-forward. Practice adding land acknowledgements and broaden what you know about Indigenous folks around you.