It is estimated that the first Indigenous tribes migrated to America between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago. Scientists believe these early explorers traveled a coastal route down to what is now California. There’s also speculation that a mid-continental route along the Rockies that existed could have been another potential passageway. Continued research using DNA evidence should help to uncover what archaeologists were unable to determine from the study of Native artifacts.
America today, as we know it, is divided into 50 states and 16 territories. Since the first European colonists arrived in the 1600s, Native Americans have defended their land. Through various government treaties and acts that weren’t necessarily made in good faith, a significant portion of their territory was lost. Only a fraction (about 2%) of the ancestral land remains in the control of their tribal descendants on designated reservations. 56 million (of a total of 2 billion+) acres, to be exact.
What is a land acknowledgement?
To give reverence to the Indigenous land we now occupy, which may have been the result of a genocide or unjust displacement, many institutions and organizations have developed land acknowledgement statements. These statements can be written and posted in a permanent place in brick-and-mortar settings, published on websites and made as verbal announcements at the start of cultural and sporting events, worship services, conferences, classes and for our specific purposes—scientific laboratories and workspaces.
Public land acknowledgements are intended to honor truth, show respect for the Native community and inspire ongoing awareness and action to right the wrongs of the past. In the scientific community specifically, land acknowledgements can help reinforce core values of inclusion and remind us of our collective American heritage. In plain terms: It’s the right thing to do!
What should a land acknowledgement say?
There is no specific template or model to follow to create a land acknowledgement statement, but there are some guidelines to keep in mind as your team or leaders craft the language:
Research what tribal land your physical location stands upon. A great website where you can find this information is native-land.ca. Simply enter your address into the search fields in the left sidebar and a list of the local nations will populate.
Acknowledge each and every represented group on the list and if known, a brief mention of their history. If there are active tribal members remaining in the community, it can be an added highlight to mention them as well.
Verify that you’re pronouncing the group names correctly if you’ll be verbally expressing them.
Confirm you’re using correct Native terminology for the tribal communities you reference and don’t shy away from using bold terms like “stolen land.” Though the truths of these experiences may be harsh, ignoring those past grievances will only delay necessary collective healing.
Speak from the heart and make the vibe of your statement a positive one, even if referring to a painful time from the past.
Ensure that if you’re using imagery to align with your statement that the subject is something that accurately represents the people you are honoring.
Share the knowledge you’ve gained with other members of your community and change-makers in your space to help land acknowledgements become a regular adopted practice in our industry.
For extra guidance on how to create an appropriate way to honor Native land, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture offers a helpful toolkit that’s available as a free download on their website. You can also find a great example of a land acknowledgement statement on the Native Governance Center website.
Is a land acknowledgement statement enough?
Not really, but it’s a start!
In addition to making land acknowledgement a regular occurrence (or better, part of an overall policy), it’s great if you can reach out to the Native communities in your area; listen to them, develop an awareness about their culture, and support their initiatives.
From a scientific standpoint, we can also benefit from their knowledge about how to interact with nature in the face of our current climate crisis. They have been instrumental in helping to manage wildfires and there are efforts being made by government leaders to incorporate native wisdom into climate solution policy moving forward—both steps in the right direction.
I graciously acknowledge that the land upon which I wrote this bulletin is a homeland to the Wenrohronon and Ho-de-no-sau-nee-ga Native tribes and give reverence to their people.
Does your organization or institution of higher learning have a land acknowledgement statement? If so, share a link to it in the comments section.