If you’ve attended or tuned in to a public event in recent years, you’ve likely heard a land acknowledgement. It’s a statement recited at the start of a gathering that identifies the First Peoples or tribes of a specific region. They are intended to offer respect for the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional homelands non-Natives occupy and serve as a reminder of their presence.
Recently land acknowledgments have come under criticism in many corners of the Indigenous world, calling them performative, token gestures, and therefore largely meaningless. Others have said land acknowledgements fail to acknowledge the deep injustices Native people have endured over centuries.
I’ve never liked land acknowledgements and cringe every time I hear one. While those statements and the people reciting them are well-intentioned, I can’t help but feel empty and not at all respected because there is no action on the other side of those words.
Land acknowledgments have come under criticism in many corners of the Indigenous world, calling them performative, token gestures, and therefore largely meaningless.
Am I cynical? Perhaps. But I do know this: I am an Indigenous woman who understands American history and all that Native people have experienced at the hands of federal and state governments, religious institutions, and colonizers. I also know what land means to Indigenous people. And I know deep down that no amount of good intentions or respectful words recited by non-Natives is ever going to change the fact that the land on which all of us stand in the Western Hemisphere once belonged to Indigenous people. Every inch of it. That’s 2.43 billion acres in the United States alone.
Instead of offering good intentions and seemingly respectful words, non-Natives can actively participate in helping to change the trajectory of Indigenous futures by taking action and becoming true allies to Indigenous nations and people. In fact, I hope non-Natives would feel a responsibility to do so.
Here at Ecotrust, you won’t hear a land acknowledge open any Ecotrust event and you won’t see one posted on our website. In its place, we have a Call to Action for Indigenous Communities. Here it is:
Call to Action for Indigenous Communities
While land acknowledgements are intended to be respectful, they oversimplify complex tribal histories and fail to recognize the ongoing impacts of colonization that tribal communities continue to live with to this day.
In place of a land acknowledgement, Ecotrust staff—and especially the Native staff—are asking you to support Indigenous communities by taking action. We ask that you:
1. Give land back to tribes.
2. Protect the environment and salmon. Tribal cultures depend on them.
3. Insist that the United States respect tribal sovereignty and uphold its trust responsibility to tribes, which includes appropriate levels of federal funding to support tribal needs. Many promises to tribal nations still need to be kept.
4. Elect officials and judges that understand tribal governments, relationships, and law.
5. Invest in tribal economies.
6. Challenge and reject all stereotypes about Indigenous people.
7. Insist that your children and grandchildren are taught accurate information about the histories, cultures, and contemporary lives of Indigenous peoples in your school system. And,
8. Inform yourself about issues impacting Indigenous communities and speak up.
The sovereignty, well-being, cultures, and languages of Indigenous peoples are borne of their homelands and that makes these lands and waters precious to Native communities. All of us have the responsibility to treat them with the respect and care they deserve and to steward them carefully for the next generations. Please do your part.
Since the Call to Action’s public introduction during our first Indigenous leadership briefing with tribal leaders Bobbie Conner and Ron Allen on December 15, 2021, we’ve received considerable interest from nonprofits, philanthropy, all types of city, state, regional, and federal agencies, churches, businesses, and many others. As you read this blog, several are re-examining the meaning of their land acknowledgement and using this call to action as inspiration to shift their intentions. None are required to cite the Indigenous Leadership Program or Ecotrust as the source. They need to make it their own. And the same is true for you, too, should you decide to rethink your land acknowledgement.
We are grateful to each organization for their thoughtful reconsideration and their willingness to share this message of becoming true allies to Indigenous peoples and communities.
Like any living statement, ours may change over time but the central truths will remain the same: the imperative to acknowledge past and current injustices, to give this Call to Action life by reciting these actions loudly, sharing them broadly, and then doing all you can in support of Indigenous peoples, cultures, and homelands.
Together, let’s push hard for justice for Indigenous communities in deeply meaningful and consequential ways. This Call to Action is a place to start. We hope you will join us.