Many tall buildings behind construction equipment and a road

6 steps to writing and sharing a land acknowledgement

A land acknowledgement is sharing a statement of appreciation for, and history of, the land on which you are standing.

It is often done by way of a greeting or opening when welcoming people into a shared space. It grounds the engagement to come in the place itself, and often evokes feelings of gratitude and grounding.

It should also remind us of complex histories and identities. It is a reminder that land was stolen by colonizers, and that the places we now occupy have evolved in ways that have displaced people, plants, and animals.

“I wonder if much that ails our society stems from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be cut off from that love of, and from, the land. It is medicine for broken land and empty hearts.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

“To acknowledge this land on which we stand is to acknowledge truth. To acknowledge truth is to acknowledge connection and disconnection. To acknowledge connection and disconnection is to acknowledge the Nations who care for our mother. To acknowledge our mother is to acknowledge truth. To acknowledge truth is to acknowledge that truth is at the forefront of the conversation.”

Monique Aura, Oneida Nation, via Whose Land’s Why Acknowledge? page

Land acknowledgements are often initiated and shared by Indigenous people. But, my hope in writing this post is that it encourages more people of all backgrounds to write and share your own land acknowledgement. It’s a powerful practice to engage in, and doing so invites others to do the same. Together, we can make connection to the land more of a common practice once again—drawing from, and returning to, Indigenous wisdom. Personally, I have appreciated using this practice as a tool to learn about histories that we weren’t taught in white-washed school curricula, and to think more deeply about the interconnection of people over time.

Here are 6 steps to follow to writing and sharing a land acknowledgement:

  1. Put your screens away and do some thinking. Reflect on why you’re doing a land acknowledgement, what you hope to learn and share, and what the place you live in means to you. Make it personal. The process is as important as the final statement itself, so you want to solidly ground that process.
  2. Do your place-based research. Learn whose land you’re on through tools like native-land.ca, whose.land, and by reading local histories. Learn how to pronounce tribal names and words. Find out who Native leaders in your community currently are, and watch content that they are publicly sharing or reach out to them to learn. (And if you do ask for guidance and wisdom, offer compensation.)
  3. Recognize how a Native telling of history is very different than what’s taught in most schools. Through a project between Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid last year, I realized just how much history I never learned, and how much I heard a version of with very different words. You can’t learn it overnight, but spend time reading up and getting comfortable using accurate descriptive language to talk about what happened to Native peoples. (Note: for those of you starting to do antiracism work, this is really important! Whenever you dig into identities different from your own, get ready to unlearn and relearn through different experiences.)
  4. Put the pieces together. How does your research relate to your unique perspective, and to the gathering that your acknowledgement will open? What can you share that will provide proper acknowledgement and meaning? How does your personal identity tie into what you will share?
  5. Create space and time to share. Do not rush through a land acknowledgement. Build it into your agenda, and also leave space to share what it is, why you’re doing it, and invite questions if those in attendance may be unfamiliar. It’s important to build understanding and share learning as a part of this process.
  6. Reflect and do more. Land acknowledgements should not be check boxes that you check off to say ‘I am now an ally to Native people…done!’ You’re not done. Think about how you will use what you learned to spark more learning and engagement. (Note: I am making a donation to the Native Governance Center upon publishing this post; they were a resource to me when I was first learning about this topic. Donating resources is a great way to support Native communities.)

I’ll close with an example of a recent land acknowledgement that I delivered at the start of a virtual keynote panel for PEAK Grantmaking’s conference. I wrote this using the tips shared above, and it is entirely my own words and perspective. I still have a lot of learning to do, and hope to continue to think about and evolve my framing over time. This is where I’m at in my learning and process now.

Many tall buildings behind construction equipment and a road
Photo taken in from what is now called Seattle. February 2020.

I am going to start by acknowledging the land on which this session was meant to take place and the land that we’re all occupying as we share space today on Zoom. 

Today, I’d like to pause to acknowledge the traditional and unceded land of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish People and the Suquamish People past and present. The land we each stand on, wherever we are, holds deep history, including success, pain, missed connections, fruitful partnerships, life, death, abuse, genocide, prayer, growth, discovery, and community.

Land carries memory. Growing up, Indigenous land was talked about solely in the context of the casinos being built down the road. Indigenous peoples were talked about in the past tense, like characters in a story from long ago and not like my neighbors, even though they were. I remember walking a beautiful trail to a waterfall in town and learning there about the Mohegans and the Pequots. Land carries memory. As a global pandemic looms large in our lives, we can be reminded of how the very land on which this session was to take place was the site of fatal smallpox, measles, influenza, and other disease outbreaks in the late 1700s-early 1800s brought by colonizers. Land carries memory. In 1855, those local tribes were part of the Treaty of Point Elliott, exchanging over 54,000 acres of their homeland for the reservation and other benefits promised by the United States government. The treaty was soon thereafter violated, triggering fighting and loss.

By acknowledging the land and all that it holds, I invite us all to learn more deeply about the places we occupy and the people who are our neighbors. Even this shared space of The Internet carries deep connections and welcoming neighbors, but also trauma and fear. Especially in this moment of pause from travel and spending extra time in our own backyards, it is deeply important to spend time learning about and reflecting on the history of that space, and what that has meant for different people who have occupied that same space throughout its history. I’ll close with a quote from Chief Si’ahl, the Namesake of the City of Seattle: “This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected.” 

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