Unless you are a hermit, you have probably listened to a “land acknowledgment.” These are short statements uttered before social gatherings, acknowledging the prior possession of the land on which the events are taking place by indigenous peoples. Originating in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, they have become popular in the United States, and are now regular features in theaters, sports arenas, academic conferences, college commencement ceremonies – and even private family gatherings.
Land acknowledgment details may differ depending upon the event and the attendees, but certain characteristics apply more or less consistently. The statement is delivered in solemn and serious tones. The Indian tribe or tribes identified in the statement are portrayed as innocent victims, and their land described as “ancestral” or “unceded,” thus implying that the non-Indian attendees are trespassing. For the most part, the statements are gentle. Few go as far as the Northern California ACLU, whose website advises readers that land acknowledgment statements help us “confront our own complicity in genocide.”
These statements do carry educational value. They remind us that the conquest of the North American continent by settlers of European heritage was accompanied by massive, often monstrous mistreatment of the native peoples. And learning about the people who earlier inhabited one’s place of birth or residence is always a laudable undertaking.
Yet at the same time that land acknowledgments have proliferated, so have criticisms.Continue reading