What is a Land Acknowledgement?
A Land Acknowledgement is a verbal statement used to open meetings or public events to acknowledge the Native inhabitants who first occupied the land and to honor the indigenous communities who currently reside on the land. Although they are already a common practice in tribal communities, it is now a common practice in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and a growing practice here as well.
Why do they matter?
The purpose of a Land Acknowledgement is to formally acknowledge and reflect on the attempted erasure of Indigenous people and the historic trauma caused by colonialism. This practice opens opportunities for deep understanding and steps toward reconciliation. It also honors the spiritual relationship Indigenous peoples have with their ancestral land.
To truly understand the importance of Land Acknowledgements, we must first understand the historical context.
Understand the history of stolen lands
Native tribes occupied present-day American territories for many generations before Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1492. Approximately 368 treaties were negotiated and signed by U.S. commissioners and tribal leaders from 1777 to 1868. Since then, the U.S. has violated or broken most of these treaties. American policies such as the Indian Removal Act led to the Trail of Tears which forced Indigenous people to unwillingly surrender their land; about 4,000 of 15,000 Cherokees died during that deadly trek.
Today, there are still sacred land disputes across the U.S. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation.
A small step toward reconciliation
Land Acknowledgements can easily seem performative or even as a checked box item if not done sincerely. As such, it’s important to note that reconciliation goes beyond these public statements. Take some time to educate yourself this month (and beyond) on Native culture, current issues and the Native rights movements.
Go to native-land.ca to learn whose land you’re on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Department of Organizational Strategy, Initiatives, and Culture (OSIC) was established in 2017 to oversee YES Prep functions which speaks to organizational development and cultural foundation of YES.