Help us craft our Land Acknowledgement

Posted by Laine Kuehn on Thursday, November 12 2020

Fellows:

It is important to acknowledge that, whether Indigenous, refugee, migrant, settler, or descendent of those forcibly brought to this land, we are, right now, on Turtle Island: a gathering place of Indigenous people, including tribes rooted in our regions. The Switzer Foundation office resides on occupied Penobscot territory-- specifically, on Passagassawakeag Bay: a name which translates to “place to spear sturgeon by torchlight.” The Penobscot Nation, a riverine culture, stewarded the land, rivers, and shoreline for 11,000 years prior to European colonization. The European settlers disrupted this land-relationship through clear-cutting, damming, overfishing, and disease, and broke peace treaties with, forcibly removed, and killed the Penobscot people, laying the groundwork for us, in 2020, to continue to occupy their lands.

Our staff and network are dispersed across this continent and around the world, and we encourage you to research, reflect on, and show up for the tribes local to you. We recognize that the entirety of the North American continent constitutes territory considered to be original Indigenous homelands and we respect the sovereignty of the Penobscot Nation, the Wabanaki Confederacy, and the hundreds of other Native American Indigenous nations that survive today. We pledge to support the rights of these nations and the interests of Indigenous peoples.

THE PROCESS:

“If we think of territorial acknowledgments as sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure. I believe this is true as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words. The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands.” – Chelsea Vowel, Métis, Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements

A land acknowledgement is a reflection of a consistent, evolving practice and responsibility. As such, it requires flexibility, input, and space to deepen and evolve. This acknowledgement was created, imperfectly, out of a desire to create space for active reflection and to honestly address relationship and responsibility to land, environment, and our Indigenous colleagues and siblings, not just when gathering publicly-- when that experience can be rooted in a single, unified place that each of us can feel and see in the moment-- but also virtually. It is an opportunity to create a breath. It is an opportunity for all gathered to tune into themselves, the land they presently stand on, and the history and current context of that land and its stewards. It is an opportunity to research, name, and honor. It is a time to center commitments and reflect on those commitments. It is an opportunity to move through time: to acknowledge the past, to honor the present, and to commit to the future. 

There are times when it is important to talk about process, because sometimes doing so is part of a deeper conversation about transparency, impact, and intention. The process of constructing the first manifestation of this land acknowledgement took great attention, and the time set aside for the project expanded. At almost every step, I needed much more information than I had. I wanted the process to be thoughtful, informed, and sincere, and in order to do so, much research was necessary: history of place, names of treaties, traditional stories and the figures within them, the names and projects of activists, poets, makers, leaders. While these things are not present, in a direct way, in the land acknowledgement, they are the foundation of it. Song. Poem. Story. Grief. Joy.

But the process brought up uncomfortable questions: who is this for? What if I make a mistake? What is the purpose? Why am I compelled to do this? What if I make my colleagues uncomfortable? How will I disrupt settler-colonialism outside of this single moment in time? What does making this pledge look like for me? What is my relationship to this land? What is the foundation’s responsibility to this land? To its people? Where am I feeling the grief in my body? In what ways was this history hidden from me? How am I benefitting from not knowing? In what ways is this process reflecting white supremacy in me and my organization, and how do I disrupt that?

Many of these questions are not fully answered by the acknowledgement, by the process of writing it, by me, or by anyone else, because they are part of ongoing personal and organizational commitments. Many of them point, however, to the absolute necessity of creating opportunities for discussion, engagement, shared learning, deep listening, and reciprocity. To that end, we invite feedback from and collaboration with our network on this land acknowledgement. It represents the network and the network should have the opportunity to contribute and help shape it. Without expectation, we especially welcome and invite input from our Indigenous fellows.

Click here to view the collaborative document/discussion space.

Resources: 

An open-source website to identify the tribes native to the land you occupy. 

Beyond Territorial Acknowledgement - âpihtawikosisân

A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement - Native Governance Center

Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England, edited by Siobhan Senier

Penobscot Tribe - Legends of America

We Are a Riverine People: The Penobscot Nation of Maine - Cultural Survival Quarterly

I also want to specifically acknowledge Lourdes Vera (2019 Fellow) who offered an inspirational example of a land acknowledgement adapted to a digital convening in her presentation Environmental Data Justice and provided some of the existing language in our current land acknowledgement.

 

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