“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.
An open-source website to identify the tribes native to the land you occupy.
Beyond Territorial Acknowledgement - âpihtawikosisân
Land acknowledgements meant to honor Indigenous people too often do the opposite - erasing American Indians and sanitizing history instead - The Conversation
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.
Written: November, 2020