Land Acknowledgements: An Exploration

Did you know?

Duke has a lot of work to do before the Native American & Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) will be ready to offer the University an official acknowledgement. A 2021 guest column from The Chronicle, authored by Duke NAISA and Kyra Hoskin (enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee tribe), recommends:

  • Establishing a Native American & Indigenous Studies Program,
  • Founding an Indigenous Cultural Center , and
  • Hiring multiple, senior Indigenous faculty to create a more supportive environment for Native students at Duke.

NAISA’s petition further demands:

  • Consideration of full-tuition scholarships for Indigenous students,
  • Integration of Indigenous alumni on the Board of Trustees,
  • Creation of a Native American/Indigenous President’s Council, and 
  • Recruitment and retention of Indigenous students.
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Considerations when Crafting a Land Acknowledgement

Rationale. As we examine the relationships between people of various identities and our work, we must consider the Indigenous people who have had and continue to have deep connections to the land. One way to foreground the relationship of Indigenous peoples with the land is by including Land Acknowledgements in our work. However, this practice is not without controversy. Please read the background below about Land Acknowledgements in preparation for our small group activity. 

What is a Land Acknowledgement? Land Acknowledgements honor the connection between Indigenous people and the land. At their best, Land Acknowledgements emphasize the sovereignty of indigenous groups and serve as an “act of reconciliation”. While Land Acknowledgements are firmly linked to Indigenous peoples, they can also serve as an acknowledgement of other types of relationships that different groups have had with the land. 

What are best practices for developing a Land Acknowledgement? 

Collaborate with Indigenous People. Developing a Land Acknowledgement should “include a collaborative process through reaching out to local Indigenous communities and/or those with ties to the land”. Remember, the Land Acknowledgement should be guided by Indigenous people’s visions for the future, such as Quinn Smith, Jr.’s vision for himself and his children:

“I want my future Chickasaw children to be supported in remembering their culture. They will know how to stomp dance and to cook pishofa, and it will be as easy for them to learn as baseball or Christmas. I want them supported in being different instead of fighting to be equal.”

Engage in Self-Reflection. Best practices for developing a Land Acknowledgement also include deep self-reflection, asking yourself:

  • Why am I choosing to craft and recite a land acknowledgement? 
  • What unconscious bias may be operating within me? 
  • Am I using Indigenous people just to benefit my organization? 
  • Does my land acknowledgement empower Indigenous people? 
  • How do I plan to share this land acknowledgement? 
  • What are the implications of sharing it?

What should be included in a Land Acknowledgement?

Description of Indigenous Relationships to the Land. Include the names of traditional inhabitants of the land upon which you’re standing or doing work. Also emphasize the continued relationship that Indigenous people have with the land. All verb tenses should indicate Indigenous nation’s past, present, and future connection to the land.

Learning Opportunities. Opportunities for people to learn more, including phonetic pronunciations of Indigenous nation’s names, a description of traditional practices, and the history of colonization. Land acknowledgements should “tell a more truthful historic narrative” and foster reflection-inducing discomfort.

Commitment to the Future. A commitment to act in support of Indigenous communities, e.g., by contributing resources to land-back campaigns to “get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands”.

Find a sample land acknowledgement here.

Why are Land Acknowledgements controversial? Please consider the following perspectives.

  • Quinn Smith, Jr., Chickasaw Nation: Quinn Smith, Jr., a member of the Chickasaw nation, tells us that land acknowledgements are meant to “help us in the healing process,” but “a land acknowledgement is not enough; reparations are mandatory.”
  • Alex Small: “Acknowledging injustice is easy. Open a newspaper to see countless evils, past and present, acknowledged and described. It’s hardly news that the United States was built on land violently taken from indigenous people. But if you actually want to help people from your speaking platform, then ask the audience to do something. Tell us about a charity, an activist group or a political organization. Ask us to donate our time or money, patronize Native American-owned businesses, or contact our elected representatives. Alternatively, if you don’t have a solution, then at least tell us something we don’t already know.”

How can you go beyond a Land Acknowledgement? Looking for ways to go beyond the Land Acknowledgement to recognize and celebrate Indigenous people? If so, check out these recommendations (modified from Beck 2021):

  • Expand on your land acknowledgement in other class materials, like lectures and readings,
  • Promote awareness of Indigenous Wisdom, views of interconnectedness, relationship, and land management practices,
  • Display Indigenous art,
  • Organize a lecture series or guest speakers with local tribal members (and compensate your speakers),
  • Foreground the disproportionate impact of disease on Indigenous peoples, and
  • Incorporate current struggles for maintaining or repairing the environmental integrity of traditional territory.

Prompts for Further Reflection

This activity is meant to spur creative and critical thinking about difficult issues and designed to help disengage or identify some of our own biases. These thought exercises include imagining or discussing:

  1. Recontext. What would a discussion of land acknowledgements include in a different cultural context? How might this discussion play out in another country? Among people with different religious beliefs or educational traditions? What issues would arise? How might perspectives on using land acknowledgements change in those contexts?
  1. Inversion. Flip your perspective to open up new insights. What would be the worst way to address the relationship of Indigenous people to the land? Who would be the worst audience for a Land Acknowledgement? What new ideas arise?
  1. Extremify. What would happen if you amplified a Land Acknowledgement? What would the most complete version look like? What would a global Land Acknowledgement look like? Looking at extremes can bring insights into focus.
  1. Ruthless. What would a Land Acknowledgement look like if it was written by a person or a corporation trying to use it for their own gain? How does it look different than or similar to the Land Acknowledgement you’ve been imagining? How could Land Acknowledgements be used in a way that undermines their intentions?

References

NSOE Land Acknowledgement

NSOE recommends using the following Land Acknowledgement, generously provided by Drs. Ryan Emanuel and Malinda Lowery of the Lumbee tribe, until Duke University completes the process of working with tribe members statewide to come to agreement on a Duke-wide land acknowledgement.

“What is now Durham was originally the territory of several Native nations, including Tutelo (TOO-tee-lo) and Saponi (suh-POE-nee) – speaking peoples.  Many of their communities were displaced or killed through war, disease, and colonial expansion.  Today, the Triangle is surrounded by contemporary Native nations, the descendants of Tutelo, Saponi, and other Indigenous peoples who survived early colonization.  These nations include the Haliwa-Saponi (HALL-i-wa suh-POE-nee), Sappony (suh-POE-nee), and Occaneechi (oh-kuh-NEE-chee) Band of Saponi.  North Carolina’s Research Triangle is also home to a thriving urban Native American community who represent Native nations from across the United States. Together, these Indigenous nations and communities contribute to North Carolina’s ranking as the state with the largest Native American population east of Oklahoma.”

Sample Durham-based Land Acknowledgement for Classes 

As Gould (1992) acknowledges, “there is not a university in this country that is not built on what was once native land”. That is true for Duke University and much of the work that we do in this class is located on Duke University’s campus and in the Duke Forest. What is now Durham was originally the territory of several Native nations, including Tutelo (TOO-tee-lo) and Saponi (suh-POE-nee) – speaking peoples.  Many of their communities were displaced or killed through war, disease, and colonial expansion.  Today, the Triangle is surrounded by contemporary Native nations, the descendants of Tutelo, Saponi, and other Indigenous peoples who survived early colonization.  These nations include the Haliwa-Saponi (HALL-i-wa suh-POE-nee), Sappony (suh-POE-nee), and Occaneechi (oh-kuh-NEE-chee) Band of Saponi. 

North Carolina’s Research Triangle is also home to a thriving urban Native American community who represent Native nations from across the United States. Together, these Indigenous nations and communities contribute to North Carolina’s ranking as the state with the largest Native American population east of Oklahoma. We would like to acknowledge, honor, and respect the diverse history of Indigenous peoples in North Carolina and across the settler state. We would also like to recognize their continuing connections to land, water, and culture and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

In addition, we acknowledge the overlapping histories of this land, including past violence and ongoing harm produced by the legacy of racialized slavery and oppression. We know of at least four sites where slavery was practiced on what is now considered Duke Forest land, including the Alexander Hogan Plantation in Blackwood Division, the Robson Mill and Barbee property in the Korstian Division, and the Couch property in the Durham Division.

Interested in learning more or supporting marginalized communities? Check out Occaneechi: A Past and Present History and the Homeland Preservation Project. You are also invited to learn more about the impact of segregated communities in North Carolina at the UNC Inclusion Project. You can learn about the Rogers Eubanks community in Orange County, which has a historic connection to the Alexander Hogan Plantation. Also visit the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission to learn more about local African American history, art, and culture, and the Black Family Land Trust and the Land Loss Prevention Project in Durham, NC.

(Modified from Hanson, J. K. Lyons, L. Rangel, & J. Whitten. 2020. Inclusive Conservation: Improving Collaboration with Tribes in the United States. Masters Project Symposium, Duke University, 2 April 2020. Cited: Gould, J. 1992. The problem of being “Indian”: One mixed-blood’s dilemma. In S. Smith and J. Watson (Eds.), De/colonizing the subject: The politics of gender in women’s autobiography (pp. 81-90). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Resource: https://www.csusm.edu/cicsc/land.pdf. Special thanks to Drs. Ryan Emanuel and Malinda Lowery of the Lumbee tribe for contributing lines 4-13 and to members of the Duke Native American Student Association, Paul James, Sara Childs, and Rebecca Hoeffler for your feedback). 

Sample Beaufort-based Land Acknowledgement for Classes 

NB: This was written as an exercise in the PhD Pedagogy class where students discussed and learned about culturally inclusive approaches. Students wrote this as an example of an acknowledgement for an imagined DUML class syllabus.

As Gould (1992) acknowledges, “there is not a university in this country that is not built on what was once native land.” That is true for both Duke University, located in Durham County, and the Duke University Marine Laboratory, located in Carteret County. We would like to acknowledge, honor, and respect the diverse history of Indigenous peoples in our settler state.

Many indigenous peoples have called the settler state of North Carolina home despite the fact that only eight tribal nations are formally recognized today: the Coharie Tribe, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin Indian Tribe, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Sappony, and the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe. The Tuscarora tribe is only one example of unrecognized peoples in this settler state. 

The nomadic nature of past peoples in harmony with the seasons makes it difficult to define homeland, boundaries, and territories. Nevertheless, Coree and Neusiok tribes inhabited the land that we today call Carteret County prior to colonization and tribes unknown to us inhabited this land for thousands of years prior. We recognize and respect these Native people’s, those named and unnamed, perpetual connection to this land and water.

We also recognize the overlapping histories of this land, including violent removal of Native peoples propagated by colonizers and the brutal legacy of slavery and oppression, the legacies of which remain entrenched in American society today. When we conduct research on the Atlantic Ocean, we share the waters that slave ships traversed as they delivered enslaved Africans to North Carolina’s shores. We acknowledge the colonizers, the immigrants, and their descendants of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, who have lived and worked on this land over the centuries. Despite our best efforts, we recognize that many truths of this land will remain unknown to us. Decolonization is a daunting and ongoing process, and we must all be mindful of our present participation in the legacies of colonization as we live, work, and play on stolen land.

To find out more about the native tribes that have lived on the land you call home, use this map, but please keep in mind that the map may change as more truths are uncovered and shared. To learn more about individual stories of North Carolina history, explore resources such as those found here. It is important to remember that land theft is an ongoing injustice; as described in this article about ongoing land theft from local families in Carteret County. Additionally, we should remember that the responsibility lies on all of us to honor those who came before us and to ensure that their legacies are shared with those who will come after us.

(This land acknowledgement was adapted from that of  Nicki Cagle, who has generously shared her example with the Duke community. Cited: Gould, J. 1992. The problem of being “Indian”: One mixed-blood’s dilemma. Resource: https://www.csusm.edu/cicsc/land.pdf. Special thanks to David Cecleski for providing local history about Carteret County.)

Additional Background

The land that Duke University sits on in Durham, NC was historically the territory of several Native nations, including Tutelo- and Saponi-speaking peoples. The names and communities of many Native nations have shifted through time, especially as many of their communities were displaced or killed through war, disease, and colonial expansion.  For example, a combined village of Adshusheer, Eno, and Shakori people existed along the Eno River, near Hillsborough around 1701. Soon thereafter, the Eno nation disappeared from the European-American historical record, with some sources suggesting that the remaining Eno were incorporated into the Catawba nation or the Shakori band. If you’re interested in a visualization of overlapping indigenous territories, check out this online map (N.B. these maps are imperfect and still developing).

Today, the Triangle is surrounded by contemporary Native nations, the descendants of Tutelo, Saponi, and other Indigenous peoples who survived early colonization.  These nations include the Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony , and Occaneechi Band of Saponi. Moreover, North Carolina’s Research Triangle is home to a thriving urban Native American community of Native nations from across the United States.

Beaufort, NC is the traditional land of the Coree Indians. European colonizers established “Fish Town”, a fishing village in the 17th century, and the town of Beaufort was officially established in 1709, buildling an economy based on fishing, whaling, lumber, and farming. According to Barbara Garrity-Blake “the earliest settlements documented were of the Woodland period, and partly due to pottery styles archaeologists recognize 2 coastal plain culture areas: the northern and southern w Neuse River as the dividing line. Northern were Algonkian speaking people and southern Siouan – at least by time of European contact… The historical record (John Lawson and others) describe the Coree tribe of Carteret and Craven, and Lawson claimed the Coree had a distinct language from Algonkian and Siouan speakers. The Coree were decimated by contact, and joined the Tuscarora during the Indian wars.” More information about the history of Pivers Island can be found here. [Beaufort information in progress, special thanks to Drs. Grant Murray and Tom Schultz for investigating this.]

In North Carolina, eight tribes are currently recognized by: 

  • Coharie Intra -Tribal Council
  • Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, Inc.
  • Lumbee Tribe of Cheraw Indians (also known as Lumbee Regional Development Association Inc. and Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina)
  • Meherrin Indian Tribe
  • Metrolina Native American Association
  • Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation
  • Sappony
  • Waccamaw-Siouan Development Association

In addition, check out these more general resources on Indigenous History and Resistance, as well as this interactive map on the Invasion of America and this map of Native Land. To get a better understanding on the sources and effects of false narratives and lack of knowledge of indigenous communities, check out Crystal EchoHawks’s article Stolen Land, Stolen Bodies, Stolen Stories. In this, EchoHawk discusses how indigenous invisibility in Western education and media leads to false assumptions and contributes to toxic narratives about Native people, including false ideas that Native peoples are vanishing, conquered, corrupt, or caricatures. She also shows that over 70% of Americans want to learn more about Native peoples and support changes to K-12 education that includes indigenous peoples.There are some books available on Indigenous History in North Carolina. Some of these resources are older, with a distinctly Eurocentric lens, others are more recent: Isenbarger’s Nature Americans in Early North Carolina, Right’s The American Indian in North Carolina, Keel’s Cherokee Archaeology, Dickens’s Cherokee Prehistory, Ward and Davis’s Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina.

Additional Background. Prior to European colonization, the Eno and the Occaneechi tribes lived and farmed in Durham, a place that is thought to be the site of an ancient Native American village called Adshusheer.1 Historians believe Durham also existed along the Great Trading Path, or the Occaneechi Path. The trading route once facilitated trade between colonists and Native American tribes, including the Saponi and Tutelo, the Keyauwee, the Sissipahaw, the Occaneechi and Shakori, and the Eno.2 The City of Durham is founded on the homelands of the Occaneechi, Eno, Tuscarora and Shakori People.

In 1670 John Lederer, a German doctor, became the first European to describe the land that is now Durham County.3 In 1701, Durham’s beauty was documented by explorer John Lawson, who called the area “the flower of the Carolinas.”1

Once “Trinity College Cherokee Industrial School,” Duke University served as a residential school for Cherokee students, committed to the forced assimilation and erasure of Indigenous students. Historians remember Joseph Maytubby as the first Native American to graduate from Trinity College, in 1896.4

References

1Richardson, L. & Anderson, J. (2022). Learn: Overview of Durham History. Museum of Durham History. Retrieved from www.museumofdurhamhistory.org

2Powell, W.S. & Davis, R. P. S. (2006). Great Trading Path. The University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved from www.ncpedia.org

3Richardson, L. (2021). The Bull City: A Short History of Durham, North Carolina. Retrieved from www.durhamcountylibrary.org

4Kyle, F. (Year). “Native Americans at Duke: The First Native American Students in Duke’s History,” Duke University.