Land acknowledgements are an “act of reconciliation” (Munjee et al. 2021). Land acknowledgements also honor the connection between indigenous people and the land, and at their best, emphasizes the sovereignty of indigenous groups. This means acknowledging that “there is not a university in this country that is not built on what was once native land” (Gould 1992 as cited in Storms et al. 2020, p27). While land acknowledgements are firmly linked to indigenous people’s, they can also serve as an acknowledgement of other types of relationships that different groups have had with the land (see link to Cagle’s syllabus below). Developing a land acknowledgement should “include a collaborative process through reaching out to local Indigenous communities and/or those with ties to the land” (Garcia 2018, Beck 2021).
Best practices for developing a land acknowledgement 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? (Munjee et al. 2021). Moreover, Quinn Smith, Jr. (2021), writing as a rising junior and Chickasaw, tells us that land acknowledgements are meant to “help us in the healing process,” but “a land acknowledgement is not enough; reparations are mandatory.”
Remember, the land acknowledgement should be guided by Indigenous people’s visions for the future, such as Quinn Smith, Jr.’s (2021) 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.”
Your land acknowledge should also include (Munjee et al. 2021):
- 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” (NDN Collective 2020),
- Opportunities for people to learn more, including phonetic pronunciations of Indigenous nation’s names, a description of traditional practices, and the history of colonialization,
- All verb tenses to indicate tribes past, present, and future connection to the land.
What do you do with your land acknowledgement? Read your land acknowledgement aloud on the first day of class and go back to it from time to time. N.B. Diversity Statements and Land Acknowledgements added to syllabi without other efforts to make a course culturally-inclusive can be offensive.
Need more resources and examples of land acknowledgements? Check these out:
- 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.”
- Also, check out John Fay’s GIS-based Land Acknowledgement
- Felicia Garcia (Chumash)’s A Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements for Cultural Institutions
- The Native Governance Center’s Tip Sheet and Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgements.
- Amnesty International Canada’s Land Acknowledgement Resource.
- Northwestern University’s Land Acknowledgement (with a beautiful poster and an explanation of what a land acknowledgement is and why we have them).
- Land Acknowledgement from Cagle’s syllabus (N.B. I’m not an expert, please be aware that land acknowledgments are contentious and without working with tribal representatives, you are likely to misstep).
- Land Acknowledgment from Sunrise Movement Durham training in November 2019 (also not an expert, but an example of a spoken land acknowledgment in a presentation context).
- Need another example? Here’s one from Houston, TX: ““We want to begin this gathering by recognizing that Indigenous Peoples have been an irreplaceable presence of this place (Houston, Texas) for over 10,000 years, are still very much here today, and will be here tomorrow. Today, we conduct this meeting on the ancestral lands of the Karankawa people, a people who were forcibly removed from their land. We are also mindful that we share this place with over 10,000 species of native plants and wildlife that have lived here for thousands of years.”
Looking for ways to go beyond the Land Acknowledgement to recognize and celebrate Indigenous people? If so, check out these recommendations modified from Larry Beck’s (2021) article This Land is Their Land:
- Expand on your land acknowledgement in other class materials, like lectures and readings,
- Incorporate Indigenous Wisdom, views of interconnectedness, relationship, and land management practices in the classroom (see below on Indigenous Science),
- 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,
- Incorporate current struggles for maintaining or repairing the environmental integrity of traditional territory.
Looking for resources specific to Canadian First Nations?
- The Truth and Reconciliation Report – Calls to Action #71-76 deal specifically with Missing Children and Burial Information: http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
- Overview of the residential school system in Canada: http://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS-System-Booklet.pdf
- Truth and reconciliation: https://reconciliationcanada.ca/ and https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/section/truth-and-reconciliation/
- The Yellowhead Institute has produced “Land Back” and “Cash Back”: https://redpaper.yellowheadinstitute.org
Recommended Citation: Cagle, N. 2020. How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course. Available online at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gvVTGhbQwxPyel6cFzJgsyDjbvm6Qadxo2fmLAjAX7M/edit?usp=sharing
Looking for the Reference List? Check out How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course
Sample Land Acknowledgement. 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 Paul James, Sara Childs, Rebecca Hoeffler, and members of the Duke Native American Student Alliance and Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation for your feedback).
Recommended Citation: Cagle, N. 2021. Land Acknowledgement. ENV731 Dendrology Syllabus 2021 v. 26Aug2021.