What is a Land Acknowledgement, and Why Should You Consider Beginning Your Next Meeting With One?

Apr 1 / Chris Wagner, M.A.
First off, let’s admit that it isn’t radical to begin certain events with a traditional acknowledgement.  From high school to professional leagues, sports events begin with the national anthem.  Grade schoolers across the country begin their day with the pledge of allegiance.  There are innumerable private organizations that have members recite some sort of pledge or creed – words that show what their common values are, and that dictate the behavior of the group. 

So, what exactly is a land acknowledgement? 

Simply put, a land acknowledgement is a statement given at the beginning of an event, presentation, or other gathering that acknowledges that the land that is being gathered upon was seized from indigenous people, and that indigenous people have had, currently have, and will always have a connection to this land.  Colonialism isn’t something that solely exists in the past, but rather it’s the foundation that our current society was built upon.  Being an inclusive leader and ally requires you to acknowledge the past, and examine how it shapes the present.  For the Missouri area, specifically, here are some good examples about what a land acknowledgement statement may look like. If you live elsewhere, you’ll need to do research when crafting your own land acknowledgement statement.  The Native Governance Center  does a fantastic job of explaining what you should consider during this process. 

How does a land acknowledgement make anything better? 

Acknowledging a problem exists is the first step toward progress!  Many marginalized groups feel unseen, and naming an issue gives it power.  Representation matters.  On 3/18/21, Representative Deb Haaland – one of the first two indigenous women to be elected to the House - was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior while wearing traditional indigenous clothing.Agnes Woodward, who made her ribbon skirt said, “Today not just as a ribbon skirt maker but as an Indigenous woman….I feel SO SEEN. [..] The ribbon skirt reminds us of the matriarchal power we carry as Indigenous women. They carry stories of survival, resilience, adaption, and sacredness. As survivors of genocide we wear our ribbon skirts to stay grounded in our teachings, to stay connected to the earth and our ancestors. 
Wearing it in this day and age is an act of self empowerment and reclamation of who we are and that gives us the opportunity to proudly make bold statements in front of others who sometimes refuse to see us. It allows us to be our authentic selves unapologetically.” 

Performing acts like a land acknowledgment are a way for us to normalize talking about our history.  

Ok - We'll start doing a land acknowledgement before events. Is that it? 

Nope! The critique that this is “performative wokeness” only holds true if it’s a performance.  It’s important to take action beyond a statement.  Remember – the statement should normalize and pave the way for action.  Again, the Native Governance Center has some fantastic examples and resources for how to turn your words into practice.  We highly recommend that you go visit them, here.

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