Last month, our nation observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day to appreciate and honor the diversity, history and culture of Indigenous communities. And this month we celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
We thought this would be an opportune time to call attention to Indigenous land acknowledgements, or statements that recognize and honor the history of Indigenous communities on land (often their traditional homelands), along with their past and present relationship to that land. These acknowledgements may also bring awareness to the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their homelands by colonialists. Indigenous land acknowledgements can be created by any type of organization and shared through a variety of mediums (publications, websites, events, social media, signage, etc.) to help raise awareness and inspire action in support of Indigenous communities today.
“It is important to understand the longstanding history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation.” – Northwestern University
The Hudson Highlands of New York, which HHLT works to protect through our conservation work, are the traditional lands of the Wappinger Band of the Lenape Tribe of the Munsee Nation (related to and sometimes known as the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Nation), as well as the Delaware Tribe and Mohican Nation, particularly the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. We want to respect and honor the Indigenous Tribes that stewarded this land for 10,000+ years, so, as a first step of many to come, HHLT is in the process of creating an Indigenous land acknowledgement statement with a collaborative of staff and Board members on our newly formed Equity Committee.
As we work on our forthcoming statement, we wanted to share some of the work our sister nonprofits are doing. Many of our peer land trusts have already created Indigenous land acknowledgements. Our friends at the Kingston Land Trust share the following statement that recognizes the origins of the land they currently steward:
“We acknowledge that although we are the current stewards of the land, and in the modern paradigm, owners of it, land that we now protect once was Munsee Lenape and Mohican land. It is our intention to tell the full and accurate history of the land, in order to bring to light and begin to repair the injustices suffered by the people who this land was originally taken from. Learn more by visiting the Native Land interactive map here.”
Similarly, in announcing their move to a new, permanent location in Garrison, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival stated:
“HVSF also embraces the responsibility to act as conscientious stewards of this land, which is located within the ancestral homelands of the Lenape (Munsee) people. HVSF is committed to educating visitors, audiences, and the broader Hudson Valley community about the Indigenous history of the region and engaging with Indigenous artists and communities on an ongoing basis.”
We appreciate these organizations for taking this step, and we look forward to sharing our Indigenous land acknowledgement statement soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in creating your own Indigenous land acknowledgement, the Native Governance Center has some helpful tips for writing statements in this online Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement, plus strategies for supporting Indigenous communities in their Beyond Land Acknowledgement series, which aims “to encourage a shift from empty words to action.”
The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians also have a great Resource Guide that includes Tribal Council-approved land acknowledgement language that can be adapted for different organizations and contexts (please note they request that any acknowledgement mentioning the Stockbridge-Munsee community be submitted for approval):
“It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are learning, speaking and gathering on the ancestral homelands of the [Insert as appropriate: Muhheaconneok or Mohican people or Munsee Lenape people], who are the indigenous peoples of this land. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. We pay honor and respect to their ancestors past and present as we commit to building a more inclusive and equitable space for all.”
Creating and sharing an Indigenous land acknowledgement is an important step, but it is just the first step. Larger discussions, political changes, and daily actions are needed to truly support Indigenous communities today. The US Department of Arts & Culture notes: “Such statements become truly meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and sustained commitment. [We need] to move beyond words into programs and actions that fully embody a commitment to Indigenous rights and cultural equity.”
“Land acknowledgment alone is not enough. It’s merely a starting point. Ask yourself: how do I plan to take action to support Indigenous communities?” – Native Governance Center
Photo credit: Map of Recognized Tribes in New York State, via the New York State Historical Preservation Office, prepared in consultation with the Indian Nations of New York State.