What To Know About Land Acknowledgments

11.02.2022 — The Frenshe Editors

As November rolls around, Thanksgiving is on the mind for millions of Americans. Since the Wampanoag tribe first distributed provisions to the Pilgrims to last them through the hard season, we have honored this act by gathering with our loved ones the last Thursday of November to break bread and give thanks. 

Along the way we’ve made our own traditions; like breaking a wishbone for luck or watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. But this year, the Frenshe family hopes you’ll join us in partaking of a different practice: land acknowledgements!

What are land acknowledgements?

Land acknowledgement is a tradition that exists within many Native nations and communities; for Warren “Guss” Yellowhair, Northern Cheyenne and Oglala Lakota, the habit of acknowledging the four directions, the lands, and the people living on it, is a habit instilled in him by the Lakota customs which he grew up with and one which just makes sense. It is a commonly held belief among the indigenous people of the Americas that the earth is–and has always been–a living being, deserving of respect and care. 

“When we talk about land, land is part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future. We carry our ancestors in us, and they’re around us. As you all do.”

– Mary Lyons (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)

And, as modern nations move into the future whilst reckoning with their pasts, it has become commonplace (or even policy) to open any gathering or event with acknowledgements to traditional names of the land being occupied and the Native people to whom it belongs to. The Native Governance Center–a Native-led nonprofit centered around assisting Native nations in strengthening their governance systems and capacity to exercise sovereignty–launched a comprehensive guide to land acknowledgement which the Frenshe team found really helpful.

One of the most important aspects of land acknowledgment is self reflection. It is important to have an honest moment of self-reflection: what are your motivations in acknowledging native land? It is a perfectly normal reaction to be confronted with feelings of guilt; the historical and present subjugation of Indigenous communities is a tragic occurrence; but guilt hasn’t been a useful tool in uplifting these communities. Oftentimes, it has been these same feelings of guilt which have kept us paralyzed in inaction or unable to face hard truths. Shed your guilt and lean into hope–for a better, more integrated future with the earth and our Native brethren–and inspiring that hope in others.

It is also in the spirit of love that language around land acknowledgement should be shared. While past events should never be erased or minimized it is also important to center your speech around the celebration of Indigenous tribes, both for their resilience and their beautiful traditions. Speech should be centered in the past, present, and future tenses as Indigenous communities’ connection to the earth is alive and well. 

Doing your homework is an important part of land acknowledgement as well. We cannot place the onus on members of the Indigenous communities to be our teachers and light the way. We must undertake the practice of taking the time out of our day in order to research the history of whatever piece of territory we now call home and the cultures and traditions of the Native people of that land because it is an act of love and the utmost care–which is so central to the spirit of land acknowledgment. Pronouncing the names of Tribes, lands, and notable indigenous figures correctly will demonstrate that love and care to members of the indigenous communities, whether they are present at the time of the acknowledgment or not. It is only this love and care that is capable of bridging the gap between we settlers and the Native people of this land, so that we can walk into a more harmonious future together. 

This article was written with the help of Autumn Fourkiller and Camila Rivera.

The Frenshe Editors