Audubon Magazine's

Guide to Land Acknowledgment

Wherever you are in the United States, you’re on Native land. Here’s how to acknowledge that.

Maybe you’ve heard one before: at the start of an event, the speaker names the Indigenous groups that once or currently steward the land they’re standing on. This is a land acknowledgment. The growing practice, which spread to the United States from Canada, recognizes Indigenous people as the land’s ancestral caretakers and pays respect to modern native nations. Read aloud or shared in writing, a land acknowledgment also expresses a commitment to connecting with their descendants today. 

Land acknowledgment is an exercise based in protocol for inter-tribal meetings. “Whenever we go to someone’s land, we recognize ourselves as visitors on their territory, exchange cultural practices, and welcome one another,” says Allan Vicaire from the Mi’gmaq community of Listuguj and project coordinator with Concordia University’s Indigenous office. “Land acknowledgment continues with that tradition.” Whether you’re leading a bird walk or looking to understand your home’s Indigenous history, this expert advice will help you find the words to craft your own. 

Birders have a norm around: “What can I cross off my list at this place?” Land acknowledgment leads to deeper engagement with cultural and social dynamics of land we’re visiting. At a meeting, before we delve into work, we recognize historical wrongs that need to be righted. We are actively looking to support tribes’ priorities. Making the statement can be uncomfortable. It requires constant learning and adjusting. There is no perfect way to say it. But are we better off saying it or keeping quiet about it? That’s where I tend to come down. —Trina Bayard, director of bird conservation, Audubon Washington

Anatomy of a Land Acknowledgment

There is no formula. Writing your land acknowledgment requires research, thought, and time with uncomfortable truths. Done well, it is not performative but rather expresses an authentic, personal relationship with the land and its Native people. Indigenous experts offer some guidelines.

Language

Use Indigenous language for group and place names. Confirm pronunciation and practice it before you read your statement aloud.

Location

Identify the land you’re occupying or engaging with. Then name the group(s) with ancestral ties. Don’t acknowledge “Indigenous people” generally. “It’s important to be specific,” says Felicia Garcia, creator of landacknowledgements.org and who is Samala Chumash. Share cultural knowledge, too. Concordia University, for example, acknowledges Montreal as a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) diplomatic and trade hub.

Intention

Articulate why you or your organization wants to acknowledge the land and what you hope to achieve. “How does it relate to you personally and the work you’re doing?” Garcia asks. Finding the right words can take work and discussions. Continually refine your aims. Reading your statement should not be rote. “It has to be very authentic,” Vicaire says. “Speak from the heart.”

History

Explain the history. Don’t avoid harsh realities. Colonizers often stole land and killed or displaced Indigenous people. Say so plainly. Naturalists can also acknowledge traditional stewardship. “Indigenous people have been doing conservation work for time immemorial but are often left out of the conversation,” Garcia says. “It’s important to credit them.”

Present-Day

Describe where ancestral tribes live now. “People often think Native people are figures of the past,” Garcia says. But despite dispossession and colonization, they persist. “They have ties to that land and practice that culture.”

Action

Land acknowledgment is not a performance of inclusivity. “It’s a commitment to future work to dismantle the harmful legacies of colonialism,” Garcia says. “Otherwise it’s kind of pointless.” Look up the named nations’ priorities and examine how you can support them, for example by donating money, skills, or time. Then act on your intention.

Audubon Magazine’s Land Acknowledgment

Audubon magazine is produced by staff working primarily on Lenapehoking, the homelands of the Lenape people. Lenapehoking includes New York City, New Jersey, and parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

We acknowledge the Lenape as the original inhabitants and stewards of this place; honor their continuing relationship with Lenapehoking; and express our gratitude for their past, present, and future role as caretakers of these lands. As creators of an environmental and conservation magazine, our work intends to learn from, and be in dialogue with, millennia of Lenape and other Indigenous traditions and stewardship.

European colonists pushed many Lenape West out of Lenapehoking in the end of the 1700s. In the 1860s the United States Indian removal policy relocated other self-governing Lenape people against their will to designated Indian Territory in Oklahoma under the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Today federal- and state-recognized Lenape groups live in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Delaware, and New Jersey. Other Lenape people are not recognized by federal or state governments.

As a small step in the direction of correcting the legacy of historical and present wrongs—of ongoing colonial land occupation, and of the colonial lens of American journalism and conservation writing—Audubon magazine commits to featuring Indigenous perspectives in our journalism about their homelands and sharing Indigenous conservation practice and knowledge with our readers.

We invite collaboration with Indigenous contributors. To share stories with us, contact audubonmagazine@audubon.org.

 
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