Land Acknowledgement

Any time settlers gather, we have the opportunity to open by acknowledging the history of the land on which we are gathering. Who lived here before settlers arrived and where do they live now? What treaties were made or broken? The most meaningful land acknowledgments I have heard include a commitment to move towards right relations with indigenous people. I have felt the energy in the room change with this collective recognition of the history of brokenness that we inherited. Honesty can be a relief, and it can help us move forward towards wholeness.

A beautiful and thorough guide to land acknowledgment is here: https://usdac.us/nativeland I can’t recommend it highly enough!

This guide includes moving quotes, potential stumbling blocks, a bit of history, and some helpful rules of thumb. It also includes a link to a collection of downloadable, customizable land acknowledgment signs created by indigenous artists! 

THREE BASIC STEPS:

  1. Learn: Who and when? Multiple indigenous groups might have called this home at different times, or been displaced from here, or moved here after settlers arrived, or still live here! Try:
  2. Write a statement: You can start simple with a single sentence and add to it as your community learns more and grows their commitment.
    • Check out the two guides linked to above for more tips
    • Scroll down to see several examples.
  3. Start your practice: This can be as simple as remembering each time you gather to begin by reading your statement out loud.
    • Practice pronunciations ahead of time
    • Include your statement in your email signature, on your website, as art on the wall, etc.
    • The Honor Native Land Guide by USDAC includes a whole page about using your acknowledgment including encouragements, warnings, and ideas.

Land acknowledgments do not absolve settlers of the responsibility to seek justice. They are an opening, a starting point, a reorientation. Creating a land acknowledgment can be an opportunity to learn more about your neighbors and the history of your local community, and move forward in ways that seek justice and peace.

Below are some examples of land acknowledgments that local churches are using. Feel free to contact us to have yours listed here!

Thank you for joining in this important work of healing and reconciliation!

— Rachael Weasley

“Acknowledgement by itself is a small gesture. It becomes meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and informed action. But this beginning can be an opening to greater public consciousness of Native sovereignty and cultural rights, a step toward equitable relationship and reconciliation.”

— Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group, Ontario, Canada
http://www.lspirg.org/knowtheland

Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana:

We recognize that the land where we worship belongs to God, as does all of creation. We also acknowledge that Miami and Potawatomi peoples lived here before settlers of European descent claimed ownership of it and displaced those for whom this land was home. As we pursue our goals to dismantle racism and attend to growing diversity, we  lament this injustice in our history and commit ourselves to just and respectful relationships within our congregation and our neighborhood.

Seattle Mennonite Church in Seattle, Washington created three statements to use during gatherings (plus a mural on the side of their building):

  • We gather on the unceded lands of the Duwamish Tribe, our neighbors who have still not received recognition or compensation for land taken from them, though they continue to fight for their treaty to be acknowledged.
  • The holy ground we gather on this morning is sacred to our Creator and is the original land of our Duwamish kin. It is the unceded ancestral land of our neighbors and friends with whom we seek to be in repaired relationship.  
  • We are all newcomers on this land – the unceded land of the Duwamish, a tribe still living and thriving in this city.  Neighbors with whom we seek, in small and faltering ways, to be in repaired relationship.  

Echoes Lutheran Church in Bellingham, Washington:

We acknowledge that this land is the traditional territory of the Lummi and Nooksack Peoples who have lived here since time immemorial.  May we respect and nurture our relationship with our Coast Salish neighbors, and invest in our shared responsibilities to this Place of their homelands where we mutually abide.

Eighth Street Mennonite Church, Goshen Indiana (this is a draft in progress; and the final draft includes original artwork commissioned for this purpose):

We respectfully recognize the Bodéwadmik/Potawatomi People who stewarded this land for generations. We acknowledge that we are on land that the United States government coerced the Potawatomi People to give up through unjust treaties. 

Historical Background. In the early 1800s, the Potawatomi People were pressured to cede more and more of their land to the US government. The last land cession in Indiana (1836), an outcome of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, led to a remnant of the tribe being force-marched from their reservation in Marshall County to northeastern Kansas. This tragic 660-mile journey in the fall of 1838 has become known as the Trail of Death. Within three years, in 1841, Amish and Mennonite farmers began purchasing land in Elkhart County. 

Recognition of Injustice. The display of this art piece is a response of Eighth Street Mennonite Church to our growing awareness of the US government’s unjust treatment of Native Americans. We acknowledge with regret the great sacrifice the Potawatomi People made in leaving the land that had nourished and sustained them for generations. We affirm that while we cannot change history, we can work for justice. Justice begins with recognition and acknowledgment. 

Potawatomi People Today. The descendants of the Potawatomi who were deported in 1838 are in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, now in Oklahoma, and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, now in northeastern Kansas. Pokégnek Bodéwadmik/Pokagon Potawatomi are also descendants of the original inhabitants of this region. This federally recognized tribe is a vibrant community based in southwestern Michigan and northwestern Indiana. 

The Artist. Graphic designer Aaron Martin is a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and a lifelong resident of South Bend, Indiana. In 2018, he wrote and illustrated a bilingual children’s picture book, A Gathering Is Happening Today. It presents a child’s perspective on a traditional Potawatomi powwow. The Potawatomi language translation is by Kyle J. Malott. 

Artist’s Statement. The turtle is a symbol of a Potawatomi band of this region. The shell of the turtle is in the shape of the medicine wheel, whose four colored sections represent aspects of Native American spirituality, including the compass directions. The Potawatomi People associate traditional medicines with these directions: east (tobacco), south (cedar), west (sage), and north (sweetgrass). The strawberries around the turtle represent healing and growth. 

Statement drafted in May 2019 by Eileen Saner (eksaner@gmail.com) following a 2018 class study at Eighth Street Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana. The congregation is considering official action.