Indigenous communities owned the land on which many institutions of research and education have been built. Academic conferences and events are also routinely held in these spaces. This land is essential to the identity and worldview of Indigenous groups. Often these lands were taken under unjust and violent circumstances resulting in forced relocation that continues to have devastating effects on native communities. Indigenous Land Acknowledgements are one small but tangible way institutions of culture and education in the United States can begin repairing the harm caused by mainstream historical accounts, which have excluded Indigenous voices and obscured the centrality of violence to colonialism in the United States.
Indigenous Land Acknowledgement refers to the practice of recognizing an Indigenous community's ancestral ties to the land on which a meeting or event is taking place. Acknowledging the communities that have an inseparable connection to the land on which these institutions reside challenges the mainstream narrative and calls attention to the strength of Indigenous communities which have survived the devastating effects of displacement and colonization. Further, this history informs the present experience of Native American peoples, so it is essential to the contextualization of current events.
The Guilbeau Center for Public History recommends that the museums, libraries, archives, universities and any other entities devoted to education implement the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgment. We see this as a step toward reparation for the harm caused by centuries of misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and denial of their right to participate in the telling of their own narratives. These statements represent respect for Indigenous voices, acknowledgement of the violence of US history, and demonstrate that in most cases Indigenous peoples are still here to tell their story.
Should you wish to include a land acknowledgement, a sample statement can be found below. We strongly encourage event attendees to learn about each nation's history and current realities through their websites.
While the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgement is new to research and educational institutions in the United States, it has long been an established protocol among Indigenous groups around the world. It has even become standard in both Canada and Australia. Acknowledgement guides by Australians Together, the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the U.S. Department of Art and Culture all echo many of the same sentiments. They point to a similar general format for an acknowledgement, which could sound something like: "Before we begin [description of event], I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered today on the ancestral territory of the ( ) peoples, and I pay my respect to their Elders both past and present, as well as living descendants and future generations." All three guides also state that it is important to be genuine in the acknowledgement, so this basic format can be altered to include information that it is appropriate to the specific setting. Additionally, all three emphasize the importance of reaching out to the specific Indigenous group or groups being acknowledged to ensure that the statement is respectful and accurately represents them in the way that they want to be represented. This is particularly important because, for far too long, Indigenous peoples have been denied a say in their own representation. This inclusive approach is therefore a step toward decolonizing these institutions.
Academic institutions and societies are particularly important spaces in which to challenge the invisibilization of Native peoples in the contemporary United States. Historically, the collection of Indigenous artifactual and biological material and intangible cultural heritage was motivated by the belief that Indigenous cultures would soon disappear. Further, these collections were used to judge and hierarchically organize the cultures represented by these objects. Scientists, policy-makers, and laypeople used the conclusions drawn from such studies of collections to justify violence of entire groups of people, including Indigenous communities. Additionally, because these pursuits were considered scientific, the knowledge of western trained scientists and collectors was and continues to be privileged over that of the represented peoples.
The colonial, visual and global turns in the history of science have started to bring attention to the historical significance of Indigenous knowledge systems. We see land acknowledgment policy as a logical next step in this positive trend towards more inclusive scholarship in the history of science.
Academic institutions must focus on the realities and voices of contemporary Indigenous communities, since academic work from a range of disciplines has given the impression that these societies no longer exist. Indigenous land acknowledgement is already an established and common practice among Indigenous individuals and tribal or other Indigenous identity-related institutions. While these statements do make mainstream research and education institutions more welcome to Indigenous audiences, they are not the only audiences who need to hear them. This practice is about more than making space-it is about making the history of marginalized populations part of the mainstream consciousness. Though land acknowledgement is a small step, it is an important one that demonstrates an interest in truth-telling.
As legal scholar Chelsea Vowel (Métis) and other Native scholars suggest, land acknowledgement should constitute the first step in a process of opening dialogue with Indigenous communities to learn about the specific laws and protocols of that Nation regarding the responsibilities of guests. A verbal acknowledgment, moreover, must be accompanied by concrete allocation of time and resources to both educate regarding the colonial history of the specific land upon which the meeting or event occurs, and to support the participation of Indigenous people in the society or institution.
Language plays an important role in the construction of historical narratives and is therefore, fundamental to the topic of land acknowledgement. Many representations of United States history do not convey the gravity of the devastation that colonialism had on Native American peoples. They often deploy language that obscures the United States as the perpetrator of violence. Yet the use of truthful language is a central tenet of decolonizing methodologies. As described by Amy Lonetree (Ho-Cunk), "Scholars writing from the Indigenous paradigm employ more powerful and precise terms to describe what happened, including 'genocide' and 'atrocity,' and they do not shy away from naming the perpetrators of the violence in our history." It is important to make this statement in a space that is accessible to all visitors--not just those who are already inclined to seek out information related to Indigenous topics.
One criticism of land acknowledgment policy has been the perception of its tokenism. We intend to correct for this by demanding that the land acknowledgement practice be a starting point that is then backed up by long-term efforts toward social justice. Dylan AT Miner, a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar stresses on the fact that Land Acknowledgements "must be preceded by relationships with living Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations. It must then be followed with ongoing commitments to these same communities. Land Acknowledgements are a responsibility."
We propose that this practice include: (a) a formal invitation to Elders or community leaders from the Indigenous peoples upon whose land the meeting will occur to open university events, if this fits with their nation's protocols and interests (to be determined through direct consultation); (b) proposed text that event organizers/participants can consider using for land acknowledgement at the beginning of each session; (c) a guide to Native history of the region, available on the institutions website so that attendees can educate themselves about the history of the land where the event is taking place; (d) the commitment of resources or the appropriate fundraising to provide bursaries for Indigenous scholars to present at events.
Bibliography and Resources
Garcia, Felicia (Santa Ynez band of Chumash). "You're on Indian Land: Making the Case for
Indigenous Land Acknowledgement in Mainstream U.S. Museums." MA thesis, NYU, 2018.
Shekon Neechie. "Bibliography." July 30, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. A select bibliography of historical works by Indigenous scholars on Indigenous histories in North America/Turtle Island.
Lonetree, Amy. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
McCoy, Kate, Eve Tuck, and Marcia McKenzie. Land Education: Rethinking Pedagogies of Place from Indigenous, Postcolonial, and Decolonizing Perspectives, 2016.
Murphy, Michelle. "Unsettling Care: Troubling Transnational Itineraries of Care in Feminist Health Practices." Social Studies of Science 45, no. 5 (October 1, 2015): 717–37.
Murphy, Michelle. "Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations." Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 4 (November 29, 2017): 494–503.
Queensland Government. "Welcome to Country." Last modified May 4, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.
TallBear, Kim. "Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry." Journal of Research Practice 10, no. 2 (2014): Article N17.
Tasmanian Government. "Acknowledgement and Welcome to Country." Accessed February 1, 2018.
Toronto Ward Museum. "Acknowledgement of Traditional Land." Accessed February 5, 2018.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action." June 2, 2015. Accessed February 5, 2018.
Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. "Decolonization is not a metaphor," Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1-40.
Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1999.
University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (MOA). "Director's Welcome Message." Accessed February 1, 2018.
U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. "Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement." Accessed October 15, 2017.
Vowel, Chelsea. "Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements." Accessed May 7, 2018.
Text adapted from the HSS Committee for Land Acknowledgement
Ad Hoc Committee Members:
Felicia Garcia (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, School for Advanced Research)
Marissa Petrou (University of Louisiana, Lafayette)
Elaine LaFay (University of Pennsylvania)
Rosanna Dent (New Jersey Institute of Technology)
Khyati Nagar (York University)
We are grateful for the generous help of Lenor Curall (United Houma Nation), Linda Langley (Coushatta), Nakai Northup (Mashentucket Pequot), Edward Moses (Snake Band, Atakapa-Ishak) Polly Olsen (Yakama), Joshua Reid (Snohomish), and Michael Yates.
Please e-mail us with thoughts or questions.
For more information on Louisiana's federally-recognized tribes, visit:
For more information on Louisiana's state-recognized tribes, visit:
Training: Digital History
The Guilbeau Center is hosting training sessions for students and faculty. This month, UL History alum Zachary Henry will be leading students and faculty through an orientation in creating podcasts. Next month Vermilionville Living History Museum’s collections manager, Maegan Smith, will provide a workshop on collections management software PastPerfect. In February, Dr. Brittany Cook offered introductions in ArcGIS for the department’s graduate students. We look forward to offering regular training sessions for the UL community every semester.
Exhibit: Sex, Race, & Rock ‘n’ Roll: Multicultural Europe in the Postwar
Students in Prof. Franklin’s HIST 366 course on gender and race in postwar Europe completed creative “unessay” assignments on themes presented in our class on postwar Europe. Discussions about race, sex, gender, activism, empire, and intersectionality all informed students’ final projects. We thank the Friends of the Humanities for a generous grant that facilitated the development of this course.
Conference: Representing Enslavement
Registration and more info at: https://representingenslavement.com/
“Representing Enslavement” is a short conference designed to bring together experts and practitioners in the public history of enslavement in Louisiana. Too often the deep history of enslavement in this region is twisted or erased in service of comfort and tourist dollars. The conference seeks to foreground the perspective of artists, museum professionals, academic historians, public historians, and organizers to make this history present in Lafayette and broader Acadiana. We hope to push for lasting changes in the way Louisianan’s represent the history of enslavement in the region and across the state. The conference is hosted by the Department of History, Geography, and Philosophy at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
For questions, contact Dr. Ian Beamish at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermilionville History Harvest
Students in Dr. Petrou’s public history course, “Heritage and Memory in History Museums” volunteered at Vermilionville’s Veteran’s Day History Harvest last month. Students were trained in marketing and outreach; photographing and scanning historical artifacts, inventorying historical artifacts, and interviewing the local communities members who generously brought their historical artifacts to share with the museums.
What is a History Harvest?
The concept of History Harvests started as an undergraduate history project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about 10 years ago. The students and professors at UNL wanted to create a program that was “…a collaborative effort aimed at uncovering, collecting, preserving, archiving, and sharing some of the many “hidden” historical treasures located right here in our own communities.” Since its creation the UNL History Department has held a number of harvests with various communities across the state of Nebraska and many other history departments and museums across the country have adopted UNL’s methods.
A History Harvest is designed to connect museum professionals and historians with their communities local history by inviting the public to share their personal artifacts that may have until this point been “hidden” in their homes/attics but still hold historical significance. These artifacts may include letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, documents, art, textiles, three-dimensional objects, etc. according to the topic of the History Harvest. The goal is to document, collect information on, and digitize each of these artifacts to create an online collection that can later be used for further historical interpretation and public access. In the case of this History Harvest, the scans/photographs and information collected about each object will be added to the Louisiana Digital Library.
 Jones, Patrick. “History Harvest” (syllabus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, 2012), Accessed on April 6, 2018, http://historyharvest.unl.edu/themes/harvest/resources/hh_syllabus_2012fall.pdf