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Equitable Practices to Consider before Establishing Indigenous Land Acknowledgements

By: Yesenia Murillo | Mar, 10 2023
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

Across the U.S., indigenous land acknowledgements have picked up popularity as a best practice in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space. A land acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of the land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.*  One of the main goals in doing an indigenous land acknowledgement is to respect and honor Indigenous People and their Tribal Nations and acknowledge the indigenous traditional lands where we do our work. However, one begs the question – is this enough; is it performative?  

After having very open and honest discussions with Indigenous partners, I learned that like anything else establishing a land acknowledgement depends on context. In general, in any equity practice, we must first and foremost always follow the direction of tribal nations and their governments to determine when and how this process should begin. In this case, tribal nations are the priority populations with lived experience, and hence the direction we follow in equity work.  

Below are some of the understandings I had to remind myself of in doing this work as a DEI champion with fourteen years of experience:

  • Intent versus Impact: While the intent to do a land acknowledgement is positive and well meaning, the impact on Indigenous Peoples may not match our intent. Land acknowledgements may be very well received in some communities. However, we should not assume that it applies to every community equally. Land Acknowledgements can actually serve as uncomfortable reminders of what has been taken away from the group we are trying to support and respect.
  • Respond to the needs/desires of people: I assumed this was a best practice and embarked on this work without asking if it was needed. When action is associated with a population group that you do not belong to, ensure you are invited as a partner and that action is needed.  Any initiation of a land acknowledgement should be led by Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Nations.
  • Community Engagement is a must: While I was intentional about engaging people with lived experience (i.e. Indigenous Peoples), Tribal Nations are sovereign and actions that impact their governments and citizens should be discussed with their leaders. According to the federal law and an Executive Directive from Michigan’s Governor, we must consult with tribes on matters that affect them. Community engagement must happen at the highest level of Tribal Nations and their governments.
  • Timing: While I started this work in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic altered our reality and immediately pushed us into an emergency response. Inevitably, this limited everyone’s capacity in many ways. Tribal governance is not the exception; hence making this short of an ideal time to pursue this work.

If you are using an indigenous land acknowledgement, you may want to ponder on the discussion points above and reconsider whether pushing for a land acknowledgement honors your original goal or creates performative work if not done equitably. We hope this motivates you to understand that we are all lifelong learners and teachers in this work. 

I am committed to continued learning and transparency… Till the next one. 

*Recognizing place: Indigenous land acknowledgments. (2021, July 15). Audubon Vermont. https://vt.audubon.org/news/recognizing-place-indigenous-land-acknowledgments


Photo Credit: Pexels.com

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