My Indigenous Peoples’ Land Acknowledgement

I’ve talked about this a couple different times (why do I always think of land acknowledgements while lifting weights? The world may never know….). I am happy to say that I finally put together my Indigenous Peoples’ Land Acknowledgement. Leaders in my organization encouraged us to put one together based on information and guidance from US Department of Arts and Culture’s (USDAC) “Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement,” saying it is an important part of us pursuing our conservation goals justly and with an appropriate acknowledgement of how we got here (physically and environmentally) in the first place.

After reading some examples and thinking through what I wanted to emphasize (the injustice of Hawai’i’s colonized history and honor of the Native Hawaiians who are the original and continuing stewards of the lands and waters I love), I put this together:

I would like to acknowledge that I am participating in this meeting while on the traditional lands of the Kānaka ‘Ōiwi. Many of the systems and issues [my organization] now engages with were brought about through a history of colonization that came at a dire cost to Hawai’i’s indigenous people. I wish to pay my respect to the original stewards — past, present and emerging — of Hawai’i’s lands and waters.

The USDAC recommends people include an Indigenous Peoples’ Land Acknowledgement as part of their welcome or introduction to meetings and events. The above is what I will use when I am hosting a larger gathering (you can see for now my language is very “Zoom” focused), where I have a more formal role and am guiding the overall direction and flow of the meeting. I have a shorter version for when I am simply introducing myself as part of a group.

I think this is a small but significant way we white people can help keep the right things in public mind regarding the violence we have perpetuated on native peoples, the necessary considerations for our work (for all work), and the efforts necessary to carve out a more just path forward. What we intentionally remind ourselves and others of guides our planning and thinking. The recency effect is real. I think it’s our responsibility, if we come from a long line of colonizers (raises hand), to make sure the failures and harms that made possible our physical place are kept recent in our minds as we try to find good solutions for sweeping issues like environmental conservation, education, social welfare, and equality.

Again, this is a small thing. Starting a meeting with an Indigenous Peoples Land Acknowledgement is not going to change the world. But consistent, small steps shore up big, transformative efforts. Consistent, small steps also shape our brains and eventually become simply part of how we see and experience the world. I’m really looking forward to using this and I hope it becomes standard practice for more organizations.

This process has also got me thinking a lot about if or how I should revise my social media accounts. My Instagram is basically a love letter from me to my life in Hawai’i, and I’m sure getting the chance to see more of the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands why my friends and family follow me. (I’m pretty boring otherwise.) A long chain of pain and suffering paved the way for me even being able to live here. That’s a heaviness I owe it to the Kānaka ‘Ōiwi to acknowledge and to work hard not to participate in with further exploitation, even small-scale.

If you’d like to put together your own acknowledgement, you can sign up to receive a resources pack from USDAC here. Here is a breakdown of my process and some tools I found helpful:

  1. Understand whose land you occupy. This website is a good resource.
  2. Learn what names indigenous groups prefer. This graphic is very helpful for folks on the Mainland U.S.
  3. Practice speaking it out loud. You want it to sound like you and to sound as sincere as you mean it, so it never hurts to speak it out loud and revise as needed.
  4. Work it into your meeting preparations. I have a little digital post-it note on my computer where I keep mine, so that I never have to scramble when unexpected meetings come up. It is also a bullet point in my general meeting agenda. We only reliably do what we are prepared to do, so intentionally including land acknowledgement is an important piece of any meeting prep.

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