Land Acknowledgment Guidance

Starting points for developing land acknowledgments:

“In countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and among Tribal Nations in the U.S., it is commonplace, even policy, to open events and gatherings by acknowledging the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of that land…Acknowledgment is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth.” – 2020 U.S. Dept of Arts & Culture – Honor Guide to land acknowledgments.

Basic steps (derived from 2019 Native Governance Center’s A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgments):

  1. Start with self-reflection. Before starting work on your land acknowledgment statement, reflect on the process:
    • Why am I doing this land acknowledgment? (If you’re hoping to inspire others to take action to support Indigenous communities, you’re on the right track. If you’re delivering a land acknowledgment out of guilt or because everyone else is doing it, more self-reflection is in order. See Dr. Debbie Reese’s 27 tips for land acknowledgments.)
    • What is my end goal? (What do you hope listeners will do after hearing the acknowledgment?)
    • When will I have the largest impact? (Think about your timing and audience, specifically.)
  1. Do your homework. Put in the time necessary to research the following topics:
    • The Indigenous peoples to whom the land belongs.
    • The history of the land and any related treaties specific to where your university, research station, office, etc. is located.
    • Names of living Indigenous people from these communities. If you’re presenting on behalf of your work in a certain field, highlight Indigenous people who currently work in that field.
    • Indigenous place names and language.
    • Correct pronunciation for the names of the Tribes, places, and individuals that you’re including.
  1. Use appropriate language. Don’t sugarcoat the past. Use terms like genocideethnic cleansingstolen land, coercive Assimilation, violence-backed treaties, internment, family separation, youth incarceration, sterilization without consent, and forced removal to reflect actions taken by colonizers.
  2. Use past, present, and future tenses. Indigenous people are still here, and they’re thriving. Don’t treat them as a relic of the past.
  3. Land acknowledgments shouldn’t be grim. They should function as living celebrations of Indigenous communities. Ask yourself, “How am I leaving Indigenous people in a stronger, more empowered place because of this land acknowledgment?” Focus on the positivity of who Indigenous people are today.
  4. Identify specific actions and commitments you or your organization are willing to make that will enhance the well being of Native Americans or empower Native Americans based upon the mission statement and stated values of your organization.  Actions and commitments are essential to land acknowledgments or else the statement risks becoming Indigenous “mascots of the 21st century.”

Suggested homework:

  1. The Ways: 5-minute videos of the twelve First Nations of Wisconsin. 2015.
  2. Tribal History videos of twelve Native Nations of Wisconsin: PBS Wisconsin Tribal Histories, 25-minute videos of 12 Nations of WI; 2017-2018.
  3. UW-Madison Our Shared Future resources and additional primary resources about the Ho-Chunk Nation where the main UW-Madison campus is located.
  4. UW–Madison’s Native Americans and the Lakeshore Nature Preserve page.
  5. In 2014, Dr. Amy Rosebrough made a wonderful CSPAN featurette explaining technical information about the Observatory Hill mound group, how they were created, etc.  CSPAN (8min): Native American Effigy Mounds.
  6. The D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian Studies at the Newberry Library has a good website “Indians of theMidwest” that includes the Ho-Chunk discussing the effigy mounds on the “Indian Perspectives” page

Additional Resources for developing land acknowledgment statements:

  1. Native Governance Center – A Guide to Land Acknowledgments.
  2. Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) – 27 tips for land acknowledgments.
  3. 2020 US Dept of Arts and Culture – Honor Guide to land acknowledgments.

A note on the Our Shared Future marker

Please note that the Our Shared Future heritage marker at UW–Madison was not intended to be a land acknowledgment, but rather to educate the university community about the great interruption of Indigenous knowledge that informs why the university community does not know as much as we could about this place and also informs why we need to engage in reconciliation work as a community by moving from “ignorance to awareness” of the full story of this place. Then-President of the Ho-Chunk Nation Wilfrid Cleveland said at the installation of the Our Shared Future heritage marker, “For most non-Native people, the easiest way around these hard truths is to just ignore the real history of Wisconsin and the real history of the people who first lived here,” he said after the Our Shared Future heritage marker installation ceremony. “My hope is that this plaque will cause them to dig a little deeper, that it will be a spark for them to learn about the Ho-Chunk people and the sacredness we hold for this land.”

Campus Examples of Land Acknowledgments

EXAMPLE 1:

On behalf of __________________, I ask that you join me in acknowledging that our University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, here on the shores of Waaksikhomik (wunk-shick-HOME-ick-la, or Lake Mendota), resides within the sacred homeland of the Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk) people, a place they call Teejop (day-JOPE, or Four Lakes). And as the reach of the university extends to the far corners of our state, we also respectfully recognize the inherent sovereignty of the 12 First Nations of Wisconsin.

Our land grant university could not have been established or sustained were it not for state and federally sponsored settler colonialism that dispossessed and displaced American Indian nations and communities across our state.  We must now confront the outcomes of unjust land treaties and the harm caused by our university’s past complicity with policies of cultural and physical genocide as we seek reconciliation with Indigenous nations and communities of Wisconsin.

With a spirit of humility and openness, we pledge to do the hard work of reflection and truth-telling so that we can move toward transformative healing.

EXAMPLE 2: Enwejig Land/Language Acknowledgement

The University of Wisconsin–Madison occupies Teejop, land inextricably connected to the Ho-Chunk people and their sacred language, Hoocąk, since time immemorial. Enwejig acknowledges the deep Ho-Chunk love for their language––and honors all those who speak and care for the Indigenous languages of Wisconsin. These other languages include:

  1. Mamāceqtaweqnaesen/Oma͞eqnomenēweqnaesen (Menominee),
  2. Mã’eekuneeweexthowãakun (Mohican),
  3. Huluníixsuwaakun (Munsee),
  4. Ojibwemowin/Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe),
  5. Ukwehuwehnéha (Oneida), and
  6. Bodwéwadmimwen/Neshnabémwen (Potawatomi).

Languages are key to the past, present, and future well-being of Indigenous nations. Collectively, we share an exigent responsibility to arrest language loss due to settler-colonialism; support revitalization efforts; and seek linguistic justice for Indigenous peoples.

EXAMPLE 3:

June 4, 2018 LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT from Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society (AFHV) conference at UW-Madison.

Please acknowledge with us that this University is situated upon traditional territories. The Hooçak Nation calls this region home and this place where we are meeting is known as Dejope. Villagers and their agricultural fields thrived along the banks of these lakes, along the Wisconsin, Rock, Illinois, Fox, Baraboo, Trempealeau, LaCrosse, and Black Rivers and all their tributaries.

After the War of 1812, the United States, acting through a citizen paramilitary, removed Hooçak people and resettled the area without the Hooçak Nation’s consent. This resulted in the 1825 Treaty of Peace, where the US government recognized the Hooçak Nation and its sovereignty over 10.5 million acres of land in what is now southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. The treaty also promised that these lands would not be entered without the Nation’s permission. The Black Hawk War of 1832 led to the 1832 and 1837 treaties signed for the land upon which this University is built, first ceding title to 6.8 million acres, and then all of their territory to the US government.

[SUGGESTED EDIT] This land was then granted to (railroads? Universities?) and sold to developers (can we name them? I bet they are considered founding fathers with streets and landmarks named after them…)

[SUGGESTED EDIT] People of the Hooçak Nation were forcibly removed to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma, but many refused to leave, and of those that left, many returned to their ancestral homes in what had become Wisconsin. They purchased land…more on land tenure or how they interacted with the economy?

[SUGGESTED EDIT] The University of Wisconsin-Madison operates in other parts of the state, on Agricultural Experiment Stations (others?) Detail these sites and the territory they are on; for instance, Kemp Biological Station at Minoqua is Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe territory.

[SUGGESTED EDIT] We recognize the enduring presence and territorial claim of Aboriginal peoples on this land. We give thanks to the Hooçak Nation, and the other [ten Federally recognized Nations / eleven Native Nations] whose territory now lies within the State of Wisconsin. We extend our thanks to the plants and animals, the water and soil, that form our greater Community of Life.

We recognize the enduring presence and territorial claim of Aboriginal peoples on this land.

Example 4: Supplemental text for conference booklet from Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society (AFHV) conference at UW-Madison.

For 170 years, the UW campus has been a catalyst for social change. It is the state’s public land grant university, charged with solving real-world problems. The Wisconsin Idea –that citizens, state government and the University work together to address the issues of our day –is deeply embedded in campus culture, and throughout the state by University of Wisconsin Extension and college campuses in the UW System. The 936-acre Madison campus is a city-within-a-city of more than 43,000 students and 10,000 employees. It is blocks away from the State Capitol on the isthmus between Lake Mendota (in the Hooocąk (Ho-Chunk) language: Wąkšik homįkra, meaning “[where] the man lies”) and Lake Monona (in Hoocąk: Ciihabokiǧackera, translating to“the teepee lake”). This is Hoocąk territory, and one can find evidence of pre-European ceremonial mounds, agriculture and village sites throughout the isthmus, as well as a contemporary Hoocąk presence. A tour exploring Hoocąk territory is offered on Wednesday, and the Friday night festivities will be held in DeJope Hall (in Hoocąk, Dejope is written as Teejoop and is used to refer to the place of the four lakes, or the contemporary Madison area).

In 1989, farmers and faculty established the research Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, part of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Its express purpose is to serve small and mid-size farmers and their research interests. Participatory research, community engagement, and linking farmers to campus faculty and programs is fundamental to the Center’s work. Current work includes labor relations along food supply chains, indigenous foods and food sovereignty, farm-to-institution and city-region food systems, urban agriculture school, beginning grower services and land tenure, cover cropping and perennial farming systems, agriculture of the middle, regional food transportation and small supply chain development. The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials (WICST) take a long-term view of sustainable cropping systems and are housed at CIAS. The Center is affiliated with the graduate degree program in Agroecology and home to the student group FH King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, and their student farm.

Example 5:

As a step toward honoring the truth and achieving healing and reconciliation, our organization commits to open all public events and gatherings with a statement acknowledging the traditional Native lands on which we stand. Such statements become truly meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and sustained commitment. We therefore commit to move beyond words into programs and actions that fully embody a commitment to Indigenous rights and cultural equity. (From https://usdac.us/nativeland – HONOR NATIVE LAND: A GUIDE AND CALL TO ACKNOWLEDGMENT)