If you live on colonized land, such as the United States, how much do you know about the Indigenous People who are its original custodians? Do you know which tribes and nations resided in your specific area before forced removal? Do you know where they are now? I would take a guess that maybe a lot of you don’t, and that’s something we should all work on to rectify.
Why do we need to acknowledge whose land we are on? Well, let me break it down for you …
Learning about the history of the U.S. — and not the whitewashed version — is really important when understanding and recognising the far-reaching impacts that colonization has had. Colonization, by definition, is the invasion and forced establishment of control over Indigenous People and their land. To justify an invasion, and the subsequent expansion of settler-colonialism in America — that involved the genocide of Indigenous People and forced removal to increasingly smaller tracts of land (see the video below) — the United States government, spurred on by White-settlers, operated under the idea of Manifest Destiny.
Coined in 1845 by a newspaper editor, John O’Sullivan, the term Manifest Destiny encapsulated the long-held vision of further colonization throughout the entire North American continent — to spread capitalism and expand the reach of U.S. political and economic power through land ownership — as being something divined by God (Christian). This conceited doctrine aimed to justify what White settler-colonialism did to Native Americans, no matter how horrific, as a benevolent and altruistic “greater good”. The seeds of this idea were buried within the Declaration of Independence in 1776 that ratified and set out exactly how the United States was to regard and treat Native Americans. They were to be related to as “merciless Indian savages”. And if a nation from its inception can believe itself to be morally, intellectually or culturally superior, to increase its power, it can cement cultural destruction as an inevitable part of its “progress”, no matter what it does to other groups of people.
The U.S. government brokered hundreds of treaties to gain control of Native territory — under various deceitful or harmful means — that promised, as supreme Law of the Land, that if they gave up stewardship of certain areas, they would be designated other, smaller regions that would remain theirs and be untouched by further land grabs. All of the treaties have been broken. None of them has been fully honoured or protected. More and more land was stolen so that there was less and less space for traditional Indigenous lifeways to exist. Hunting grounds, fishing waterways, agricultural practices, etc are uniquely tied to the passing on of language, stories, religion, traditional knowledge, clothing, art, ceremony and song — and all of these are connected to the land. If you can no longer practice the things that continue to pass on your culture, the threat to it comes at a cost that will reverberate throughout all generations.
And that cost is still being counted today. Indigenous self-determination and the important ways of life that are intricately connected to the land are still being threatened under the guise of progress. Significant cultural traditions, hunting, water and Native land are under constant attack from oil pipelines, telescopes, sacred monument resource extraction, and poisoned drinking water, for example. The premise of settler-colonization remains at work.
Land acknowledgements are a very small, but necessary first step towards honouring Indigenous People as the original inhabitants of where we live. It helps us learn about and respect the interconnectivity that Indigenous lifeways and cultures have to their land and how colonization sought to disrupt that — and continues to do so. Land acknowledgements are a way for us to educate ourselves about all that has been endured — and survived — by Native communities. It’s important to do this right and with purposeful intent. Do not use it performatively to look like you care if you really do not intend to take what you’ve learnt any further.
I would like to acknowledge that I am living on the traditional territories of the *Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Meškwahki (Fox), Peoria, Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi) and Myaamia Peoples, and wish to recognize with gratitude and respect their past, present and future caretaking of this land. I also wish to celebrate and fully support their resiliency, sovereignty and self-determination.
So … Whose land are you on? You can find out here, via a searchable interactive map created by Our Home on Native Land. Once you’ve found out, do a search of any organizations, grassroots campaigns, events, environmental issues or land back initiatives, etc that you can help support them in (time/money/sharing info) — and educate other people like yourself who may be unaware of where it is they’re living.
A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement – Native Governance Center
The “Indian Problem” – Smithsonian NMAI
For a better and far more comprehensive look at U.S. colonial history, check out An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
*Pronunciations: Kiikaapoi (KEE-kah-poy) | Meškwahki (meh-skw-AH-key) | Peoria (pea-OR-ee-ah) | Bodéwadmiakiwen (Bo-dé-wad-mi-ah-ki-wun) | Myaamia (me-YAH-me-ah).