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Land Acknowledgements: Honoring Indigenous and Enslaved Peoples

Photo by Amber Martin on Unsplash

For far too long, the history of Indigenous and Enslaved peoples has been ignored or erased and their contributions have been disregarded. Land acknowledgements are a powerful way of recognizing and giving honor and respect to these communities, their cultures, and their enduring presence on the land. By acknowledging the history of Indigenous and Enslaved communities and their unfathomable connection to the land, we can start to undo the effects of colonization and slavery in order to promote equity and justice for all.

What Are Land Acknowledgements and Why Are They Important?

Land acknowledgements are statements that recognize and accept the truth about the traditional territories, languages, and cultures of the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land before colonization, as well as the truth about the rich and significant contributions of Black people who were forcibly enslaved. They serve as a means to promote healing, reconciliation, and understanding between historically marginalized communities and the privileged communities that benefited from this oppression.

Land acknowledgements fully accept and respect the brutal history of the land and the people who were violently taken from their communities to work on it. Acknowledging the true history of the land and the Indigenous and Black peoples who lived and suffered on it is a way to address the devastating effects of colonization and slavery. Land acknowledgements speak the truth about the atrocities that took place on the land and recognize the ongoing legacy of oppression and injustice.

Acknowledgements can be utilized in various contexts to honor the Indigenous and Enslaved peoples who are connected to the land. By using them in ceremonies, rallies, presentations, and online platforms, we bring attention to the ongoing impact of colonization and enslavement on Indigenous and Black communities and acknowledge the truth about the history of forced labor and colonization on the land.

Example of a Land Acknowledgement for a Public Event

At the beginning of a public event such as a conference or rally, the host or speaker delivers a land acknowledgment to honor the Indigenous and Enslaved peoples connected to the land on which the event is taking place. It is important to tailor these acknowledgments to fit the specific context and community involved.

“I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here today on the traditional territory of the [Name of Indigenous People] and that this land was taken from them through the process of colonization. We recognize the enduring presence and resilience of Indigenous peoples and honor their deep and abiding connections to the land. We also acknowledge the fortitude and contribution of the Black and African American people who were brought to this region as enslaved laborers and who endured unimaginable hardship and suffering. We must recognize and reckon with the ongoing legacies of colonialism and slavery in our country, and work to build more just and equitable communities for all.”

Photo by Daniele Buso on Unsplash

Developing Meaningful Land Acknowledgements

Creating a meaningful land acknowledgement requires researching, consulting with the appropriate people, and ensuring accuracy and respect. Learning about Indigenous peoples' traditional territories, languages, and cultures or the history of slavery and the resistance of Enslaved peoples involves specific steps. Here are some tips for creating a meaningful Land Acknowledgement:

  • Research the history of the occupied land to create an accurate and respectful land acknowledgement.

  • Use the land acknowledgement to recognize the ongoing effects of colonization, slavery, and the resilience of Indigenous and Enslaved peoples.

  • Incorporate land acknowledgement into everyday practices and events to create more inclusive spaces. Use a land acknowledgement at the beginning of a meeting or an event, include it in email signatures, and display it prominently in workplaces or at home.

Creating Indigenous Peoples’ Land Acknowledgements

To truly honor and respect Indigenous peoples, we must also be allies in their fight for justice and self-determination. This can involve supporting Indigenous-led movements and organizations, advocating for policies that protect Indigenous rights and promote equity, and educating ourselves and others about the ongoing legacies of colonialism and oppression. Working together toward a more just and equitable society can create a future where everyone is honored and respected.

When creating an Indigenous People’s land acknowledgement:

  • Researching and understanding the history of the occupied land is critical. Delving into archives can uncover information about the original inhabitants of the land, Indigenous nations who lived and worked there for centuries, and the impacts of colonization and displacement. Researching traditional territory maps, learning about the land's history through books and online resources, and attending community events can all be ways to learn more about the traditional territories, languages, and cultures of the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land before colonization.

  • Consult with Indigenous people in creating a land acknowledgement to ensure its accuracy and appropriateness. Keep in mind that it is crucial to approach this consultation with sensitivity and respect, acknowledging the historical and ongoing exploitation of Indigenous peoples, their culture, and their knowledge. Offer compensation for their time and expertise, and prioritize their input and perspectives throughout the process.

  • When acknowledging Indigenous peoples' traditional territories, languages, and cultures in a land acknowledgement, it is important to go beyond simply recognizing the past by understanding the current state of Indigenous communities in the area. This means being aware of the ongoing struggles for recognition, autonomy, and sovereignty that Indigenous people face and how they are impacted by contemporary issues such as environmental degradation, resource extraction, and discrimination.

Creating Enslaved Peoples’ Land Acknowledgements

Enslaved peoples' land acknowledgements are a way of recognizing and honoring the Enslaved peoples who endured forced labor against their will. They are a way of acknowledging the history of slavery and its ongoing effects. Land acknowledgements have the power to bring the erased or hidden truths of the Enslaved communities to the forefront and honor the people who played a major role in building our country and its economy.

When creating an Enslaved Peoples’ land acknowledgement:

  • Acknowledge the harm caused by slavery and its ongoing impact on Black communities. Slavery was a violent and dehumanizing system that had devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Acknowledging this harm and its ongoing impact is pivotal in promoting healing and reconciliation.

  • Recognize the resistance of Enslaved people and their descendants. Enslaved people resisted the violence and oppression of slavery in countless ways, from escaping to fighting for freedom through the legal system. Recognizing their resistance is an essential step in honoring their strength and resilience.

  • Centering the voices and experiences of Black communities in the land acknowledgement involves incorporating Black perspectives into the research, using materials created by and for Black communities, and centering their experiences and perspectives in writing.

  • Take action toward reparations and restorative justice. Acknowledging the harm caused by slavery is a critical first step, but it is not enough. We must also work toward reparations and restorative justice to address the ongoing effects of harm on Black communities.

  • When acknowledging the history of Enslaved peoples in a land acknowledgement, it is important to recognize not only the brutal history of forced labor and oppression but also the positive impact Enslaved people have had on our communities. We continue to be gifted by the rich culture and traditions that have been shared with us through unfathomable conditions. We must honor and celebrate this legacy by supporting Black-led initiatives and organizations, promoting equitable policies, and working toward reparations.

Photo by Cem Sagisman on Unsplash

Call to Action

Creating a meaningful land acknowledgement is a decisive step. It is important to remember that land acknowledgements are just the beginning. We must also take action toward creating more inclusive spaces and promoting equity. Amplifying the voices and experiences of Indigenous and Enslaved peoples, advocating for their rights and sovereignty, and working toward restorative justice are all crucial steps. Committing to a lifelong journey of learning and growth is important because there are still ongoing effects of colonization and slavery impacting our lives and experiences today. By taking action toward decolonization and creating a more just and equitable society, we can work toward undoing the harm caused by historical trauma and systemic oppression.

Let us ensure our land acknowledgements are accurate and respectful. Let us also take action toward creating a more just and equitable society for all. The time for action is now. Let us work toward creating a better future for ourselves and future generations.

After following the steps above, please share your land acknowledgement in the comments below. I will do the same!

1 Comment

Meghan Raftery
Meghan Raftery
May 02, 2023

I have seen Melissa conduct POWERFUL land acknowledgements in various settings, including Colonial Williamsburg, a site with a fraught history. It stopped participants in their tracks and set the tone for who she is and what she stands for INSTANTLY. Two great resources for folks wanting to explore the role of Indigenous and Enslaved Peoples on North American history are and (which has a student version as well!)


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