Creating a Class Land Acknowledgment Statement
Students learn about the growing effort to acknowledge the Indigenous people whose lands we inhabit - and create their own land acknowledgment statement.
- Native Americans
In advance of this activity, consider sending your students an anonymous poll asking them the true/false questions below. (Alternatively, make this an informal poll during class.)
- I have been somewhere where a land acknowledgment was made, and I have a vague idea what they are for.
- I have been lots of places where land acknowledgements were made, and I know a lot about them.
- I have never been somewhere where a land acknowledgement was made and don't know anything about them.
- I have heard about people doing land acknowledgments and am interested in understanding what they are.
DAY 1: What is a Land Acknowledgment Statement?
Invite each student in turn to think about and then share one thing they love about the natural environment in your area.
If you live in a city, think about the trees; the birds; bugs; the moss that lives between the cracks in the concrete; parks with grass, plants, flowers; the sky, clouds, or light.
Share with students the results of the survey: What do we know of land acknowledgments?
Work with students to arrive at a working definition of what a “land acknowledgement statement” is and its purpose is. (For example: It is a formal statement that pays tribute to the original inhabitants of the land you are on. The purpose is to show respect for Indigenous peoples and recognize their enduring relationship to the land.)
- Who lived on the land we are on before European colonizers arrived?
- If we DO know, what do we know about those people?
- If we DON’T know, why don’t we?
Video & Discussion
Invite students to watch this 4-minute video about land acknowledgements:
After watching the video, ask students:
- What struck you most about this video?
- What feelings did it bring up for you?
- What did you learn?
- What other thoughts and reactions do you have about the video?
Reading & Discussion
Invite students to read (either silently to themselves or out loud as a class) this short backgrounder on Indigenous peoples and the movement to acknowledge those who lived on the land we now inhabit.
After students have read the backgrounder, ask them to share their thoughts and reflections about the reading. This might involve the whole class, or could take place in smaller breakout groups, with time to share out from each group when the whole class reconvenes.
Backgrounder on Indigenous Peoples & Land Acknowledgment
In the United States today, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people. These people are the descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land.
Indigenous people of the Americas shaped life in the Western Hemisphere for millennia. When European colonists arrived in North America in the 1600s, this land was filled with diverse, long-established societies.
Over the next three centuries, European settlers and their governments pursued a program of genocide and land theft against Native peoples across the continent, and denied them the right to govern themselves.
Throughout this history, and continuing today, Indigenous peoples have fought for their survival and their cultures. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes the “culture of resistance” that has allowed Native peoples to survive and create a legacy: “Native people continue to fight to maintain the integrity and viability of Indigenous societies,” she writes. “American Indian history is one of cultural persistence, creative adaptation, renewal, and resilience.”
Most non-Indigenous Americans know very little, and are taught very little, about those who originally lived and thrived on the lands we now occupy – or about Native lives and cultures today. Researchers have found that:
- The majority of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans.
- Many Americans are not clear how many Native peoples still exist.
- Invisibility is one of the biggest barriers Native peoples face in advocating for tribal sovereignty, equity, and social justice.
- Invisibility, erasure of history, stereotypes and false narratives underlie the stories being told right now about Native people in the 21st century.
Fortunately, surveys also find that most Americans want to change: They want to learn more about Native cultures; they support Native positions on most issues; and they support significant changes to K-12 curricula to ensure accurate Native history and culture is taught in schools.
Historian Jack Forbes, of Powhatan-Renapé and Lenape descent, maintained that “while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past.”
Learning about and acknowledging the people on whose land we live is one way we can begin to take responsibility for our country’s ongoing injustices against Native peoples. And it is a step that can be mind-opening and enriching for us.
In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, school days and meetings — and even sports games – often begin with a land acknowledgment: a formal statement that pays tribute to the original inhabitants of the land. The purpose of these land acknowledgment statements is to show respect for Indigenous peoples and recognize their enduring relationship to the land. Practicing acknowledgment – at events, in our writings, and elsewhere, can also raise awareness about the suppressed histories of Native peoples.
“There have always been Indigenous peoples in the spaces we call home, and there always will be,” Kanyon Sayers-Roods, a Mutsun Ohlone activist in Northern California, told Teen Vogue . “The acknowledgment process is about asking, What does it mean to live in a post-colonial world? What did it take for us to get here? And how can we be accountable to our part in history?”
Land acknowledgment statements can be short, simply citing the name or names of the tribes that inhabited the land, or they can include more extensive information. Morningside Center for Teaching Responsibility adopted this land acknowledgment statement for the work it does in New York City.
Questions for discussion:
- What struck you most about the reading? What questions do you have about it?
- Why do you think most Americans know so little about Indigenous peoples?
- Do you know less than you would like to about the people on whose land you are living? If so, what would you like to know and why?
- Why do you think you or we as a class have so little information about this?
- What is the purpose of a land acknowledgment statement?
- What impact do you think it might have if gatherings regularly began with an acknowledgment of the people whose land we are on?
Next, ask students to consider:
- Do we want to create a land acknowledgement statement for our class?
If students do want to create a statement, ask them to research the following questions as homework:
- What Indigenous peoples originally lived in our area?
- What is known about these peoples at the time of colonization?
- What happened once white settlers arrived? How did the Indigenous people here respond?
- Where are these peoples today, and what can we find out about them? Can we find writings or videos about them and their lives?
Ask students to write at least one paragraph about the people on whose land they now live to share with class in our next session.
This Interactive Lands map may be helpful: https://Native-land.ca/ Also see this guide to land acknowledgments: https://Nativegov.org/a-guide-to-Indigenous-land-acknowledgment/
Invite students to read this quote from Mary Lyons of the Leech Lake Bank of Ojiwe:
“When we talk about land, land is part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future. We carry our ancestors in us, and they’re around us.”
DAY TWO: Creating a Land Acknowledgment Statement
Ask students to imagine what the land in your area might have looked like before European colonists arrived. What is the natural look of the land? What is the terrain like? What are the natural features of the land? Ask volunteers to share a few images that come to them.
Activity: Who Lived Here?
Invite students to share what they learned and what they have written. Together as a class, consider:
- What did we learn about the people whose land we occupy?
- Have we come up with similar information? Conflicting information? Were there multiple peoples who lived in this area, perhaps in different periods?
- What strikes you most about what you or others have learned?
- What additional questions do you have?
- How can we find out more?
Ask students what points would be important to include in a land acknowledgment statement by the class. Record their responses. Remember that their land acknowledgment statement might be just a couple of sentences, or several paragraphs.
Work with students to arrive at a land acknowledgment statement from your class.
Once you have created the statement, brainstorm with students about what the class might do with it. Possibilities include:
- Read either the full statement or a short version of it at each class gathering. (Students might take turns reading the statement.)
- Publicize the statement throughout the school.
- Plan a presentation or workshop for fellow students about what they have learned.
- Work to get the statement read before school gatherings, whether in person on online.
- Reach out to the media to let them know about what the class has learned and what they are trying to do about it.
Students might also consider doing further research on the peoples who once inhabited this land – both what their lives were like before the arrival of Europeans, and what their lives and contributions are today.
- What is one thing you would like to say personally to someone whose ancestors used to live on this land?
- What is one thing you would like to DO to address the injustice that has occurred?
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Native American Institute
- Guide to Land Acknowledgements
A land acknowledgement is an optional statement, often given at the beginning of organized events, celebrations and activities, or published in printed materials. A shortened land acknowledgement can also be used for email signatures. The purpose of a land acknowledgement is to recognize, respect and affirm the ongoing relationship between Indigenous people and the land. Land acknowledgements also raise awareness about the Indigenous histories, perspectives and experiences that are often suppressed or forgotten.
Giving a Land Acknowledgement
There are hundreds of Indigenous communities across the United States. Giving a land acknowledgement requires research and reflection to understand the historical and contemporary Indigenous communities having a relationship with the land. A land acknowledgement can be a few sentences or several pages. It is important the statement honors and names the communities, and recognizes the occupied or unceded nature and history of the land. Although land acknowledgements are powerful statements, they are only meaningful when they are coupled with authentic and sustained relationships with Indigenous communities and community-informed actions.
- MSU Land Acknowledgement
The MSU Native American Institute provides a land acknowledgement for the university based to raise awareness about the Indigenous histories, perspectives and experiences that took place before Michigan State University.
Land Acknowledgement for Michigan State University
“Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples. In particular, the university resides on land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. We recognize Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native Nations, historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and those who were forcibly removed from their homelands. In offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty, history and experiences.”
Shortened Land Acknowledgement for Michigan State University
“Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples. The university resides on land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw .”
Michigan Tribal Colleges
- Bay Mills Community College
- Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College
- Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College
- Tribal Governments (Michigan.gov)
- National Congress of American Indians
- U.S. Department of the Interior
MSU & NAI Resources
- MSU & the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw
- Honoring the Whole Student Workbook
- Reciprocal Research Guidebook
Guide to land acknowledgment, wherever you are in the united states, you’re on native land. here’s how to acknowledge that..
Maybe you’ve heard one before : at the start of an event, the speaker names the Indigenous groups that once or currently steward the land they’re standing on. This is a land acknowledgment. The growing practice, which spread to the United States from Canada, recognizes Indigenous people as the land’s ancestral caretakers and pays respect to modern native nations. Read aloud or shared in writing, a land acknowledgment also expresses a commitment to connecting with their descendants today. Land acknowledgment is an exercise based in protocol for inter-tribal meetings. “Whenever we go to someone’s land, we recognize ourselves as visitors on their territory, exchange cultural practices, and welcome one another,” says Allan Vicaire from the Mi’gmaq community of Listuguj and project coordinator with Concordia University’s Indigenous office. “Land acknowledgment continues with that tradition.” Whether you’re leading a bird walk or looking to understand your home’s Indigenous history, this expert advice will help you find the words to craft your own.
Birders have a norm around: “What can I cross off my list at this place?” Land acknowledgment leads to deeper engagement with cultural and social dynamics of land we’re visiting. At a meeting, before we delve into work, we recognize historical wrongs that need to be righted. We are actively looking to support tribes’ priorities. Making the statement can be uncomfortable. It requires constant learning and adjusting. There is no perfect way to say it. But are we better off saying it or keeping quiet about it? That’s where I tend to come down. —Trina Bayard, director of bird conservation, Audubon Washington
Anatomy of a Land Acknowledgment
There is no formula. writing your land acknowledgment requires research, thought, and time with uncomfortable truths. done well, it is not performative but rather expresses an authentic, personal relationship with the land and its native people. indigenous experts offer some guidelines..
Use Indigenous language for group and place names. Confirm pronunciation and practice it before you read your statement aloud.
Identify the land you’re occupying or engaging with. Then name the group(s) with ancestral ties. Don’t acknowledge “Indigenous people” generally. “It’s important to be specific,” says Felicia Garcia, creator of landacknowledgements.org and who is Samala Chumash. Share cultural knowledge, too. Concordia University, for example, acknowledges Montreal as a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) diplomatic and trade hub.
Articulate why you or your organization wants to acknowledge the land and what you hope to achieve. “How does it relate to you personally and the work you’re doing?” Garcia asks. Finding the right words can take work and discussions. Continually refine your aims. Reading your statement should not be rote. “It has to be very authentic,” Vicaire says. “Speak from the heart.”
Explain the history. Don’t avoid harsh realities. Colonizers often stole land and killed or displaced Indigenous people. Say so plainly. Naturalists can also acknowledge traditional stewardship. “Indigenous people have been doing conservation work for time immemorial but are often left out of the conversation,” Garcia says. “It’s important to credit them.”
Describe where ancestral tribes live now. “People often think Native people are figures of the past,” Garcia says. But despite dispossession and colonization, they persist. “They have ties to that land and practice that culture.”
Land acknowledgment is not a performance of inclusivity. “It’s a commitment to future work to dismantle the harmful legacies of colonialism,” Garcia says. “Otherwise it’s kind of pointless.” Look up the named nations’ priorities and examine how you can support them, for example by donating money, skills, or time. Then act on your intention.
Audubon Magazine’s Land Acknowledgment
Audubon magazine is produced by staff working primarily on Lenapehoking, the homelands of the Lenape people. Lenapehoking includes New York City, New Jersey, and parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
We acknowledge the Lenape as the original inhabitants and stewards of this place; honor their continuing relationship with Lenapehoking; and express our gratitude for their past, present, and future role as caretakers of these lands. As creators of an environmental and conservation magazine, our work intends to learn from, and be in dialogue with, millennia of Lenape and other Indigenous traditions and stewardship.
European colonists pushed many Lenape West out of Lenapehoking in the end of the 1700s. In the 1860s the United States Indian removal policy relocated other self-governing Lenape people against their will to designated Indian Territory in Oklahoma under the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Today federal- and state-recognized Lenape groups live in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Delaware, and New Jersey. Other Lenape people are not recognized by federal or state governments.
As a small step in the direction of correcting the legacy of historical and present wrongs—of ongoing colonial land occupation, and of the colonial lens of American journalism and conservation writing— Audubon magazine commits to featuring Indigenous perspectives in our journalism about their homelands and sharing Indigenous conservation practice and knowledge with our readers.
We invite collaboration with Indigenous contributors. To share stories with us, contact [email protected] .
Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized some 1.5 billion acres from North America’s Indigenous nations by war, treaty, and executive order. The following maps, created with data compiled by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt, show how rapidly European colonists dispossessed Indigenous Americans of their homelands and lifeways. Play back the full dataset here or watch on YouTube.
By 1783 colonists had already seized Native land throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic as well as portions of the Gulf Coast, southern California, and North Dakota.
By 1830 the United States had seized 411 million acres from Indigenous nations, mostly east of the Mississippi River. After decades of warfare to impel Native nations to surrender land via treaty, the 1830 Indian Removal Act allowed the government and military to forcibly relocate Native people living east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory out West. This opened some 25 million acres of Native homelands in the Southeast, belonging to Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw, Seminole, and other nations, to white settlers and cotton farmers. Many thousands of Native Americans died on the journey along what became known as the Trail of Tears.
By 1870 the United States had seized 1.16 billion acres from Indigenous nations as the doctrine of Manifest Destiny pushed colonists farther West. This was a dark period of ethnic cleansing as white settlers forcibly removed, massacred, or enslaved Native Americans they encountered. Decades later, after the "wilderness" had been cleared of its Native inhabitants and stewards, many western lands were protected as national parks or other conservation areas.
By 1887 the United States had seized 1.41 billion acres from Indigenous nations. In this year the federal government passed the Dawes Act, which broke up lands belonging to tribal nations and divvied them up among individual tribe members. Over the next several decades, the U.S. government used this policy to strip more than 90 million acres from Native Americans and sell that land to non-Native U.S. citizens.
In science-based management plans, we talk about plants and soils. Those patterns incorporate traditional knowledge. Many Indigenous cultures had a low-intensity way of working the land, which created a mosaic of habitats. A diversity of habitats supports a diversity of birds. In my plans, I am starting to include a paragraph about how the land was influenced by Native nations and how that influences what you’re seeing today. It gives me another way to talk about the importance of nature and the legacy of our land. —Aimee Tomcho, conservation biologist, Audubon North Carolina
How a Land Acknowledgment Can Correct Stereotypes of American History
Native Land is a tool that uses your zip code to drill down into native territories, languages, and treaties—each a keyword to unlocking more information. Go to native-land.ca .
Cultural institutions point you to knowledge and experts. Indigenous scholars at universities and museums can answer questions or confirm language and pronunciation.
Tribal governments can be excellent resources. However, ensure you’re not seeking approval, Vicaire says. Be respectful if tribes don’t help. “They have their own challenges.”
Examples online can provide models to follow and inspiration. Glean language tips and, along the way, absorb a variety of Indigenous experiences.
In Alaska, Indigenous nations steward a greater portion of land than they do in much of the United States. They know about wildlife and ecology from living here for so long. We learn so much from them that’s not reported in Western science. I have committed to doing a land acknowledgment no matter what meeting I’m in and whether anyone else does it. When you lead, others start to join in. Alaska Natives have told me how welcome it made them feel. It sets a foundation for trust. It’s not everything, but it’s a step in the right direction. —Rebecca Sentner, senior communications manager, Audubon Alaska
Journalism About Indigenous Communities
An Indigenous Effort to Return Condors to the Pacific Northwest Nears Its Goal
On the Alaska Coast, Native Women Are Reviving a Cozy Tradition
An Indigenous Alliance Rallies to Conserve the Summer Home of Millions of Birds
Rulers of the Upper Realm, Thunderbirds Are Powerful Native Spirits
Working to Restore Bird Habitat, I Carry On Traditions That Were Meant to Be Erased
In Canada’s Boreal Forest, a New National Park Faces the Wrongs of the Past—and Guards Our Climate Future
Reimagining the Canada Goose
Reimagining the American White Ibis
Reimagining the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Other land acknowledgment resources, guides to land acknowledgment.
Felicia Garcia (Chumash), landacknowledgements.org
Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna and Paiute) Land Acknowledgment Workshop / PDF guide
Native Governance Center, A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement
California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center & Land Acknowledgement: You're on California Indian Land, Now What? Toolkit
Tomaquag Musuem: A Guide for Land Acknowledgements by Lorén Spears
U.S. Department of Arts and Culture / PDF guide
Honor Native Land: Are You Hesitating? Acknowledgment FAQs
Academic Land Acknowledgment for Settler Scholars : A Guest Post by Dr. Eugenia Zuroski
On Commitment to Action
âpihtawikosisân , Beyond territorial acknowledgements
The Mainlander , Beyond a Formal Acknowledgement
Relearning History for Conservationists
The Myth of a Wilderness Without Humans by Mark Dowie
The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature (1995) by William Cronon
A Challenge to Conservationists (2004) by Mac Chapin
Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery
Ethnic Cleansing and America's Creation of National Parks , Public Land and Resources Law Review
Conservation Refugees by Mark Dowie Bookshop
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer Bookshop
1491 by Charles Mann Bookshop
As Long as the Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker Bookshop
Land Return/Land Back
Land Return and Revitalization with Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy - For the Wild podcast
Return the National Parks to the Tribes - The Atlantic
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