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Thursday, October 13, 2022

Your Land Acknowledgment Is Not Enough

Joseph Pierce contributed an essay in the anthology STOLEN GENERATIONS: Survivors of the Indian Adoption Projects and 60s Scoop: Book 3 in the Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects book series.

his new op-ed

Land acknowledgment without action is an empty gesture, exculpatory and self-serving.

A protester at the Whitney Museum during the "Nine Weeks of Art and Action." Taken with permission on May 17, 2019. (photo Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

You’ve probably heard one. You may have helped craft one. A land acknowledgment is quickly becoming de rigueur among mainstream cultural and arts institutions. An official will stand at a podium and announce: This building is situated on the unceded land of the XYZ people. As if those people are not still here. As if this all happened in the past. He will breathe deeply and continue: We pay homage to the original stewards of these lands. The audience will nod in agreement. As if homage were the same as returning stolen land.

A land acknowledgment is not enough.

Museums that once stole Indigenous bones now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Organizations that have never hired an Indigenous person now admit the impact of Indigenous genocide through social media. Land-grant universities scramble to draft statements about their historical ties to fraudulent treaties and pilfered graves. Indeed, these are challenging times for institutions trying to do right by Indigenous peoples.

Some institutions will seek the input of an Indigenous scholar or perhaps a community. They will feel contented and “diverse” because of this input. They want a decolonial to-do list. But what we have are questions: What changes when an institution publishes a land acknowledgment? What material, tangible changes are enacted?

Without action, without structural change, acknowledging stolen land is what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang call a “settler move to innocence.” Institutions are not innocent. Settlers are not innocent.

The problem with land acknowledgments is that they are almost never followed by meaningful action. Acknowledgment without action is an empty gesture, exculpatory and self-serving. What is more, such gestures shift the onus of action back onto Indigenous people, who neither asked for an apology nor have the ability to forgive on behalf of the land that has been stolen and desecrated. It is not my place to forgive on behalf of the land.

A land acknowledgment is not enough.

This is what settler institutions do not understand: Land does not require that you confirm it exists, but that you reciprocate the care it has given you. Land is not asking for acknowledgment. It is asking to be returned to itself. It is asking to be heard and cared for and attended to. It is asking to be free.

Land is not an object, not a thing. Land does not require recognition. It requires care. It requires presence.

Land is a gift, a relative, a body that sustains other bodies. And if the land is our relative, then we cannot simply acknowledge it as land. We must understand what our responsibilities are to the land as our kin. We must engage in a reciprocal relationship with the land. Land is — in its animate multiplicities — an ongoing enactment of reciprocity.

A land acknowledgment is not enough.

To engage with the land on the land’s terms is an act of reciprocity. Reciprocity, rather than recognition, is what the land requires because that is what it has already given. Are you not alive, breathing, because of this land?

The land exists regardless of settler acknowledgment, which can only ever be the first step toward meaningful action. Next steps involve building relationships with that land as if it were your kin. Because it is. 

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Why tribes do not recommend the DNA swab

Rebecca Tallbear entitled: “DNA, Blood, and Racializing the Tribe”, bearing out what I only inferred:

Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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