Honor Native Land

Indigenous communities owned the land on which many institutions of research and education have been built. Academic conferences and events are also routinely held in these spaces. This land is essential to the identity and worldview of Indigenous groups. Often these lands were taken under unjust and violent circumstances resulting in forced relocation that continues to have devastating effects on native communities. Indigenous Land Acknowledgements are one small but tangible way institutions of culture and education in the United States can begin repairing the harm caused by mainstream historical accounts, which have excluded Indigenous voices and obscured the centrality of violence to colonialism in the United States.

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Indigenous Land Acknowledgement refers to the practice of recognizing an Indigenous community’s ancestral ties to the land on which a meeting or event is taking place. Acknowledging the communities that have an inseparable connection to the land on which these institutions reside challenges the mainstream narrative and calls attention to the strength of Indigenous communities which have survived the devastating effects of displacement and colonization. Further, this history informs the present experience of Native American peoples, so it is essential to the contextualization of current events.

The Guilbeau Center for Public History recommends that the museums, libraries, archives, universities and any other entities devoted to education implement the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgment. We see this as a step toward reparation for the harm caused by centuries of misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and denial of their right to participate in the telling of their own narratives. These statements represent respect for Indigenous voices, acknowledgement of the violence of US history, and demonstrate that in most cases Indigenous peoples are still here to tell their story.

Should you wish to include a land acknowledgement, a sample statement can be found below. We strongly encourage event attendees to learn about each nation’s history and current realities through their websites.

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Sample statement:

“The Guilbeau Center for Public History is working on creating land acknowledgement guidelines for the department, the university, and other educational and cultural institutions. We are working with different Indigenous communities to learn more about their particular land acknowledgement protocols. Land Acknowledgement is important because it acknowledges the history of settler colonialism in the United States and that we are uninvited guests on stolen land. It also emphasizes the history of and ongoing presence of hundreds of tribal nations today. So, we would like to acknowledge that UL Lafayette is on the land of the Atakapa-Ishak, and until very recently, this area was known as the Atakapas District under French, Spanish, and American colonialism. We would like to express our gratitude to Elders, past, present, and future, of the dozens of other First Nations in the Louisiana area, including the Chitimacha, Opelousa, Avogel, Tunica-Biloxi, Jena Choctaw, and Coushatta. We would also like to acknowledge the Latino, Louisiana Creole, and Acadian people, three major mixed populations of First Nations, who have moved through this area. We thank them for stewarding the land upon which we are carrying out our work today.”

It is important to be genuine in the acknowledgement and to reach out to the specific Indigenous group or groups being acknowledged to ensure that the statement is respectful and accurately represents them in the way that they want to be represented. This is particularly important because, for far too long, Indigenous peoples have been denied a say in their own representation. This inclusive approach is therefore a step toward decolonizing these institutions.

Academic institutions and societies are particularly important spaces in which to challenge the invisibilization of Native peoples in the contemporary United States. Historically, the collection of Indigenous artifactual and biological material and intangible cultural heritage was motivated by the belief that Indigenous cultures would soon disappear. Further, these collections were used to judge and hierarchically organize the cultures represented by these objects. Scientists, policy-makers, and laypeople used the conclusions drawn from such studies of collections to justify violence of entire groups of people, including Indigenous communities. Additionally, because these pursuits were considered scientific, the knowledge of western trained scientists and collectors was and continues to be privileged over that of the represented peoples.

The colonial, visual and global turns in the history of science have started to bring attention to the historical significance of Indigenous knowledge systems. We see land acknowledgment policy as a logical next step in this positive trend towards more inclusive scholarship in the history of science.

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Academic institutions must focus on the realities and voices of contemporary Indigenous communities, since academic work from a range of disciplines has given the impression that these societies no longer exist. Indigenous land acknowledgement is already an established and common practice among Indigenous individuals and tribal or other Indigenous identity-related institutions. While these statements do make mainstream research and education institutions more welcome to Indigenous audiences, they are not the only audiences who need to hear them. This practice is about more than making space-it is about making the history of marginalized populations part of the mainstream consciousness. Though land acknowledgement is a small step, it is an important one that demonstrates an interest in truth-telling.

As legal scholar Chelsea Vowel (Métis) and other Native scholars suggest, land acknowledgement should constitute the first step in a process of opening dialogue with Indigenous communities to learn about the specific laws and protocols of that Nation regarding the responsibilities of guests. A verbal acknowledgment, moreover, must be accompanied by concrete allocation of time and resources to both educate regarding the colonial history of the specific land upon which the meeting or event occurs, and to support the participation of Indigenous people in the society or institution.

Language plays an important role in the construction of historical narratives and is therefore, fundamental to the topic of land acknowledgement. Many representations of United States history do not convey the gravity of the devastation that colonialism had on Native American peoples. They often deploy language that obscures the United States as the perpetrator of violence. Yet the use of truthful language is a central tenet of decolonizing methodologies. As described by Amy Lonetree (Ho-Cunk), “Scholars writing from the Indigenous paradigm employ more powerful and precise terms to describe what happened, including ‘genocide’ and ‘atrocity,’ and they do not shy away from naming the perpetrators of the violence in our history.” It is important to make this statement in a space that is accessible to all visitors–not just those who are already inclined to seek out information related to Indigenous topics.

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One criticism of land acknowledgment policy has been the perception of its tokenism. We intend to correct for this by demanding that the land acknowledgement practice be a starting point that is then backed up by long-term efforts toward social justice. Dylan AT Miner, a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar stresses on the fact that Land Acknowledgements “must be preceded by relationships with living Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations. It must then be followed with ongoing commitments to these same communities. Land Acknowledgements are a responsibility.”

We propose that this practice include: (a) a formal invitation to Elders or community leaders from the Indigenous peoples upon whose land the meeting will occur to open university events, if this fits with their nation’s protocols and interests (to be determined through direct consultation); (b) proposed text that event organizers/participants can consider using for land acknowledgement at the beginning of each session; (c) a guide to Native history of the region, available on the institutions website so that attendees can educate themselves about the history of the land where the event is taking place; (d) the commitment of resources or the appropriate fundraising to provide bursaries for Indigenous scholars to present at events.

Bibliography and Resources

Text adapted from the HSS Committee for Land Acknowledgement

Ad Hoc Committee Members:

  • Felicia Garcia (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, School for Advanced Research)

  • Marissa Petrou (University of Louisiana, Lafayette)

  • Elaine LaFay (University of Pennsylvania)

  • Rosanna Dent (New Jersey Institute of Technology)

  • Khyati Nagar (York University)

We are grateful for the generous help of Lenor Curall (United Houma Nation), Linda Langley (Coushatta), Nakai Northup (Mashentucket Pequot), Edward Moses (Snake Band, Atakapa-Ishak) Polly Olsen (Yakama), Joshua Reid (Snohomish), and Michael Yates.

Please e-mail us with thoughts or questions at guilbeaucenter@louisiana.edu.

For more information on Louisiana’s federally-recognized tribes, visit:

 For more information on Louisiana’s state-recognized tribes, visit: