What is a Land Acknowledgment?
A land acknowledgment is a statement to formally recognize that a building, or gathering, or event is on land that originally belonged to Indigenous people who lived in the area long before European colonization. It is offered to pay tribute to the first inhabitants of the area, whose land—whose home—in many cases was captured, stolen, or otherwise unethically taken from them.
The tribe or nation does not have to write the acknowledgment—that is the heart-work of the organization that wishes to offer respect and build relationship—but land acknowledgments should be created with guidance of representatives from the Indigenous tribe or nation local to the area. The Duwamish Tribe, the Indigenous people of Seattle where Saint Mark’s Cathedral is sited, encourages interested organizations to begin the process of writing land acknowledgments, and then seek clarification and feedback once a statement has been drafted.
Land acknowledgment and support of the priorities of the tribe that lived and thrived—and are still here!—on the land that is now Seattle is a justice issue with heightened salience now, at this time of this nation’s, and our own, awareness of the ravages of white supremacy and racism.
Land Acknowledgment at Saint Mark’s
At Saint Mark’s, a Land Acknowledgment Committee was charged and overseen by the Vestry to develop land acknowledgment language that, in a spoken form, would initiate our services and gatherings, and, in written form, be included in our leaflets, signage, and other printed materials. The committee used information from the Native Governance Center, the website for the Duwamish Tribe, and land acknowledgments from other churches and nonprofit institutions as resources to create initial language that we felt best represented our intentions in the overture. The words are neither wildly original nor elaborate, but concise and authentic to our respect and our desire for building deeper and ongoing relationship.
To this end, members of the committee visited the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center to meet people one-on-one, to learn more and understand more about the Duwamish, their history, and the issues that are vital to them. The Dean of the cathedral, The Very Rev. Steven Thomason, spoke with Tribal Chairwoman Cecile Hansen to invite her input on how the land acknowledgment could best serve the interests of the Duwamish people (who advised brevity!)—and the pending version was brought to the Longhouse for input before final approval by the Vestry at its April 2021 meeting.
"Isn’t it just words?"
Words matter. Certainly a land acknowledgment with no intention and action to learn and build deeper relationship and follow the tribe’s lead in support of their priorities is just words—but even “just words” make someone think, raise questions and awareness, start discussions. Saying the words that acknowledge the people whose land we stand upon is startling to some, thought-provoking to some, and more than words: a call to attention and action for the Saint Mark’s community.
Though an important element in raising awareness and supporting the life and priorities of local indigenous tribes and nations, land acknowledgment is only one step, and must be more than words. For the Duwamish Tribe, there are many pressing concerns that demand support and change—most urgently, long-denied federal recognition that would immediately begin to address economic and cultural injustices – and the cathedral community looks to continue to listen, learn, and act to be part of that support and part of that change.