Ethical Travel

What’s Land Acknowledgment? And why does it matter?

I am one of the biggest fans ever of our U.S. National Parks. I have a National Parks passport, and I get little stamps from every park I visit. I was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at the ripe old age of 27. I. Love. Them.

But when I moved to the U.S. as a salty 16-year-old I would complain to anyone who would listen about how there was nothing worth seeing in the states. Nope. Wrong. During my early 20s, I discovered my love for National Parks. They showcase some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in our country, from islands to plains, coastlines to deserts, canyons to mountains, volcanoes to forests, and so much more. But they’re also very problematic. Why? Let’s dive in.

In America, we live on stolen land.

American (as well as Canadian, Mexican, Australian, etc.) land was stolen from Indigenous people as a result of colonization and genocide. Indigenous history on this land goes back for millennia. And many of our most treasured National Parks have sacred histories for the Indigenous peoples who called them home long before the lands were stolen and colonized. Yosemite belongs to the Ahwahneechee people. The Grand Canyon belongs to the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo, and Hopi peoples. Yellowstone belongs to the 26 tribes whose historic connections to the lands and resources date back since before colonialism. These parks were not discovered by white men like John Muir. The erasure of Indigenous people would have you believe that, but it’s not the truth.

I am a descendent of Indigenous people and I want to do right by my ancestors in recognizing the true history and land ownership of other Indigenous peoples. Their ancestors have inhabited these places since time immemorial, and they still exist in these places. But this nation has sought to erase them for centuries. It’s time to end this ongoing genocide of Indigenous culture and existence.

So how I do a land acknowledgment?

Land recognition and acknowledgment is as simple as going to a trusty resource (like Native Land or Whose Land, both of which have mobile apps) to find out whose land you’re on and then taking a few minutes to read about the people who call it home, so as to acknowledge their existence and their legacy on that land. With land recognition and acknowledgment you have the chance to act in a way that says “Yes, I see you. I recognize you, your culture, your past, your history. These all have meaning and value.” It’s a great beginning step towards being an ally with and supporting Indigenous people. It recognizes that their relationship with the land endures. It’s a sign of respect. It’s truth.

So how do you implement this? Speak it into the world.

At the beginning of your meeting, training, conference, event, etc., speak it into the space. Take a moment to acknowledge whose land you are on by saying something even as simple as “We’re gathered on the occupied territory of the ____________ people, who stewarded this land for generations before us.”

I always include land acknowledgment in the caption of the photos I post on social media to indicate the Indigenous people who originally inhabited the area. Because if there’s a geotag, I need to not only provide the colonized name of the land I am, I need to also recognize the true ownership of that land.

Next steps:

As I said earlier, land acknowledgments are a great beginning step. But it’s easy to fall short and be performative with this acknowledgment. It’s wonderful to begin the conversation here. It’s important to be respectful with this recognition. But don’t stop after you put these words into the world.

Colonialism was not the end of violence and injustice against Indigenous people. They are still being murdered, kidnapped, jailed, and poisoned today. They are still fighting to be recognized by the government, to be acknowledged and not removed from the small amounts of land they have left, given to them by settler systems that aid in Indigenous erasure.

So, here are a few recommended next steps to bring real action and allyship to your words:

  1. When you travel, support Native-owned businesses. Or buy from them online whenever you get the chance! Just give them your money at any and every opportunity to support their craft and their communities. A few of my personal favorites include: THJ Navajo Jewelry, Reclaiming Roots, Reclaim Your Power, Cheekbone Beauty, and B. Yellowtail. You can find more here.
  2. Donate to organizations that work for Indigenous communities and people. A few of my personal favorites include: Native Women’s Wilderness, Indigenous Peoples Power Project, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, Seeding Sovereignty, Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Women Hike, and Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits.
  3. Raise awareness and rally for Indigenous issues. Fight for causes like that of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, these are not causes that the wider American public is not discussing because they have no idea about them. When we speak on them and educate, we send change into motion.

Go forth. Acknowledge. Ally.

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