Understanding Land Acknowledgements

Understanding Land Acknowledgements

Today is Indigenous People’s Day, also sometimes referred to as First People’s Day or Native American Day. It is a holiday intended to celebrate and honor Native communities, history, and culture. While it is easier to commemorate something more abstract that is rooted in the past, it is much more complicated to address how events and policies of the past have created tangible issues of inequity and inequality in the present. The reality is that this day is celebrated primarily on land stolen through physical and political violence. 

As a brand built from a love of recreating outdoors, we know that spending time in wild spaces can be complicated. The outdoor community currently lies at the intersection of many issues, from environmental concerns around sustainability, conservation and climate change to socio-cultural, political and economic dynamics around representation and accessibility. In recent years, there has been a push to reckon with these realities in many ways, one being simply acknowledging the land we stand on and who has historically inhabited and taken care of that land. 

Whether drawing inspiration from the travel itineraries of others or simply living vicariously through their experiences, social media has become a powerful way to explore the world. Land Acknowledgements on social platforms arose as one way to use brand and personal social platforms as tools to continue to educate communities and bring in people who might otherwise not be called into the conversation. However, some Indigenous people feel that these acknowledgements are not enough -- taking the easy way out of a much more difficult conversation or failing to spur the education and activism originally intended. Throwing an acknowledgement reference in an Instagram caption should not absolve a person of responsibility to learn about and advocate for righting past wrongs. 

At SheFly, our community has been with us every step of the way as we’ve built this company. We talk a lot about transparency in our manufacturing and supply chain process but we also value transparency in our efforts to live up to our mission and have a positive impact on our community. We want our community to join us as we navigate how and when to speak, which voices to share and what stances to take. As a team, we did research and had discussions about this and are immensely grateful to all the people whose work we read for sharing their opinions and perspectives, including Dr. Len Necefer. For now, we have ultimately decided to honor Dr. Len Necefer’s argument that Land Acknowledgements, while seemingly well-intentioned, are ineffective in encouraging non-native audiences to educate themselves. Instead, he advocates for working harder to fill the gaps in knowledge and represent Native communities more fully. Instead, we plan to continue to amplify Indigenous voices, art, media, and issues, shop from and collaborate with Indigineous-owned businesses such as NativesOutdoors, and pursue more long-form research and education about the Indigenous people -- past and present -- from the areas significant to SheFly in the coming months.

We put together a list of all the resources that we used to better understand the concepts and history around Land Acknowledgement to make this decision and we hope that you find this information valuable as well. While we’ve made the decision to stop putting red pin emojis in our Instagram captions for now, that is just one way to approach this issue and we recognize that others might come to a different conclusion through these resources or additional research. We acknowledge that there is not a perfect action or approach to take, that not everyone from the same background may hold the same stance, and that we are all learning together. We also respect that our takes and others’ takes on these issues may continue to evolve and change over time, as more information surfaces and more discussions occur. If you have opinions, thoughts, additional resources, or questions, our email and DM’s are always open.

What is a Land Acknowledgement?

1. Honoring Original Indigenous Inhabitants: Land Acknowledgement

This explanation offered by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian emphasizes the need for genuine respect and support when making a Land Acknowledgement.

2. A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgement

The Native Governance Center explains the importance of Land Acknowledgements, as well as offering guidance on how to create an Acknowledgement and how to take more actionable steps beyond it.

Support for Land Acknowledgements

1. What are land acknowledgements and why do they matter?

Indigenous writer Selena Mills shares her support for Land Acknowledgements as a necessary first step toward honouring the original occupants of a place and helping people recognize and respect Indigenous peoples’ inherent kinship beliefs when it comes to the land

2. Recognizing Place: Indigenous Land Acknowledgements

Alexander Cotnoir, a member of Abenaki nation, shares four purposes of Land Acknowledgements, including to highlight the traditional inhabitants, to emphasize a continued Indigenous presence, to tell a more truthful historical narrative, and finally to make folks in attendance uncomfortable (and that’s a good thing!).

Criticism of Land Acknowledgements

1. Land Acknowledgements Accomplish Little: If you actually want to help people, then ask others to do something 

Alex Small argues that acknowledging injustice is easy, but actually educating people or making change is much more difficult. 

2. Indigenous Artists Tell Us What They Think About Land Acknowledgements
Five Indigeneous artists share their perspectives on Land Acknowledgements, which include the sentiments that they are inauthentic, condescending, lack context and create the effect that people are just ”checking a box.” 

3. Your Land Acknowledgement is Not Enough: Do these 5 things in conjunction with acknowledging Native Land
Alexandra Tsuneta shares her opinion that Land Acknowledgements on social media are trendy and performative. She instead suggests five actions to take, including ways to donate and educate yourself,  in addition to acknowledging the land. 

4. Land Acknowledgments Fall Short in Honoring Indigenous People
Summer Wilkie, a Cherokee Nation Citizen, argues that the best way to actually acknowledge the land is to engage with it and understand the history of what actually happened on the land. She also reminds us that the value of land is not only monetary and encourages us to think about value more broadly. 

5. Here’s Why Land Acknowledgements Are Both Meaningless and Patronizing
Patrick Mascoe draws a direct link between Land Acknowledgements and appeasing non-Indigenous guilt, arguing that the repetition of Land Acknowledgements without deeper understanding, context or action leads to a meaningless rhetoric that desensitizes us. 

6. We Need to Reframe Why We Do Land Acknowledgments
While Dr. Len Necefer initially supported Land Acknowledgements, he feels differently now that they have become increasingly popular but continue to fail in providing context or spurring education.

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