Land Acknowledgments and More
Dear Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities,
- Do you know the history of the land your congregation calls “home?”
- Do you know what Indigenous people historically or currently inhabit that land?
- Do you know who the Indigenous people or communities are who live in your area or region and what their visions and struggles are?
- Are you acting in relationship or solidarity with any of them?
If your answer to any of these questions is “No,” it is not because these questions are irrelevant or unimportant. It is because the continuation of our colonial and white supremacy power structures depends on your not knowing, your not caring, and your not connecting.
Many of our congregations have moved to establish relationships with Indigenous people since the Water Protector uprising and convergence at Standing Rock in 2016.
The enormous wealth of the United States is based on the theft of Indigenous land and the enslavement of people of African descent. In order to maximize wealth, the colonizers sought to eliminate or minimize the number of people who could claim their Indigenous rights to land, natural resources and sovereignty. These attempts are ongoing and have included genocide, forced removal, forced assimilation and the more contemporary systemic erasure of Native people through invisibility in education, media and pop culture.
Millions of Indigenous people and hundreds of Indigenous nations have resiliently survived 400 + years of systemic and violent attempts to eliminate them, only to be rendered invisible by white supremacy culture and institutions which pretend they no longer exist. They continue to assert their sovereignty, and their rights and relationship to their homelands, natural resources, culture and spiritual practices. They continue to lead efforts across this country to protect life itself, which depends upon the protection of the land, the water and the air. Indigenous people are still here and their lands are still occupied.
Leading up to General Assembly (GA) 2020, scheduled to meet in the 400th year since the arrival of the Mayflower and the English invasion of Wampanoag territory, UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray convened a task force that worked to center Indigenous voices, counter white supremacist erasure, and lift up Indigenous resilience and resistance at GA. This task force proposed an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) to “Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism”, which was overwhelmingly passed by congregational delegates.
The Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) calls for congregations to “Research, identify, and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples historically and/or currently connected with the land occupied by congregations, and find ways to act in solidarity with or even partner with those Indigenous peoples.”
Research, acknowledgement and development of relationships and solidarity with Indigenous people are an important part of resisting and countering the ongoing erasure of Indigenous people. They are also an important part of the reckoning of our congregational and denominational participation in or benefitting from our white supremacist colonial past and present.
We ask you to read the entire AIW and to see your research and development of land acknowledgements (if you do not already practice this) as simple preliminary actions in the deeper, long-term process of relationship building and cultural healing from the deep harms of colonial genocide. Links to resources to help you with creating meaningful land acknowledgements are included below.
Please begin to do (or revisit) this work now, in the weeks leading up to the Harvest the Power Virtual Summit for Justice & Decolonization on November 19-22nd. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for program and schedule announcements.
Please also know that the UUA and Side With Love will be amplifying the livestream broadcast of the 50th National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts, organized by the United American Indians of New England, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2020.
Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to tune in to this livestream broadcast and urged to NOT celebrate, uplift, or participate in any presentation of “first Thanksgiving” stories about the Pilgrims & Wampanoags in observance of this holiday, except to examine and peel back the layers of how this story has been manipulated and simplified into rosy colonial propaganda that erases the true history. These invitations are also connected to a 2016 UUA Business Resolution, “Thanksgiving Day Reconsidered”.
Thank you for your participation in this journey of learning and cultural reckoning, healing and transformation.
Rev. Dr. Clyde Grubbs, Co-author of the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) to “Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism”
Ann Gilmore, Co-author of the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) to “Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism”
Rev. Karen Van Fossan, Co-author of the Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) to “Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism”
Aly Tharp, Program Director of Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth & manager of the Create Climate Justice initiative with the UUA Organizing Strategy Team
Resources for Land Acknowledgement Research
Honor Native Land: A Guide & Call to Acknowledgement and 4-minute video “#HonorNativeLand” by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture
Territory Acknowledgement resources from native-land.ca, compiled by Allison Jones
“Understanding the Land Acknowledgement” 8-minute video by York University
“Are you planning to do a Land Acknowledgement?” American Indians in Children’s Literature blog post by Debbie Reese
- “Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements” âpihtawikosisân blog post by Chelsea Vowel