Rev. Sharon Dittmar, Congregational Life Consultant
Recently more Unitarian Universalists have been either sharing or pondering how to share land acknowledgments. According to Cree writer Selena Mills, “land acknowledgments are an honest and historically accurate way to recognize the traditional First Nations, Métis, and/or Inuit territories of a place.” Mills writes from Canada, so her words represent her indigenous experience within Canada.
I am a white woman who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the indigenous people who lived on this land before me were prehistorically the Adena, Fort Ancient Culture, and Hopewell, later the Delaware, Miami, Shawnee, and at times members of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. These tribes and people live with me as I travel through various locations in Indiana and Ohio; the Battle of Fallen Timbers (Maumee, Ohio), the burial place of Little Turtle (Miami chief, buried in what is now known as Fort Wayne, Indiana), the unknown location of Prophetstown (near Lafayette, Indiana), founded by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet, Tenskwatawa (within miles of the Battle of Tippecanoe). And of course, Serpent Mound, built by either the Adena or Fort Ancient Culture (located in current Adams County, Ohio). I have even gone on walks in places such as Yellow Springs, Ohio and come across Adena burial mounds.
I live on stolen land. I think about this often. Even when there are treaties, they were often not completed with the consent of the whole tribe. The indigenous people who lived here after first contact with Europeans were systematically killed and removed through what Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls, “settler colonialism” in her book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. If you are like me, you are still taking all of this in.
Authors like Mills suggest that land acknowledgments should celebrate the people who lived here and the indigenous people still here so that we who live here now do not engage in indigenous erasure (something we have been taught to accept and do). If you are interested in learning more, the UUA has some excellent resources on land acknowledgments. I like this virtual land acknowledgment, created by Reverend Hilary Krivchenia and used weekly by Countryside Church in Palatine, Illinois. UU World recently published a question-and-answer session with Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council Vice-Chairwoman jessie little doe baird that addresses the challenges of Wampanoag tribal members living in what is now known as the state of Massachusetts.
Recently I heard someone suggest that a video could include tribal names spoken by indigenous people in indigenous languages. That seems like a good idea, if respectfully done, and individuals are paid for their time and knowledge. What I do know is that my growing understanding of indigenous experiences has made me question the challenges and observe the joys of being indigenous today, as well as my “white” identity. What is “whiteness” and how has it been, and is it currently, used? Much to learn and question on this journey.