Land Acknowledgements are statements developed in consultation with tribes as a means to recognize the connections between indigenous people and their ancestral lands. Many of our sites have been working on developing Land Acknowledgements over the past couple of years. But the process raises questions: How? What? Why? When?

Listen to a panel of Indigenous NPS employees moderated by NPS Office of Native American Affairs Tribal Liaison, Dorothy FireCloud, in this Native American Month webinar to explore answers to these and other questions.


Download transcript for video

Prior to the webinar, over 100 questions were received from across the NPS. This is a summary of the questions & answers captured during this recorded session. Click on the questions below for the short answers, as well as the timecode in the video to watch the full response.

Q: Should Land Acknowledgements be done by the NPS? Is it appropriate?

A: The term land acknowledgement to me, is more a process that should be called respect and responsibility and a relationship of people in place. As Hawaiians we acknowledge our ongoing relationship to our places through protocol, our relationships with our communities and how many generations influences management decisions and impacts. [00:58:50 –> 00:59:26]

A: I find the term land acknowledgement offensive and shallow because it doesn’t begin to connect and capture the nuances of those relationships and the nuances of the places or the activities that take place past, present and future and it’s not a simple statement or a process. [00:59:27 –> 00:59:47]

A: I think it’s important to consider the example of how we do a park’s administrative history. It’s a technical blow by blow development of how lands have been acquired, etc., but in that process, we never provide an opportunity for the community, whose lands have been taken, to be part of that process and provide their perspectives about it. To me that’s not being respectful and inclusive. I think when I look at land acknowledgement, there is a difference in our agency between how we manage things internally and externally. [01:05:32 –> 01:06:10]

Q: When is a Land Acknowledgement needed?

A: There are no standard guidelines to help direct park sites and tribal partners on what land of acknowledgements should say or even if there should be one. [00:08:08 –> 00:08:17]

A: Authenticity is key. Your tribal partners know when it is genuine. Do not use the land acknowledgement just to make yourself look good or feel good. [00:17:09 –> 00:17:20]

Q: When is a land acknowledgement appropriate?

A: The biggest thing is to make sure we (the NPS) are doing it for the right reasons, and we have the full support of our tribal partners. [00:31:01 –> 00:31:10]

A: Consistent communication and fostered relationship building will help direct you. If you have not developed relationships or completed a cultural affiliation study, do not put out an acknowledgement. [00:08:18 –> 00:08:30]

A: Involving & respecting tribal partners is the only safe way to go about a land acknowledgement. [00:08:31 –> 00:08:38]

A: Ensure that what the tribal partner wants you to say is appropriate and aligns w/ NPS mission & values. [00:46:38 –> 00:47:22]

Q: What is the general process for composing a land acknowledgement?

A: There are no standard guidelines to help direct park sites and tribal partners on what land of acknowledgements should say or even if there should be one. [00:08:08 –> 00:08:17]

A: Consistent & honest communication w/ tribes is key. This can lead to amazing results producing land acknowledgments, internships for indigenous youth, robust interpretation materials and programs and really engaging consultations. Having a cultural affiliation report is a good way to start with understanding the history of the land that you are on and tribal nations associated with the land. [00:08:38 –> 00:09:16]

A: It’s important to be aware of the delicate history & sensitive nature of tribal relationships to this land. Many tribes have been removed from their ancestral lands and where they come from, and so they no longer have that direct tie by living on the land. [00:09:17–> 00:09:37]

A: Through research & seeking to better understand this history, parks will better understand what the land means to the tribal nations & who the people are. [00:10:25 –> 00:10:40]

A: A Best Practice is to work with the tribal partners, asking them questions, & working to learn more of the history. This may require updating of the park stories, so all stories are represented. [00:11:12 –> 00:12:00]

A: There are a lot of sacred sites that tribes do not want in the public knowledge & some that they want to be recognized. [00:12:25 –> 00:12:40]

A: Ask your tribal partners: How do they want to participate? What do they want the consultation to look like? [00:13:04 –> 00:13:20]

A: Approach this as an opportunity to improve your park’s relationship w/ tribal partners, & work to resolve any past issues w/ the goal of moving forward together. [00:13:45 –> 00:14:54]

A: Be clear in communicating your parameters and the boundaries w/ tribal partners. Let them know what we can and cannot do as managers. Communicate boundaries on what is possible up front. [00:15:37 –> 00:15:49]

A: Tribes may ask for additional things (i.e. a wayside panel or a trail) Explain to them that we have a variety of opportunities to provide more than just a statement. [00:16:00 –> 00:16:13]

A: Authenticity is key. Your tribal partners know when it is genuine. Do not use the land acknowledgement just to make yourself look good or feel good. [00:17:09 –> 00:17:22]

A: Be clear in your ask of tribal nations & what you want from them. They are being asked a lot of questions by various agencies and may feel overwhelmed in responding to all. Be respectful of their time and resources. [00:17:55 –> 00:18:03]

A: Don’t assume that tribal partners will be OK with how something is worded or stated. It’s important before making any type of statement that managers ask them: “How do you want this stated, do you want this stated…”. [00:18:20 –> 00:18:52]

A: Work to develop the relationships with your tribal partners and call them your tribal partners and admit to the fact that you can’t do your job without their help. [00:30:06 –> 00:30:21]

A: Tell the entire story, both the Native American & Anglo sides. [00:33:39 –> 00:33:49]

A: Use your tribal partner’s language, if you can. Language is important to Native people. [00:38:59 –> 00:39:14]

A: Consider that there are a range of place names, traditional names, names of winds, rains, geological features that span generations. There has been representation by indigenous Members on state boards of Geographic names that bring resonance and clarity to indigenous place names, spellings and meanings. [01:00:11 –> 01:00:41]

Q: What happens when you have more than one tribe, or many tribes with ties to the land?

A: You work with them all, ask them individually, because if you only worked with one, it would be a dishonor, it would be a dishonest move to the others. [00:31:32 –> 00:32:25]

A: While many tribes share similar values, they also have cultural differences you should be aware of. [00:45:06 –> 00:45:20]

A: Some tribes may not want you to do a land acknowledgement, and that’s OK. Don’t do one if they don’t want you to. [00:45:35 –> 00:45:46]

A: There is no one size fits all. Different native communities have varying ways of identifying, some not being associated with certain tribes, but a geographic region or area. One of the distinctions for folks in the Pacific, is that they are a community of practice in place, and don’t fall under a tribal label. [00:57:26 –> 00:58:49]

Q: I find in land acknowledgments I’ve noticed they are often under criticism for not doing enough or being a hollow statement.

A: Be truthful and make sure that you believe in what you are saying in your presentation. Others might see you and follow your lead. [00:40:13 –> 00:40:26]

A: You can also point to your park website and with the true history of the indigenous population or a resource from the tribes themselves. [00:40:28 –> 00:40:38]

A: If you feel like the acknowledgement is kind of lip service, then you should bring it up. Ask them if they’ve had conversations with the tribes to ensure the correct acknowledgement. We want people to be sincere and truthful. [00:40:54 –> 00:41:23]

A: Acknowledging that indigenous people have stewarded this land for many generations before we were ever here is the first step. If you’re sincere, people can see that. [00:40:46 –> 00:40:53]

Q: As an interpreter I would like to incorporate land acknowledgements into my programs.

A: Incorporate it into the long-range interpretive plan. [00:41:51 –> 00:42:01]

A: If it’s currently being interpreted from an outsider’s view, you need to change that. If you want it to be authentic, then work with the tribes on how they want their past taught or interpreted. [00:42:02 –> 00:42:32]

A: Remember that their truths might be different, and if you’re doing a land acknowledgement or an interpretive plan, then you need to be okay with that [00:43:04 –> 00:43:13]

A: The tribes want to help. They want their truth talked about and only after that, will they start to trust you. If you commit to talking about these hard truths and then you don’t, that feels like lip service and is not authentic. [00:43:47.040 –> 00:44:09]

Q: How do we acknowledge the ancestral ownership of these lands, not just whose lands we were on and who stewarded these lands?

A: Indigenous people know their history. Listen to the tribes, and what they want to use. We can’t change those past decisions, we can only acknowledge them and be truthful about them, but we can’t change those past decisions about land being taken. [00:49:55 –> 00:50:03]

A: We need to try harder, this time as park employees, to truly recognize who the original land stewards were. They ensured the landscapes and resources were well taken care of for generations, long before we did. Listen and acknowledge that past. [00:50:04 –> 00:50:26]

Q: I find value in land acknowledgments and enjoy listening to them when I’m in the audience

A: The more you say our tribal names, the more you acknowledge the land that we’re on, the more that it becomes that we become a part of the story, we become a part of that narrative and it’s openly talked about continually. [00:51:55 –> 00:52:33]

Q: Questions regarding text and fonts to capture traditional language.

A: Some organizations are currently working on that and share that there are currently native Hawaiian fonts in existence that are utilized. [01:00:46 –> 01:00:58]

Q: Question regarding the identification of land acknowledgement lands on park maps

A: That’s a process that should be determined between a community and the park and what the community chooses to share. For example, Haleakala National Park created a unigrid standard park brochure that is written by the community in Hawaiian that shares with the community, what that community wants visitors to their park to understand. In a way, it’s a land acknowledgement, but it’s a much more nuanced way of presenting that information. [01:01:06–> 01:01:40]

A: As a cartographer & mapmaker, when I think about some of this and land acknowledgement and being respectful, it’s the simple things like if we look at a map of the United States, please don’t stop the map at the West Coast, there’s an entire Pacific Ocean filled with communities who should be acknowledged, who are part of the national park service. [01:01:41 –> 01:02:07]

Q: They found that the tribal contacts they work with in interpretive programming and media are not often the same folks that they work on other things like internships and education programs.

A: We have administrators who speak on behalf of the tribes, but the tribal councils are our elected officials that represent all of us as indigenous people in our tribe, so you need to work with those elected officials at the tribal Council level in order to have a true acknowledgement of what that tribe and their elected officials would like you to say. [01:15:49–> 01:16:55]

Q: How can you do more with Land Acknowledgements/dive deeper?

A: Provide more info. than just a statement. Consider creating self-guided trails that talk about the indigenous history up through the present. Often indigenous history is focused on the past, and the current people who still exist are not included in the interpretation. Including this information on your website, the NPS App, etc. are some ways to go about this. [01:17:20 –> 01:19:59]

Q: How do you feel is the best way to talk to your management, about being more proactive about reaching out to and involving local tribes? Who can reach out to tribal partners?

A: Park Managers should open that door for our staff to create that relationship. I want my staff to build relationships with the tribal education departments & language departments, so that they can have that relationship established and when they have those questions. As managers, superintendents, & leaders that falls on our shoulders to create that path for our staff to have that positive relationship. [01:21:20 –> 01:22:26]

Q: What are some best practices for collaborating with non-federally recognized groups and navigating those complex relationships while honoring the long-standing relationships established with traditionally associated federally recognized tribes

A: Federally recognized tribes have laws governing them and what you can do with them related to consultation, pre-consultation, partnering, collaboration, etc. And with non-federally recognized tribal groups there aren’t those laws, and that’s really the difference. Treat them like you would treat anybody else. [01:27:12 –> 01:28:01]

A: They are kind of like the general public and often when you’re working with a non-federally recognized tribe, you can ask them to come under the umbrella of a federally recognized tribe, and then that tribe can partner with them, so you’re still going through federally recognized tribes and getting that perspective. [01:28:02 –> 01:28:26]

Q: In a government-to-government relationship with tribes, is there a way to compensate or reimburse costs, time for tribal members staff that are providing NPS information for things like land acknowledgement?

A: By Public Law 638, (Public Law 93-638 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act) if you have a self-determination and education tribe, there’s that way. There are other public laws that allow for pass through, and then there’s ultimately using your park partners. Partners associations to come to pay them that way as well. Partner groups may also be able to help support food purchases. These are the two most common ways to do this. [01:29:16 –> 01:30:31]

Q: Sometimes, during native American heritage month and throughout the year, we post about the indigenous people of this land and receive comments like “give the land back”. How should we respond, or should we respond to comments like this, when those decisions are beyond our power to make?

A: Have those conversations and being willing to actively listen, not just do it as a gesture, and have that dialogue and show that you are in support, even though, as a park superintendent I do not have the authority to say yes, I’m going to give this land back, that’s not what I can do, that’s Congress. That’s something far bigger than us, but to be an actual partner with the nations that you work with and listen. To me, that is going to be the biggest thing that we can do right now, when we’re talking about giving land back. [01:33:22 –> 01:34:22]

Q: What happens when two tribal groups are both claiming to be the official tribal government body of the tribe? How do you handle the competing claims? Who does the park work with?

A: If you have two people claiming to be the chairperson, you work with both. That’s politics, and as a manager, I do not want to get involved with tribal politics. I would go with what that nation decided. If they elected the person that’s coming in, that is what you respect. You respect the people’s decision. [01:35:29 –> 01:35:36]

A: I would also recommend that you get in touch with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs Office and see how they’re handling it. Then, just step back and wait for it all to be resolved either through the tribal people themselves, or whoever the Bureau of Indian affairs acknowledges as being the true leaders at that time. [01:35:49 –> 01:36:15]

Q: What are your thoughts about embedding land acknowledgement into email signatures, similar to how people are displaying their personal pronouns?

A: It’s a personal preference, if you have a relationship with the tribes and have checked with them to understand what they want you to say. Be respectful and listen to what they say. [01:38:34 –> 01:38:59]

Q: Do you think the park guide newspaper is the appropriate spot for a land acknowledgement?

A: Talk to the tribal partners if there is a statement, say hey, our association, bookstore, or friends group want to do a land acknowledgement. Then, when you’re visiting with them ask them, is there a statement that we can put into this that’s going to be widely dispersed, is there information for your tourism that you would like included in this? Just have that conversation. [01:40:36 –> 01:41:15]

Q: It can be a split feeling, my ancestors have lived around here, in what they call New England, Massachusetts, and Maine for almost 400 years and that land and history has deeply shaped me, but it also makes me a beneficiary of settler colonialism and displacement. The challenge I feel, is to acknowledge both histories, the good and the terribly bad and learn more about the full history going back thousands of years and the people.

A: Acknowledge the tribes have thousands of years of history, and the last couple of hundred years the park has had additional history, and there’s good and bad to both. Acknowledge everything so the visitors have the full history of your park site. The current administration is planning focus a lot on co-management, aka shared stewardship, so the terms co-management are being shifted to shared stewardship. [01:44:52 –> 01:45:52]

Q: Does the office of Native American Affairs plan to offer standardized requirements for crafting land acknowledgements?

A: No. Any agency messaging guidelines would come through the Communications office, and any kind of graphics, display, media guidelines those would also come through comms. land acknowledgments would all be developed by the park and the tribal people that you are working with in doing consultation with, so they will each be unique. [01:46:35 –> 01:47:12]

Q: What are the best practices for identifying appropriate level of leadership within tribal governments and groups for collaboration and consultation efforts?

A: Always start with the tribal leadership. Whether they be Chairman Chairperson, President or Ancestral Chief. I say that because to maintain our 13 175 we must do it that way according to consultation guidelines. You may or may not get a letter back from the leadership. However, for us to enter those types of negotiations with anyone, the leadership must be aware of it first. I always address our letters to the leadership, and I cc the people who I am going to be talking to. [01:47:36 –> 01:48:47]

A: The Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) is the overall federal office within the National Park Service and has the up-to-date lists of the tribal historic preservation officers and their contact information. [01:48:51 –> 01:49:17]

Q: Is there going to be training and tribal consultation offered at any point soon?

A: Yes. In our planned budget, once passed by Congress, we have funding for at least two tribal consultation trainings per year. The Alaska Region is also are offering their own training opportunities. [01:49:54 –> 01:50:55]

Q: Do you feel that chanting for a specific land is appropriate as a personal land acknowledgement as well as a land acknowledgement for a group?

A: That would tie to my earlier comments about how we’re tied in that process of respect and responsibility through protocol. Yes, I think there is a place for that both personally and if you are there as a group. From the protocol perspective, yes. [01:52:34 –> 01:53:01]

Q: “You’re not to blame for the histories and stories you inherit, but you are responsible for what you do with them in your time.”

A: That’s really good advice, because you don’t want to ever feel guilty for anything that happened before you were here. Just work hard with the tribes now while you’re a park ranger to tell those stories. Remember in the National Park service we are America storytellers so, that’s part of your job is to tell the story as well and truthful as possible. [01:53:23 –> 01:53:52]

Q: There’s a lot of sites that may have the question about the site and people that they don’t feel exists anymore.

A: We have to be really careful saying people don’t exist anymore, because of the evolution of how indigenous nations have moved and how they self-identify. [01:54:12 –> 01:58:13]

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