This land is your land, but it once was my land
Before we sold you Manhattan Island
You pushed my nation to the reservation
This land was stole by you from me.
~A verse written by Carolyn “Cappy” Israel for Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land is your Land” and used by Pete Seeger in some performances of the song
We Are All Related
One of the ways the church begins the road to reconciliation with siblings who identify as Indigenous/Native American, is to acknowledge that all churches sit on Native Land. It was “purchased” through treaties that were constantly broken. It was stolen through lies. Tribal nations were violently forced from ancestral lands to distant reservations.
In Lakota spirituality is the concept of mitákuye oyás’iŋ. The translation into English is “we are all related.” For the church this means that land acknowledgement is not only about the church apologizing to the tribal nations, or the church trying to separate itself from the sins of the past and reconcile what colonialist ancestors did to the tribal nations, it is much deeper and more interconnected than that. It is us apologizing for our sins to our own ancestors and acknowledging the damage we did do to our own siblings, indeed to our own selves. We ARE all related, and when we harm one another, we harm ourselves. When ancestors harmed the tribal nations, they harmed the nations, themselves and all descendants. As Jesus teaches: “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). As members of one family, we are called to heal the damage that has been done to all relations, and to ourselves.
The Importance of Acknowledgement
It is incumbent upon the church to acknowledge the first inhabitants of the land upon which the church buildings currently sit. If the church is to begin to right the wrongs of history, then this acknowledgement must not be a one-off. It must not be something the church dusts off once a year on Indigenous People’s Day, which was formerly known as Columbus Day. Columbus Day has celebrated the arrival of the Italian explorer in the Americas, albeit accidentally, who was sponsored by the Spanish monarchs. His practices of enslavement, rape, and other forms of violence, including murder, are abhorrent for obvious reasons, but have only been met with widespread criticism in recent years. It is important for healing and reconciliation to be part of the lived experience of the churches. This does not right the wrongs of history, but shows an acknowledgement of these wrongs, and concrete efforts to heal and restore brokenness.
Land acknowledgements can be done at services and meetings. It can be included in bulletins, on webpages, and in social media. This is an important first step toward healing for all, acknowledging the wrongs of colonialist history, and further interconnectedness between all of the Body of Christ.
“To me, it’s just a sign of respect…For years, the powers that be tried to get rid of my ancestors or assimilate them, never mind acknowledging that they were the people who were here when the first settlers arrived.”
~Rev. Valerie Kerr, archdeacon for truth, reconciliation and Indigenous ministry for the Diocese of Niagara in the Anglican Church of Canada and Rector of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Niagara Falls, Ontario
How To Write A Land Acknowledgement
To download a PDF of this information, including additional examples, click here.
Begin by thinking about the land that your church sits upon.
Church history has too often tried to forget about the original inhabitants. History is whitewashed to forget about the native or indigenous tribes who were the stewards of the lands and lived in the lands churches now occupy. If the church is to be reconciled not only with its history but with the tribal nations throughout our country, many of whom are members of the church, the church must begin by acknowledging the ancestors who lived on the land before the first settlers came.
The Native Governance Center reminds us to put in the time necessary to research the following topics:
– The Indigenous people to whom the land belongs
– The history of the land and any related treaties
– Names of living Indigenous people from these communities
– Indigenous place names and language
– Correct pronunciation for the names of the Tribes, places, and individuals that you’re including
Resources for exploring the land your church sits upon:
Do you know whose land you’re on? (Anglican Journal Article)
Native Land Map (Native Land Digital)
Next, the churches can think about how to make this acknowledgement liturgically.
“As we gather on the unceded ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people, the traditional territory of the shíshálh First Nation, let us pray that Christ’s grace and peace will be with us…” (from St. Hilda’s, Vancouver, BC – Anglican Church of Canada)
Churches can go a step beyond an opening statement, to a prayer that is an acknowledgement and thanksgiving for the land. For example:
Creator, you made all people of every land. It is our responsibility to give thanks and respect to those who first occupied this land we are upon. We give thanks to _____________________, the first people of this land. We offer our respect to those ancestors who may be interred in this land. We are also thankful for the gifts of the People of the land. Creator let us be of Good Mind to reconcile the mistreatment of this land and to those who have been displaced. With thankful and respectful hearts we pray in Your Name, Your son the Peacemaker and the Sacred Spirit. Amen. (from All Saint’s Church, Minneapolis, MN)
Example Land Acknowledgements
An acknowledgement in the liturgy or placed in the bulletin:
We acknowledge the ____________ people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting (or worshiping) today. We acknowledge that they have occupied and cared for this land over countless generations and we celebrate their continuing contributions to the life of this region. (from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona)
An acknowledgement on a website:
– Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (Seattle, WA)
– Native Governance Center (Minneapolis, MN)
– The On Being Project (Minneapolis, MN)
– All Saints Episcopal Church (San Leandro, CA)
Further Reading & Example
Additional information, examples, and resource links available in this PDF.