These lands are ancestral Indigenous homelands, with longstanding significance for Indigenous Nations past and present. Dispossession and forced removal has had devastating effects on many Indigenous people, and these histories and their consequences have largely been omitted from mainstream nationalist narratives. Historical awareness of Indigenous exclusion and erasure is critically important to overcoming the ongoing structures, effects and the daily practices of settler-colonialism.
As Indigenous Land Acknowledgements gain in popularity amongst institutions in what is now known as the United States, it has become apparent that some statements represent a genuine commitment to decolonization while others fall short - but what makes a Land Acknowledgement one that activates change?
This resource has been developed to identify the components that can contribute to a Land Acknowledgement that initiates steps towards meaningful and equitable relationship building with Indigenous communities and establishes commitments that directly lead to change.
This project around Land Acknowledgements has been collectively built over a number of years. It brings together our independent practices as well as connects into already existing Indigenous-led and creatively driven projects of return: of lands, of waters, of languages, of ancestors, of everything that has been taken. All of us bring critical questions to the practice of Land Acknowledgements. We do not see them as ends in themselves, but as actions that create more and necessitate more.
Emily Johnson is an artist who makes body-based work. She is of the Yup'ik Nation, is a land and water protector and an organizer for justice, sovereignty and well-being. She lives on the Lower East Side of Mannahatta in Lenapehoking.
Jane Anderson (she/they) is a settler-scholar, ally/accomplice and Indigenous intellectual and cultural property protector. They work for Indigenous Nations in the return of valuable heritage from around the world. This includes creating new agreements and legal interventions that support Indigenous control, governance and decision-making over Indigenous data and information. They are the co-Founder of Local Contexts.
Vanessa Smith (she/her) is Black ally, learner, and BIPOC advocate. Through her work and studies she strives to critically analyze the legacies and ongoing harm of settler colonialism in the areas of material culture and heritage. She is interested in understanding the institutions, laws, and practices that uphold Western museums and the art industry.
Jackson Polys (he/him) is a multi-disciplinary artist and educator belonging to the Tlingit Nation. He is a core contributor to New Red Order (NRO), a public secret society who, with an interdisciplinary network of Informants, co-produce video, performance, and installation works that confront desires for indigeneity, settler colonial tendencies, and obstacles to Indigenous growth and agency.
Felicia Garcia (she/her) is Samala Chumash and serves as the Community Outreach Manager for Local Contexts. In 2018 she received her MA in Museum Studies from New York University. The master’s thesis that she completed for this program focused on the need for Indigenous land acknowledgements in United States museums and led to the development of a guide to land acknowledgements for cultural institutions. Through all of the work that she does, she strives to use her position as a museum professional to carve out space for Indigenous people to tell their own stories so that Indigenous communities both see themselves in these spaces and feel seen.
Niki Hunt (she/her) is a cultural arts professional, working in a gallery in what is currently called Chelsea (NY, NY). In 2021, she graduated from New York University with her Bachelors in Anthropology and Art History, with a focus in Native American and Indigenous Studies. As the capstone to her undergraduate, Niki wrote a thesis titled "The Politics of Asking Permission to be Sovereign," an exploration of the New York City land acknowledgement climate and a legal discursive analysis of the Federal Acknowledgement Process.