The uselessness of land acknowledgments

April 7, 2021 • 10:30 am

We’ve all heard classes and talks preceded by “land acknowledgments”—admissions that the land on which the speaker is standing was stolen from others, usually indigenous people like Native Americans. Several examples are given in the article below by Adam Ellwanger at Critical Discourses. (Click on the screenshot.)

Ellwanter is a professor of English here in Texas—at the University of Houston downtown, and knows whereof he speaks.

Now we’ve discussed land acknowledgments before, including their uselessness except as a way of expiating guilt, as well as the confusion involved since American land has been taken over many times by various groups and tribes, who displaced each other, before the “colonists” got it. (It would be even worse in Europe, where you’d have to begin a string of acknowledgments with, “I acknowledge that this land has been taken from “Homo erectus, and then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. . . “, and so on.)

And of course these disclaimers accomplish absolutely nothing, as they’re the epitome of virtue signaling: a lot of words that accomplish nothing except display the “high social consciousness” of the speaker or writer.

Whenever I hear one of these, I think to myself, “Well why the hell don’t you give the land back to the original occupants, then?”  But it’s a bit more complicated than that, for, as Ellwanger says in the piece below, many Native Americans had no conception of “owning” the land. That, of course, doesn’t make it right for settlers to have displaced them, but if people were serious about land acknowledgments, they’d either allow the descendants of previous occupants to move back onto the land, or give them an amount of money equal to the present value of the land.

At best, besides signaling the virtue of the speaker, they remind people of history—except that that history is usually truncated given multiple occupancy of territory over time.

Read on:

Ellwanger begins by criticizing those people who identify their pronouns, not those who do it as a way to show that they’re different from the usual cis-gender designations, but those who do it for two other reasons:

a. “to compel compliance from those who might not be willing to cooperate with the increasingly complicated lexicon that grows out of the pronoun wars.”

and

b. “to signify one’s membership in the priestly castes of university life: those intellectuals who, by mastering a complex vocabulary that eludes the grasp of regular people, demonstrate their superior respect for human dignity and their deeper concern for the many marginalized communities in the racist, fascist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynous hellscape some people still insist on calling “America.”

This introduction may undercut Ellwanger’s thesis a bit, as I wouldn’t want to die on Pronoun Hill, but he does it to segue into land acknowledgements, for he feels that once everybody is using pronoun specifiers—and this is pretty much true in academia—then you have to find another way to demonstrate your moral superiority and membership in The Elect. That way is to precede every talk or class you give with a land acknowledgment.

Here are two specimens of land acknowledgments given by Ellwanger: from Queens University and The Unversity of Texas.

Why are these statements multiplying? Here’s Ellwanger’s explanation:

The fact that these statements imply a moral duty to acknowledge facts that are already well-known is a primary indicator that the Land Acknowledgement Statements are performing some function beyond merely “acknowledging” land ownership. One covert purpose is to put students on notice as to which worldview and ideology will be privileged in a given course. By immediately drawing an audience’s attention to “historical injustice” in a context of, say, a chemistry class, the instructor signals to students that they are in a space where the politics of grievance will be honored and encouraged. Further, the Land Acknowledgement Statement serves to compel a certain penitential attitude that is a prerequisite for the functioning of “critical pedagogies.” By clarifying that the university is a beneficiary of a program of cultural violence, Land Acknowledgement Statements make it clear to students that they are “complicit” in this legacy of violence and exclusion merely by matriculating at the school in question.

Who can deny the truth of what he said?

But there are problems with these acknowledgements. First, as I noted above, they don’t deal with successive occupation of the land:

. . . the statement from University of Texas names no fewer than ten tribes before concluding the sentence with an embarrassed “etcetera,” which acknowledges “all the [other] American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands”. The truth of the matter is that any piece of land in the modern-day United States was likely held by various native tribes over the course of the Pre-Columbian era and the early American republic. In other words, we can’t even be sure who needs to be “acknowledged” for the land: much of the information is lost to history.

And, more important, Ellwanger emphasizes that many Native Americans did not share our capitalistic preoccupation with “owning” land. He gives several examples; here’s one:

Massasoit Sachem (leader of the Wampanoag confederacy) is reputed to have asked “What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all.”

And he adds this:

Thus, by “acknowledging” the native claims to a piece of land and implying that these claims supersede and negate the claim that modern local and federal governments make upon the territory, the Land Acknowledgement Statements erase the very particularities of Native American cultures that these academics purport to honor and preserve. In short, the non-Native academics speak on behalf of the people whose dignity they claim to uphold: by appropriating the right of those people to speak, they inadvertently inflict the very sort of cultural violence that they profess to abhor.

This all makes sense, but of course even if Native Americans didn’t have our concept of “property”, they were still displaced from their lands by settlers. To me that seems just as bad, especially when they were forcibly driven to desolate reservations. I don’t know the solution to this, except to say that Native Americans continually displaced each other by the same methods (war, broken treaties, and so on), and we are just part of that history.

To me, land acknowledgments are the height of performative wokeness: statements that accomplish absolutely nothing save to call attention to your heightened consciousness—and perhaps impart a history lesson, but why is that part of a talk or a syllabus?  If you’re on stolen land, then give it back instead of moaning about it. It’s as if one began a class by saying “I’m using a laser pointer I stole from Professor Jones, but I’m not going to give it back to him.”

Ellwanger ends by citing the two lessons that land acknowlegments impart:

1.) “Recall that the primary purpose of these statements is not to do justice to the victims of historical oppression but rather to signify one’s affinity for the performative rituals of academic wokeness. The first lesson, then, is that the intellectual elite who fetishize the tragic stories of marginalized groups in America are less interested in redressing those sufferings than they are using them to maintain their membership in an elite group that is far removed from the plight of the “Other” (as they might say).”

and

2.) The second lesson is a darker one; one that the progressive left would do well to learn. Enamored as they are with the postmodern tradition of critical theory which they name-check when “speaking truth to power,” they miss one of the central insights of postmodern philosophy: that one can never get outside the network of power to speak truth to it. In their enthusiasm for condemning or humbling the entities that they identify as culturally-empowered ones, they forget that any gesture like a “Land Acknowledgement Statement” is itself an exercise of power. Through their attempts to honor the culture of historically-marginalized groups to which they do not belong – trying to create a space for those cultures to speak on their own behalf – they only end up speaking for them. In this way, they reenact the same legacies of privilege and appropriation that they disdain. So much for checking one’s privilege.

Whenever I read about stuff like land acknowledgments, I remember Grania’s test for the efficacy of social-justice statements and actions: Do they really accomplish something for the group that is marginalized? Land acknowledgments don’t do this, although sometimes a pittance is given to Native Americans as a token of apology. But imagine how much the lands owned by the University of Texas are worth!

And if you’re a reader who wants to defend these acknowledgments, why aren’t you preceding every one of your comments with the statement that your house or office is sitting on land previously occupied by people driven away by settlers? Because surely it was.

79 thoughts on “The uselessness of land acknowledgments

  1. It’s weird in America that land acknowledgements are done this way. It’s not at all like that in Canada or, from when I’ve attended Australian presentations, at all like that for Australia either. For example, it’s not about land ownership but about being stewards of that land. Acknowledging that it has a history and that for a long time a people looked after that land and that there were agreements among those people. Indigenous people opened their meetings this way all the time. For us it’s not about land ownership and giving anything back at all.

    1. How do the indigenous folks in Canada feel about that? Might be hard to find out considering Canadians carried out a fairly complete genocide.

      1. Feel about what? What I just said? I know many indigenous people so I don’t think Canada got them all. In fact there are more indigenous people in Canada then there ever were before European contact.

      2. “..Canadians carried out a fairly complete genocide.”

        Examples of genocide of indigenous/aboriginals/natives in US are easy to find–smallpox in blankets, some behaviour in Utah as I recall–but perhaps you could give some particular examples of your implication that Canadians had planned and carried out some mass murders.

        I think the alliances of Quebecois with Hurons/Algonquins, fighting wars with British colonists in what became US allied with Mohawks, are not generally classed as genocides. My knowledge of this history is very weak however. But you presumably have some other examples. The slaughter of Beothuks in Newfoundland, mainly by other people indigenous to the Maritimes, is first of all not happening in Canada–Newfoundland joined us 1949. And I’m assuming your word “Canadians” does not refer to other indigenous here.

        So it will be very interesting to hear your examples.

        Perhaps the deaths of an enormous proportion of North American indigenous due to the arrival of European diseases for which they had developed no natural defense is what you were thinking of. But I doubt many use the word ‘genocide’ for that.

        No response would be interpreted by some as a know-nothing having a loose tongue, so the onus is on you to respond with your examples. I will appreciate having my history knowledge enhanced.

        I believe that the proportion of indigenous in Canada is considerably higher than it is in US, but again I may be wrong on that.

          1. That’s a bit under 5%. Were that percentage the case in US, there would be something more than 16 million of people there whom they refer to as natives. Wiki says less than 3 million.

      3. And my (original) homeland of Australia. In fact, if you regard Tasmanian Aborigines as a separate race to “continental” Aborigines the genocide was actually completed. That’s rare.

        Being 30 years since I’ve lived there I don’t know whether they indulge in these performative wokeness statements or not…. but I bet they do. (sigh).
        I agree with PCC (E) and the essay on these wildly performative gestures.
        D.A.
        NYC

    2. As we both know, the term ‘First Nations’ is often used up here in Canada. When feeling unfairly sarcastic, I am often tempted to suggest ‘Penultimate Nations’, Jerry having put it clearly several times above about the ‘conquerers of the conquerers of the conquerers of the ….’ He seems to have expressed things in that respect very clearly. ‘Second Last Nations’ would be worse sounding, if not particularly inaccurate, what with ‘penultimate’ being uncommon. I wonder what percentage of primary school teachers even know what it means.

      What is annoying to me and probably many here is the sometime indigenous insistence on belief in obviously false origin stories. But anthropologists, ancient DNA scientists, and similar have sometimes done bad jobs, even very dishonest ones in the past. Acknowledgement of that has improved since 2010 as far as I can tell by reading e.g. David Reich’s book.

      Also in Canada there are sometimes treaties indicating ‘ownership changes’. But often not. And often perpetrated in a deceptive way. I would like to think perpetrated with violent force or threat thereof happened less often up here than in US, but my knowledge of the history is worse than it should be. And anyway, usually not agreed to at all ‘democratically’ by the prior owners.

      As you imply, ‘prior owners’ is often misleading–prior caretakers is often better.

      1. There are actually three groups of indigenous peoples in Canada: First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The land acknowledgements aren’t really anything to do with indigenous religious beliefs which I typically reject like I do all other beliefs.

        1. Agreed, except perhaps the Metis not being indigenous if that word is taken to mean that the vast majority of your ancestors back before say 1492 lived on the American continents.
          Roughly 50% does not qualify as a vast majority.

          That’s got me wondering whether even a single bit of genetic material got into the American (NOT AKA USian) indigenous gene pool from the Viking settlement of Greenland from 1000 till dying out about 1400. Surely it must have. Maybe David Reich will find some ancient DNA indirect evidence to discover it.

            1. … and, in the process, when using that adjective for Metis, does so as a language ignoramus bureaucracy—unless of course I am wrong about the generally accepted meaning of the adjective ‘indigenous’ when applied to groups of people. I think most of the issues discussed in this thread are barely, if at all, applicable to the Metis. But again, my knowledge of history is not that good.

              Actually, and particularly discovered by ancient DNA people, and discussed by Adam Rutherford in his book “A Brief History of Everybody Who Ever Lived”, the spread of genetic material between peoples is far faster and more extensive than it seemed to most of us even 40 years ago. IIRC, it is statistically certain that many individuals from as little as 3400 years ago are each of them a direct ancestor of every human alive today: in the Amazon, among Greenland indigenous, from the Maori, from the Congo, ….., every one of them. For example, saying the Australian aboriginals were isolated from the rest of the world for all those years is simply not true, if “isolated” is meant in an absolute sense.

              Defining who is or isn’t Metis is likely somewhat thorny. And again, I cannot recall ever learning anything about particular problems there, but surely they exist.

          1. Most humans do not fossilize. Your Viking DNA would have to confer a large advantage to survive and proliferate in the gene pool.

              1. I don’t mind evolutionary approaches to human group differences; yet doubt that genes easily compel people to farm instead of living the much more agreeable hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Viking resistance to Old World diseases would be most interesting, but evolution knows no foresight. So why would a trait spread that is only going to matter a few centuries later?

        2. “First Nations, Inuit and Métis.”

          Another thought just occurred: Despite the present day set of Dorset People being probably the empty set, ought we not acknowledge that specific group, in this case marginalized by the Inuit who are much more recent invaders, from the east (Siberia) not the west (Europe), Here, “recent” does refer to prior to the white man’s invasion. But I understand that, in the case of Greenland, that invasion took place around the same time that some Vikings settled in southwestern Greenland in 1000 AD precisely apparently. Around the same time the Maori arrived in New Zealand, IIRC.

          Is this perhaps why the Inuit aren’t another kind of misnomered ‘first’ nations?

          And so far we have (perhaps an embarrassed) silence from Pat concerning her claim about Canadians committing genocide. With the forced christian schooling, attempted CULTURAL genocide yes, though that was unlikely what she thought herself to be blurting about.

          However now we have two definite possibilities of actual complete genocide–possibly the Dorsets and possibly the last of the Viking Greenlanders. But for the Woke, clearly the perpetrators just would be not the correct group.

          I say this having a huge admiration for the abilities and skills of the Inuit, as did Amundsen, who learned much more from them than they did from him, as he happily acknowledged.

          1. I think the intent of the land acknowledgement is to acknowledge the people who were stewards of the territory that are still here. It’s about reconciliation and bringing into history people whose history has been erased.

    3. In Australia, we have the Native Title Act, a legal acknowledgement that the British concept of Terra Nullius (no one owned the land) was incorrect. The Act gives Indigenous Australian groups who can prove a continuous connection to certain country rights over its custodianship – it isn’t ownership, but they are given a say over its use. For example, the Anangu people are the custodians of Uluru and have full rights over its use for tourism and other things.

      It was after the Native Title Act, which was a momentous piece of legislation for our Indigenous people (it is far from perfect, though), that Acknowledgement of Country, as we call it came to be more and more commonplace. We also have ‘Welcome to Country’, but that can only be done by a person from the group that have custodianship (an Anangu can’t do Welcome on Ngunnawal country and vice versa).

      Here, it seems to me this has all been done in consultation with our Indigenous people and it is meaningful and respectful. I was recently asked by an Indigenous person at work if we could do more Acknowledgements and I demonstrated my ability to do it in the Ngunnawal language (taught to me by a Ngunnawal man). He found it to be very respectful.

      While we have ‘wokeness’ here in Australia, it isn’t as dominant force as Jerry highlights in the US. I think the difference here is there is positive legal precedent acknowledging Indigenous ownership and meaningful attempts to put that into action.

      1. Yes that is very similar here in Canada. The land acknowledgement is done through indigenous groups and isn’t about wokeness but is part of the Canadian effort toward reconciliation and recognition.

  2. It’s as if one began a class by saying “I’m using a laser pointer I stole from Professor Jones, but I’m not going to give it back to him.” – Brilliant!

    (I’ve no idea who owned the land I’m writing this from, but it used to be an orchard – we still have an apple tree in the garden – but we’ve doubtless usurped the homes of other trees plus bunnies and other wildlife.)

  3. How dare anyone use the term “Native American”? They are only native from a lately-arrived European perspective. Does everything have to be about the white man?

      1. I have no idea. I was being (known only to myself) sarcastic because i thought of that incongruity years ago and now nobody knows that i am not being serious.

        But they aren’t native, they just migrated here a bit before most of us did.

    1. I mean I see your sarcasm here but it doesn’t really make sense. Surely things can be considered ‘native’ whether or not there are nonnative comparators at hand.

    2. “They are only native from a lately-arrived European perspective.”

      Not from the perspective of all English speakers in the world except USians. We say people are native to X because they were born in X. So this message and its replies are mixing up USians’ dumb misuse of a word (but of course now it has a second meaning in US) with what I believe you were trying to say.

      1. Native Americans may not have had the same concept of land ownership as Europeans, but they certainly had a concept about territory. Plenty of blood was spilled over being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, and plenty of battles were waged over choice territories, with occupation of said territories changing from time to time. Fortifications were common , be it wooden palisades of the northeast or steep cliff face adobe houses in the southwest. Why the need for such defensive dwellings if not to protect against invaders trying to kick them off the land and take it over?
        Food gathering areas could also “belong” to certain clans or families, such as California oak groves valued for their tasty acorns or fishing/shellfish beds along the coasts. The woke are perilously close to the “noble savage” trope, but are too certain of their own superiority to notice.

        It’s also worth noting that these acknowledgements are typically so poorly researched that the woke fail to realize that tribes did not always stay in the same place, especially after the removal acts. Kansas is not the ancestral homeland of the Shawnee, Missouri is not the ancestral homeland of the Potawatomi, both of which I’ve heard being “acknowledged”, and let’s not start with the trouble over correct tribal names, or tell me your great great grandma was a “Cherokee princess”!

        1. “The woke are perilously close to the ‘noble savage’ trope, but are too certain of their own superiority to notice.”

          Exactly. Anti-racism in the hands of extremists can turn into racism. There’s also an element of Manicheism in the Woke viewpoint. They need to turn Native Americans into uncomplicated, purely and virtuous Noble Savages to provide a contrast to the hideous evil of the settler-colonialist white trash.

  4. On the one hand, although the American Indians may not have had a concept of property, Europeans definitely took away their right to use the land, which the Indians did seem to understand. On the other hand, I would wager that there isn’t a lot of occupied land in the entire world that hasn’t been seized from one group by another. Where is the land acknowledgement for the Anglo-Saxons? The law of conquest is a real thing, and the Indians fought wars for access to land, too. This whole business is nothing but more of the same attempt to de-legitimize and de-stabilize our institutions, as well as provide painless virtue signaling for the mush-brained. If there was a valid claim to be made for former lands, you can bet that it would be in the courts, like the case in eastern Oklahoma last year.

    1. Well Anglo Saxons so thoroughly displaced others that they aren’t here anymore to acknowledge. I think some Scots and Irish and the Welsh may have thoughts on displacement and colonialism of Anglo Saxons though.

      1. The science does change frequently on the subject, but I think the current consensus is that the Saxons did not displace the existing population, only their culture.

            1. Cultural genocide often involves the same amount of violence. I don’t think it was as friendly as you think.

  5. I know several people…highly affluent and well educated and political supporters of progressive causes….who believe that homo sapiens evolved as distinct species in the Western Hemisphere. That’s the best way I can put it, as they really don’t seem to know what the word indigenous means.

    (In fact, What does the word “indigenous” now mean as used in social science, etc????? [David Reich in his books defines indigenous as the people in occupying a geography when agriculture first appeared there….or something close to that.])

    They believe that because they hear the word “indigenous” and take it literally. As such, they take Europeans as thieves who stole the land from the rightful indigenous occupants.

    As I’ve read more history, etc….it seems that the planet was peopled hugely through genocide, war, slavery, displacements.

    Pinker may very well be right when he shows and writes that our lives are vastly improved and we live in perhaps the most pacific and prosperous times ever.

    1. several people […] who believe that homo sapiens evolved as distinct species in the Western Hemisphere.

      What? That is highly bizarre. I rather suspect that these allegedly “highly intelligent” people would start to fall apart a bit if pressed to clarify what they’re actually claiming.
      To start with, I’m wondering exactly what definition of “Western hemisphere” means to them. Since 1870-odd and the selection of the Greenwich Meridian as the reference line for longitude (other contenders being the Paris Meridian and the Berlin Meridian, at least – one might detect an imperial theme in there). But since the Greenwich Meridian passes down through the bight of Benin, then all of the fossil history of the hominids is in the Eastern hemisphere. The furthest west fossil of relevance that I can recall was Sahelanthropus Tchadensis (from Chad, obviously, approaching a thousand miles east of that meridian).
      Might these people be thinking of a “Western hemisphere” bounded by the mid-lines of the Atlantic (around 40degW (GM, not PM or BM)) and the Bering Strait (170degW (GM)) which would make it about 3/8 of a sphere. It would also cut off about half of Brazil – but they’re obviously unimportant to the “Western” hemisphere. Mostly slave-descendent un-people, so definitely important to the politics of America.
      (I should check – are the people making this claim American? It’s not as safe a bet around here as it is in many internet fora, but it is still odds-on.)
      The Rift Valley (where most palaeontologists reckon the human genera evolved) is 30-40degE (GM), and the oddball Sahelanthropus is from about 18degE – Even the German empire, had they carried out excavations in their colony of Tanganyka, would have had to consider the evolution of humans to have taken place in the Eastern hemisphere (BM).
      On the evidence provided, I’d strongly doubt your assessment of these people as “well educated”.

      1. The Greenwich Meridian passes within about a mile of where I’m sitting. (Until it was part of a recent school merger, the local high school was named after the meridian.)

      2. I use the terms “well educated” as is generally used: prestige universities and prep schools. And membership in the fraction of the 1% with homes in locations to match.

        1. “expensively educated” ; having known enough outcomes from such places over the years, they’re no better educated than average. Garbage in, garbage out still applies to gold-plated platinum-bottomed rubbish bins.

    2. [methinks the gravelinspector has missed the point. But anyway:]

      “they take Europeans as thieves who stole the land from the rightful indigenous occupants.”

      But that seems a reaonable perspective. I guess if you don’t accept ‘rightful’ then you can have a problem with ‘thieves’ *shrug*. As for ‘indigenous’, while I take your point about its essential arbitrariness (given past patterns of migration), in this case of intercontiinental interaction 20000 years’ precedence seems to me an acceptable benchmark.

      1. In essence, the word indigenous has become an empty set…….drained of meaning. I think of it as metaphor and existentialist term signifying “innocence”.

        1. In US maybe. Not elsewhere in the English speaking world. Its meaning is very clear.

          So is, to within very small places relatively speaking (e.g. Hawaii, Easter Island) is the meaning of ‘Western Hemisphere’ very clear.

  6. I have yet to hear such a statement read out in person. I like the idea that the only way to right to wrong is to either give the property back or pay the current value of the property. Of course we don’t own the property that the university is built on, but many do own their own homes.

    Would it be rude to ask a person to read such a statement whether they own any property and if so, shouldn’t they give it back?

    1. I’m reminded of a very poignant scene from the film Salt of this Sea – in which a Palestinian-American woman returns to Palestine after the death of her father to collect bonds he had left her in the bank of Palestine. It’s basically a road-trip movie – and I remember thinking it was really well done. On her journey of self discovery, she makes her way to her family’s old home, now occupied by a ‘woke’ settler. While talking, the settler makes all the talking points a young, progressive pro-Palestine person would say. And so the main character calls her on it and asks her to give her the house right then and there. Of course, the settler has no intention of relinquishing the home. It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch.

  7. My favorite was when Taika Watitti (nee David Cohen), did one at an awards ceremony, when his own people killed all of the Moriori and took their land.

    1. Can you link to Taika Waititi’s land acknowledgement? Maori play a much more central role in NZ and land acknowledgement equivalents of welcome ceremonies that both Maori and Pakeha can do. It isn’t about who killed someone more than welcoming and acknowledging as these land acknowledgements are.

        1. Oh he did it at the Oscars in California. So it wasn’t a NZ land acknowledgement but I don’t see the disconnect in him doing this just because the Maori killed off most of the Moriori.

          1. I don’t have a dog (dingo?) in this fight, but the Oscars would be the place to flaunt your virtue rather than address any particular issue, I suppose.

            1. I don’t think it’s virtue flaunting to recognize the land your on at a major event. Taika Waititi has done a lot to promote indigenous work.

  8. Context: North America north of the Rio Grande, and not including the Caribbean.

    If it is considered axiomatic that the Indigenous as a whole were displaced, then that indeed does constitute a property claim, namely: that the 1491 population owned the entire continent, and all newcomers trespassed — and stole all the property.

    It was an empty continent in 1491 — except where it was not, along the coasts and rivers. According to the Smithsonian’s massive and rigorous study, between 800,000 and 2,000,000 Indigenous. Did newcomers have a right to claim ownership of empty land?

    Note: specific cases of specific theft and murder, on both sides, often fogs discussion of this higher-level. I hope all can agree such things are unequivocally wrong, evil. Instead, the more nuanced and tragic issue is that of conflicting concepts of ownership, the Lockean version of “ownership of a demarked plot no one previously owned with which I improve and produce sustenance” versus “the land belongs to everyone and no one, each can take from it a fair sustenance.”

    Prior to the return of horses to the New World, Indigenous people might gaze out over a vast landscape, but their ‘occupation’ of it was small, either 1) being nomadic, the current perimeter around which we can hunt on foot; or 2) being agricultural, the perimeter around our village.

    This all changed with the horse, allowing, for instance, the claim by a band of perhaps 8,000 people fierce ownership of an area of the Southern Plains the size of Texas, the Comancheria.

    I don’t think it is right to impose guilt and need for reparations based on non-Lockean concepts of ownership … unless we are to return to the original lifestyle (and the very small population it could sustain.)

  9. Another problem is that there are a whole host of moral issues and historical injustices one could draw attention to and I fail to see why land ownership holds a special privilege. Many of these issues, should you draw attention to them, are politically touchy subjects. Consider instead of a land acknowledgement before a university seminar someone wanted to draw attention to the millions of babies aborted every year. No one would consider this acceptable and would rightly consider it an unwelcome injection of politics into a place it doesn’t belong.

    Land Acknowledgements are the same in my view. When I hear one I wonder at what political program the acknowledger wants the listener to adopt.

    1. I think you misunderstand Land Acknowledgements then. They aren’t a pet political view but a way of including the people who were here and acknowledging them. For so much of history they were not only marginalized and erased from knowledge but that continues into the present day. It’s simply saying that we acknowledge your place in history and in the present. It’s part of reconciliation in Canada and moving on from the past. The fact that we are not even taught so much history about the indigenous people, that a whole people were put in horrible residential schools up until the 90s, that a whole people were not allowed to participate in federal elections until 1960 is all so culturally damaging and it erased who they were from society. It’s time they were acknowledged and brought into focus again.

      1. I find this unconvincing because I could craft a similar argument about why acknowledgements should address my pet historical injustice or moral issue. Many activists thinks their cause isn’t receiving enough attention and should be addressed. So what historical injustices you choose to acknowledge in, say, a scientific meeting seems like an inherently political decision to me.

        Many proponents of land acknowledgements are proponents of various decolonization causes I take issue with. Therefore, I view them with suspicion and don’t feel they are simply done to correct the failings of our education system.

        1. 1) Land acknowledgements aren’t created to appease activists.
          2) Land acknowledgements aren’t about “pet historical injustices”.
          3) First Nations, Inuit, Métis have always done this.
          4) They aren’t about “correcting the failure of our education system”.

          They are deeply embedded in truth and reconciliation in Canada and are one small part of a much larger initiative to bring back an erased people and try to move forward from the damage of the past. Snidely guffawing about them is really putting no effort into understanding them at all and involves a lot of assumptions and reading into. If you really want to understand the context better, read doubt Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

    1. It’s next to nothing. Giving privileged woke folk another reason to wallow in masochism and self-hatred doesn’t help anyone. The best question is “What can we do to actually help them?”

  10. Attempting to make the students feel some kind of guilt for what was done to the native american people is not much different from what they will do with the slavery issues. Are we to feel bad about it, yes. But what to do about it is another issue. Even our original founders seemed to be unable to control the people and the force of them onto the land. This was very true with the first big treaty that Washington attempted. It flopped totally and was due to the fact that he really had no control over the masses. Later when Andrew Jackson, responsible for the trail of tears disaster showed that treatment of the Indians could not get much worse we just let it happen. The best that can be done is to give them the real story and let them accept it for what it is and what we are. In some ways it all goes on today.

    Much of what is left of the Native American people are down in Oklahoma and in Arizona. How they all got there is part of our history and it is not very pretty.

    Though the power of eminent domain our government continues to take land from the people today for all kinds of reasons. Only if you are someone who has experienced this can you know what it is like. It can be nasty and a very bad experience for many and it happens all the time.

  11. I have definitely seen an upward creep in pronoun preferences in emails from administrators, faculty, and students. One thing that occurs, besides the virtue signaling aspect, is that it is unnecessary. If I converse with this person at all in person or thru email, why would I refer to them in the third person?

    1. It’s quite frequent that I’ll use a sentence like this in a work email “I talked to so-and-so and she said to go ahead with the project,” where so-and-so is cc’d in the email.

  12. Never mind all that, the key question is whether you open boiled eggs at the small end or the big end. Blefuscu, or Lilliput?

  13. What a human-centric point of view.
    Having spent much of the last few days reading up on the probably lacustrine microfossils from the Torridonian of NW Scotland (which is geologically an escaped part of the Laurentian shield that underlays much of Canada and the United States, surely these should be considered the original indigenous inhabitants of the area? They’ve got a good solid half billion years headstart on johnny-come-latelys like tetrapod vertebrates. Much though I love Tiktaalik and dinosaurs, they are just recent phenomena.

  14. There was a really interesting piece on NPR the other day about a controversial proposed energy project in WA. The site, Celilo Falls, is sacred to the local native peoples. Tribal history has it that this high area is where their ancestors escaped the torrential Missoula floods that swept through and shaped this region. I hadn’t realized that the Yakama Nation had been here that long.

  15. I volunteer with an organization that maintains hiking trails in Oregon. There is always a safety briefing at the beginning of each event. Recently they have begin having land acknowledgements and a statement that many people do not feel comfortable in the woods because of discrimination. When I lead a crew, I do these things, and I have found useful things to do with them. For the land acknowledgement, I talk about what groups lived in the particular area we will be working in, or that the area was a crossroads, or for high elevation places, that they would only visit during the summer to gather particular resources. I segue into a note about archaeology, and what to do if we find an artifact. For the discrimination statement, it seems quite abstract for the folks working the saws and shovels ( after all, what could we do about this? ), but I make a point that we should be friendly to the hikers that come through our work area, let them through if it is safe at the moment, and answer any questions they may have.

    1. That sounds like a pretty fantastic group – I’d want to volunteer. I’m wondering if there is a bit of regional confusion regarding this issue – where I live, in the Puget Sound area, the tribes are active, involved and work with communities, state agencies, etc. It isn’t a thing out of the past. The way the land was handled with the treaty of 1855 was not great (to put it lightly), and usufruct rights aren’t sufficient. Also, the Umatilla Tribe had a great book about how the timing of Lewis & Clark’s visit missed the tribal gatherings of that spring and fall and so the explorers didn’t realize the extent of trade, resources and population of the area – which continues to shape how people view the local native populations.

  16. I think the only appropriate such acknowledgement and invocation about prior “ownership” should be along the lines of:

    “We acknowledge and recognize that this world, this very universe, is the rightful domain of the Great Old Ones – Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, their messenger Nyarlathotep, and others – and that we tiny, evanescent, and insignificant creatures merely delude ourselves in our trivial, unimportant beliefs, undertakings, and claims to understanding, but in the end, the Great Old Ones will reclaim this universe as theirs, and our fate shall be in their hands…or tentacles, or hooves, or blobs of roiling, impossible colors, as the case may be.”

  17. A general “History Acknowledgement” would make more sense. Long ago, I was impressed by a musician at a folk festival who introduced some music from east-central Europe with words something like this: “Here are some songs from Lithuania, formerly the USSR, formerly Poland, formerly the Russian Empire, formerly Poland, formerly the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, formerly Lithuania.”

  18. And if you’re a reader who wants to defend these acknowledgments
    I have no problem with – and would defend – a land acknowledgement given by the US federal government to a tribe, if and when that tribe asks for it. At least then you have someone demanding an apology and the right actor giving it. But I suspect these are largely unasked-for gestures, and even if a university owns the land, it’s the US federal government that claims it as part of US territory.

    1. The land acknowledgement at my university was developed by indigenous groups and is guided by them.

  19. ‘The truth of the matter is that any piece of land in the modern-day United States was likely held by various native tribes over the course of the Pre-Columbian era and the early American republic.’

    Some points:

    1) I don’t know how Prof. Ellwanger would know the quoted sentence to be true. And if it is, so what?

    2) His verb ‘held’ in connection with ‘the land’ is misleading, since he himself asserts the radically different notions of land ownership between indigenous groups and colonialists / USA-ians.

    3) The displacement of Indigenous groups was largely from east to west (and to a lesser degree from the Pacific coast eastward): it began extra-legally with English settlers in the 17th century and continued through throughout the 19th century.

    4) This east-to-west displacement, continued by (always-broken) treaties, forced a great many indigenous groups out of their familiar, traditional environments–some agricultural and pastoral–and onto lands with a very different, even alien, ecology and geography. Thus the Sioux were first forced west out of the upper Mississippi valley, where they had lived for as long as 3,000 years [Wikipedia, citing Guy Gibbon, ‘The Sioux ‘(2008). Then, within a century, they were pushed out of Minnesota and Iowa by the French and their allies the Huron; then further reduced to reservations in the Dakotas by USA-ian military policy (which the Sioux stubbornly resisted during the ‘Indian Wars’ of the 1860-1900).

    The question of ‘land ownership’ is, I think, less relevant than that of land and ‘national’ sovereignty. This was formally recognized by the USA in its founding Constitution–and was thenceforth broken by the USA in hundreds of treaties before being repudiated (not Constitutionally by legislative fiat) in 1870 (no more sovereignty, ergo, no more treaties and the invalidation of those existing).

  20. I got the feeling in Vancouver a few times in recent years that the acknowledgments were getting to be a lot like the Pledge in the US. At a Margaret Atwood confab back in 2018, the MC sighed that he hoped one day they could dispense with this, and he seemed like a nice wokish sort of Canadian guy.

    As to “ownership” and how various Indian nations in North America felt about that, it’s best to avoid founding any arguments on that claim. Generally they were/are quite interested in ownership and control and dominion over their lands in my experience and reading — not like the land speculators like George Washington and the hoards who swarmed over the lands, but meaningfully nevertheless, more collectively than individually. But how is that different than a sovereign European nation objecting to an invasion?

    I just finished reading Michael A. McDonnell, Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America (2015), and it is quite clear that the Indian nations/tribes/groups were intensely interested in preserving their land. The British crown affirmed their absolute right against white settlement between the Great Lakes and Florida, the Mississippi and the Appalachians in 1763 and again in the Treaty of Quebec in 1773.

    Once I had a microscopic part in (perpetually?) ongoing litigation by the Sioux over the Black Hills. I doubt the late Dennis Banks or Russell Means cared about any white acknowledgments or apologies, though.

    On the other hand, acknowledgments can be productive today in working between communities. It is reported that this type of thing, and much more concrete stuff, too, was crucial in the Santa Fe Opera’s relationship with Tesuque Pueblo (which was building a casino just north of the opera house, as was their legal right). Ritual, perhaps hollow, acknowlegments of the sort we may really be focusing on, as a virtue flaunting exercise by wokie wannabes need to cease.

  21. Several organizations I volunteer with use land acknowledgments. I have mixed feelings about this although I have no trouble making such a statement. The Sheberetch Band of Utes occupied the valley I live when white settlers first attempted to settle here. This is a small valley about twenty miles long but only 2 or three miles wide. The Utes drove out that first attempt at settlement in 1855. When Mormon settlers returned in 1877 the Utes had disappeared. They could have simply moved to a different location or perished in one of the typhoid fever or other epidemics that moved through southeast Utah. This region has been the home of many peoples over several millennia. There is evidence of Navajo occupation 50 miles north of my home but the current Navajo Reservation is 70 or more miles south. An archaeologist friend has taken Zuni and Hopi into areas 100 miles north of here. These Nations could explain many of the rock art images found in canyons in that area. It seems evident that many different peoples have lived here and in the surrounding areas for thousands of years.

    Today Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland visited the community of Bluff about 100 miles south of my home in Moab. She visited a portion of the Bears Ears National Monument that was taken away by Trump. Apparently her plans include meeting with Utah politicians as well as Native Americans. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo that supported the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument. I have been waiting for a moment like this for over three years.

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