“The On Being Project is located on Dakota Land”

May 22, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I may have written on this topic a while back, but it came to mind again today. I do my grocery shopping a little after 7 a.m. on Sundays, as the store opens at 6 and they’ve had time to restock before I shop. The downside of this habit is that Krista Tippett‘s NPR show, “On Being”—formerly called “On Faith” until “faith” was no longer such a virtue—starts at 7 a.m.  Ergo, I have to listen to Tippett and her numinous/spiritual guests blather on, often with the host verging on tears about, well, “being”.

Fortunately, my drive back and forth to the store takes about 15 minutes total, so I’m not tortured too much. But as I was coming back, I heard the very last words of Tippett’s broadcast: “The ‘On Being’ Proect is located on Dakota land.” That was it.

Searching a bit online, I found that there’s a whole page on Tippett’s land acknowledgment.

The Dakota people comprise largely what were called the Sioux people, who actually include both Dakota and Lakota. But never mind, just remember that these were Native Americans.

Here’s most of the acknowledgment:

About 12 miles away from The On Being Project’s central office, the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River at a place called Bdote.

In Dakota, one translation of “bdote” is “where two waters come together,” and the bdote where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers concur is an especially sacred site — the center of the world to the Dakota.

Bdote is a place that carries a complicated and layered history, in the thousands of years the Dakota people have been in relationship and kinship with the land here, and in the several hundred years since European settlers colonized the land that the state of Minnesota now occupies. The United States’ land seizures were a project of spiritual destruction that denied the Dakota free and unhindered access to the land that fundamentally shapes their identity and spirituality.

Today, 11 reservations are located within the state of Minnesota: four Dakota communities in the southern portion of the state and seven Ojibwe communities in the north. The On Being Project pays tribute to the Dakota and Ojibwe.

We invite you to consider the land on which you live and the confluence of legacies that bring you to stand where you are — particularly through critical reflection and conversation with your own community. We encourage you to use the resources below to assist in your exploration.

They then give a list of “resources” for investigating history, including “Honor Native Land: A Guide — a step-by-step guide for writing a land acknowledgment.”

We all know that there are some issues with land acknowledgments: some lands changed hands many times over history, “ownership” was not always considered the same thing as it is today, and so on. But we also know that Native Americans were pretty much the victims of settler displacement and generally got a raw deal.

Yet when I hear a land acknowledgment like Tippett’s, I hear this:

“Our people stole land from the Dakota, and that’s where our business is located. But aren’t I a good person for saying it?”

Somehow I think that the Dakota, if their land was indeed stolen, would prefer to get the damn land back, or some monetary reparations. Do you think that they care whether Tippett’s upper-class listeners “critcially reflect and explore”? They don’t want to be paid “tribute”; they want to be paid MONEY.

To me, “land acknowledgments” are the height of wokeness. They are addressed not to Native Americans, but to well-fed academics; they accomplish nothing save trumpeting the virtues of the speakers; and they don’t offer any reparations for a theft that is explicitly acknowledged. (I couldn’t find anything in the “On Being” page about giving reparations to the Dakota.)

If “wokeness” is in some sense equivalent to “making useless performative gestures that at the same time show what a good person you are,” then land acknowledgments are its apogee. They are performances not for Native Americans, but for others who were also complicit in the theft.

Put up or shut up. And if you really think you’re responsible for stealing land, give it back—or pay for it.

47 thoughts on ““The On Being Project is located on Dakota Land”

  1. Just a note to say this post on a complex subject – the points of which I agree with – was quite concise and expressive.

  2. ” I hear this:

    “Our people stole land from the Dakota, and that’s where our business is located. But aren’t I a good person for saying this?” ”

    Or even “… but could someone please figure out a way to mete out judgement and punishment – crowdsourcing here, people!”

  3. Put up or shut up. And if you really think you’re responsible for stealing land, give it back—or pay for it.

    This reminds me of the film The Salt of This Sea – about a Palestinian-American woman who goes back to collect an inheritance from the Bank of Palestine (which, spoiler, doesn’t work out). It’s part road trip movie, part coming into full adulthood and an exploration of one’s history.

    There is this great scene where she visits the home that her grandfather built, with beautiful hand painted tiles and everything. It is occupied by very lefty Israeli settlers. They welcome her and one of them has a pro-Palestinian slogan on her coffee mug as she sips.

    They say how sorry they are that the govt. took the house. The PA woman is like, ‘well, give it back then.’ They go quiet. They don’t give it back.

  4. If the “land acknowledgement” fad ever reaches east-central Europe, everybody will be reduced to helpless laughter by the attempt.

    1. It is pretty much the same in the US, except the woke tend to see Native Americans as homogeneous. There was never a whole lot of stasis. Just like most places, people lived on land seeded with the ruins of forgotten societies, and the graves of people they themselves displaced or wiped out completely.
      I guess the woke really want to believe that NAs lived in harmony with nature and each other, but that view is not reflected in either history nor the archaeological record.

  5. My university also does land acknowledgements, which to me is the same as saying, “I acknowledge that this car was yours. I stole your car, I’m driving it, and I will continue to drive it and not give it back. I’m a good person for acknowledging that the car was yours.” If such virtue signaling is to have any real meaning, the university or state should offer something tangible, like free tuition and no fees at its better universities, or abundant scholarships. Otherwise, talk is cheap.

    1. Slightly o/t but

      “The university…should offer something tangible, like free tuition and no fees.”

      Yes. This argument has been made at my university in Canada, but we’re not offering free tuition to indigenous students from working-class families.

      Instead, we’re focused on anti-Black racism. But even in that case we’re not offering free tuition to Black students. Instead, my university will hire a dozen or more wealthy, middle-class, highly educated Black people into faculty jobs.


      They will join the handful of wealthy, middle-class, highly educated Black business consultants who have been hired as senior administrators at the vice-president level to run our DIE initiatives.

      At least 53 Canadian universities have made this pledge to hire hundreds of new Black faculty members. There are not hundreds of highly qualified Black research scholars in Canada waiting to be hired – if they existed we would have hired them already bc affirmative action efforts have been ongoing for years. So many of those new Scarborough hires are expected to come from universities in Africa and the Caribbean (and contribute to the brain drain there). Others will be poached from American universities (so watch out!).

      There is a pathetic justification for hiring administrators and faculty first, then recruiting affirmative-action students later, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

      1. Where are they going to find all the highly educated and qualified Indigenous professors of engineering to hire at the associate or full professor level to carry on independent research? The ad for one at Waterloo requires a letter from a band recognizing that you really are Indigenous in their eyes, not just a few Siberian genes scattered over your 23andme report. That ad also allows that a candidate may be considered if s/he has a terminal professional degree like architecture with a suitable portfolio of work, which means they already have their eye on an architect.

        Waterloo may be a-scareder than most because it (along with 200,000 people) sits on land that the Indigenous say they didn’t mean to sell permanently.

        I suppose Scarborough College is scared, too.

  6. Or are they even doing so much as pressuring their State legislature to begin a land-buyback for the Indians?

  7. Such land acknowledgements, without accompanying reparations, could easily be taken as rubbing the noses of the victims in the fact of the theft. It should be used as evidence of a guilty conscience in a law suit.

  8. I totally agree!

    I bristle now every time our faculty and academic meetings are opened with the statement: ‘We acknowledge that we are meeting here on the unceded territory of the Mfgeahj*?7ixted people…’

    If this were anything but a vacuous public display of virtue signaling, a truly sincere speaker would also be taking real steps to give back their multimillion dollar Vancouver home to those people oppressed by our colonial forebears.

    It would be the height of social suicide to even whisper any doubts as to the sincerity of the speaker’s comments. We are too woke to consider our hypocrisy.

    1. Which the Lakota stole fair and square from the Kiowas less than 100 years from when Custer stole the Hills from the Lakota. Not taking sides here, though I tend to support the Lakota over Custer, but so the folly of land acknowledgments. The Dakota were not in southern Minnesota until the Ojibwe and Cree pushed them there; and in any event the Sioux in general orginated in the mid-South before heading west to the Great Lakes.

      1. I mentioned this because of its history of agreements between parties which were then abrogated by one of the parties, leading the harmed party to pursue their claim which was ultimately decided in their favor by the highest court in the land. It’s firmly grounded in the law rather than being in the category of voiced opinions such as the one which is the subject of this post. The additional quality of it not being about money but being about the land itself is worth noting also.

  9. Being born in Albuquerque, NM, 75 years ago, I acknowledge that I am living on land that less than 10kya was inhabited by saber-toothed cats, American lions, Columbian mammoths, sundry horse and giant ground sloth species, and others. They lost their land because early Homo sapiens in North America killed them off or killed their prey.

    1. Well said. I wonder how to rephrase things so that they are compatible with the view that we molecules of terrestrial biomass are not distinct from the rest of the terrestrial mass. We are as much a part of the land as the humus. At some point, I suspect that the land appropriation discussion will be reframed to take that into account.


  10. Perfectly correct as far as the hypocrisy of land acknowledgements goes. But what if they don’t want money for it? What if they just want you to renounce it, return it, get into your boats and go back to where you or your ancestors came from? (Leaving all your lovely technology behind, of course.) What then? After all, if I steal your car and your report the theft, the police don’t let me keep the car as long as I pay you fair value for it. They use force to make me return it to you and charge me with a crime.

    Safest just to rely on Right of Conquest, which is how the land in British* North America was taken, and not get drawn into legalistic arguments about whether we own the land or not. We do. The previous occupiers, or anyone else, can try to conquer it back if they want to. Right of Conquest went out of fashion after 1945 but the Battle of Hastings is not unwound thereby. Might really does make right. Because we don’t have unlimited might, we do have to bribe the Natives to keep them from molesting resource projects but that’s life.

    In both countries we ought to encourage Indigenous peoples to get educated, employed, and assimilate—yes, the A-word— themselves into the productive economy. We should recognize that they came out on the losing end and will need a leg up to recover. They should of course preserve those cultural traditions that are meaningful to them insofar as they don’t conflict with the values of the larger society that gives then sustenance. Pretending they still own North America isn’t going to help anyone.

    * Indigenous propaganda says European colonization relied on of the Doctrine of Discovery under which the Pope blessed the subjugation of the Americas provided the conquerors brought priests to convert the heathen they found there. As recently as this spring, a delegation of Indigenous from Canada visited the Vatican to lobby the Pope to renounce this doctrine and so give Canada back to them. He didn’t bite.

    This argument might have some validity in Latin America where some countries are officially Catholic. But conquest and colonization in British North America began long after King Henry VIII broke with the Church and so did not rely on Papal blessing. Catholic French Canada came under British sovereign and religious authority in 1763. Since then our relationship with Indigenous people is governed by King George III’s Royal Proclamation, nothing to do with the Pope. Yours is now governed by whatever you want it to be, but certainly not by any state religious authority that would put your sovereignty of the land on shaky Constitutional foundation.

  11. Jerry, I’d like to challenge you to write an improvement on the land acknowledgment that uses it as an opportunity to reflect on the wonder of the universe — so for example, “The land on which we stand formerly belonged to indigenous people believed to have crossed the land bridge nearly 20,000 years ago, and before that it was inhabited by XXXX and XXXX, and if we go back to more than 4 billion years ago, there were nothing but prokaryotic cells…” You do the science, but the idea is to make it a full acknowledgment of the improbable, astonishing fact of all existence– then it could be uplifting rather than annoying…!

    1. I’ve written quite a bit on this theme, beginning with the Pleistocene Explosion some 550kya, and comparing it to a book of 550 pages. Industrial civilization is the period on the last sentence on the last page of the book. It would be easy enough to place European colonization, Native American highlights beginning in Berengia and then south of the ice, the Megafauna extinction, the Out of Africa event (s), and the evolution of the first members of the genus Homo, etc.

  12. I’m replying only to make clear to the world that others agree with you, Jerry. My response to your post is “Ditto!”

    Dear Krista and others of like mind,
    Stop pretending to care about the stolen land. If you really care, instead of just pretending to care, refuse to broadcast from the stolen land, or convince your employer to give the land back, buy it, or lease it from the original owners. In lieu of one of these, your virtue signaling rings hollow and disingenuous.

  13. I already commented above, but one more thing….

    People who signal virtue by announcing their regrets to the exploited are worse than those who say nothing. These virtue signalers gain social status in making these announcements. So, not only are they benefiting by occupying stolen land, they are benefiting yet again from the social status gained by virtue signaling. They are being doubly exploitative of the people they claim to care about.

    1. reminiscent of religious zealots who claim to help the poor, e.g. Agnes Bojaxhiu, the very worldly person known by her more fanciful name Mother Teresa.

    1. From the linked article,
      “What many Indigenous persons want from a land acknowledgement is a clear statement that that the land needs to be restored to the Indigenous nation or nations that previously had sovereignty over the land.”

      Are you really OK with this, Mark, as a principle for a “good one”? Never mind that the concept of pre-Contact sovereignty is subject to self-serving retrospective motivated reasoning, informed by oral traditional knowledge transmitted from the spirit world which cannot be cross-examined by racial “others” (us). Even if we accepted that tribes once had Westphalian sovereignty—they didn’t—are you really willing to give the land back that your house sits on? Or is it only if other people’s land is coveted?

      You should know that the process of Indigenous land claims steadily perking along in Canada, unrelated to performative land acknowledgements, now carries the expectation that transfers of money from the Canadian state to these larger “nations” will rise, not fall. (At one time it was argued that land return would pay for itself in less welfare and criminal justice demand.) Sadly, the Natives themselves argue that larger entities would be no more productive or less socially dysfunctional than they are now, but would be more complex and costly to administer—more lawyers and social workers and consultants and more money for the Chiefs and their cronies. The idea that land return would “help displaced tribes” is a will o’the-wisp. Rather it would make ordinary native people more dependent.

  14. I am reminded of Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Sapiens where he points out that the Peugeot Car Company is a fiction in one sense. I can’t help thinking the concept of ownership is a fiction too. Useful, yes. But a fiction nevertheless.

  15. Greg Z. beat me to it, but the honest land acknowledgment would read:
    “The On Being Project is located on Dakota Land…and we have no intention of giving it back, nor any plans for financially compensating the displaced. We just want to wallow in white guilt, so we can feel like good people without having to really do anything!”

  16. The Australian band Midnight Oil said this in 1987 to do with Australian aborigine lands. Its a full on frontal assault with a BIG sound, not so much of the limp wrist-ed efforts of the subject of this post.
    A little quote from Rob Hirst (Midnight Oil) ” They interpret it as alluding to the callousness of the dominant class”

    The time has come
    To say fair’s fair
    To pay the rent
    To pay our share
    The time has come
    A fact’s a fact
    It belongs to them
    Let’s give it back
    How can we dance
    When our earth is turning?
    How do we sleep
    While our beds are burning?

    perhaps Tippert feel a little uncomfortable in her burning bed oh so guilty but civilly so?

    1. So since they wrote that nonsensical song and commentary back in 1987 and played it really loud, no doubt, how much of their ill-gotten wealth has Midnight Oil given back? Their imperative “Let’s” is first person, not second person, after all.

      1. It shows how different the approach is to the issue at hand. Peter Garrett the lead vocalist became a Member of Parliament
        and as to how much of his wealth he gave to the cause I don’t know but if you read his bio above he did make a lot more noise. Was it ill-gotten? I think they toured Australia clubs and venues for many years working at it. As to non nonsensical, that’s a matter of rock and roll and who cares what YOU think of it. It was something they thought needed saying.

        1. But what even is “the cause”? I’m just interested to know if Garrett owns a house on land in Australia and if so, why hasn’t he given it back to the Aboriginals? Like his song says. Rock-band activists are a dime a dozen. They trade on being anti-mainstream. Nobody takes them seriously.

          People in Canada have actually given land back, you know. Occasionally an elderly rural widow does will her little house on an acre or two of land to a nearby Native band. The land is still sovereign Canadian territory of course, just as is the band’s Reserve land, but the band does get exclusive use of it. (Technically the Reserve is Crown land reserved for the use of status Indians under the Indian Act—Natives don’t actually own the land unless they make special application—so the donation of the land is a gift to the Canadian Crown. This would have tax advantages to the estate, especially if there was a large income tax liability for capital gains on death but no cash to pay it with. If the land isn’t worth much anyway, the biological heirs, if any, may be just as glad to be rid of it. The municipality will be unhappy because they lose the property tax payments when it is conveyed to the Crown. But the thought is still noble.)

  17. To own something, don’t you have to give something to acquire it? By the way I’m still waiting for reparations from saxon germany and normandy for my land.

    1. Can you prove that you were alive and a land owner in what is now England prior to the Saxon and Norman conquests?

      That may seem a little facetious, but there is a serious point: the people from whom the Europeans stole land in North America are all dead. We can’t repay them. The Europeans who did the stealing are all dead too. Their descendants are not responsible for their crimes.

  18. Straight talk from Frederick Law Olmsted: “We saw the land lying idle; we took it. This to other nations is all that we can say. Which one of them can cast the first stone?”

  19. NPR Sunday mornings has been a wasteland for as long as I can remember. Fresh Air ceased to be interesting years ago. On Fridays they used to have This Day in History, Left Right and Center, and Science Friday. Only Science Friday is still around, and isn’t half as good as it used to be. Radio Lab and On the Media also used to be really good, but not any more. All Things Considered and the other news shows are all now completely consumed by identity politics.

    For several decades NPR seemed to cater mostly to Boomers. They seem to have realized their mistake, and are now overcompensating with gobs of Millennial-centric stuff, snubbing Gen-Xers in the process. This influx of Ghetto/Hip-Hop only makes NPR all the more tedious.

    Anymore, I only listen to NPR when I’m driving. It’s often a relief to turn the radio off.

  20. For some reason, anything that becomes a fad in the US groves of academe is mimicked elsewhere as the last word in what is hip, trendy, and modern. The outcome of mimicking current US fads in Canada is easy to predict. In the Iqaluit campus of Nunavut Arctic College, there will be land acknowledgements of the Wooly Mammoths, to whom the frozen tundra once belonged; there will be a Chief Equity Officer, beating the bushes (or rather the ice) for Black (or at least Afro-Canadian) faculty candidates; and of course, mushers and dogs will have to file Diversity Statements in order to participate in the dog sled race from Arctic Bay to Igloolik.

  21. “Ergo, I have to listen to Tippett . . .”

    Change the station away from NPR. Problem solved.

        1. My wife has XM in her car. The channel listing seems like a wasteland, but maybe I’m not seeing everything. Are there any channels that you’d recommend?

  22. There is also the question of to whom one should give back these lands. Many of the groups from which they were wrenched do not exist at all any more. Some consist of a few dying remnants. Some of course are represented by significant contemporary communities. These, however, are for the most part no longer anything like the societies from which the lands were taken (which of and by itself is no argument for or against repatriation). And giving the land back would do little to nothing toward resurrecting those societies. This is shown, among other things, by the fact that the situation for Native Americans who do have their lands in whatever form, i.e. as so-called reservations, is for the most part hardly a model worth striving for. I say all this with a heavy heart, as I do in fact favour land and monetary reparations. I just am not overly optimistic that it would really significantly improve the situation for these disenfranchised poeples.

  23. Even if I could figure out which of the native groups that inhabited my area should receive my home my imperialist reactionary cats would never agree to part with it.

  24. I like land acknowledgements I hear on the radio or at meetings. Our local Rotary does it and it has helped us to remember to reach out to local tribes to learn more about what they are doing. We are starting to grow some partnerships that result improved opportunities for our children.

    The skeptics of land acknowledgement might want to spend a little time understanding what many tribes think about land acknowledgement and how it fits in with long term collaborative efforts between tribes and the communities that now inhabit their original lands. I live in Washington State and land acknowledgements are simply a starting point for continued work the state and tribes are doing to improve the lives of their citizens, comply with treaties, and understand each other better. It is a useful way to pause and think about what it means to live in a place once settled long ago by people you have had little if no connection to.

    So take a moment to consider what it might mean to the first people who made their lives on the land and waters of your communities. It is both as easy as knocking on a door and waiting for someone to answer and very uncomfortable as you wait and think about why the home that door is attached to is so very small when at one time it opened into an abundant landscape. Another thing to consider. In many areas of the US, tribes are now a significant employer. In Washington State tribes are in the top five employers in rural areas. City and County leaders are finding it is important to acknowledge tribal land origins when they work with local tribes on shared economic development projects. Land acknowledgement can help remind a city and county of local tribes and take the next step of inviting them into conversation. Only the future is at stake.

    1. “Our local Rotary does it [ land acknowledgements ] and it has helped us to remember to reach out to local tribes to learn more about what they are doing.”

      What is the language of the “land acknowledgement”, and what was preventing contact with the “local tribes” (which I assume are equal citizens under law)?

      In other words, is there no better way to achieve the objective of interest? Perhaps elect one of these citizens to the Rotary (which I have heard of but really have no idea the nature of a Rotary)?

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