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Acknowledging the Land

by Maria Girouard, Executive Director

Wherever we go, Wabanaki REACH likes to make a point to acknowledge the land on which we gather, and the spirits of those who walked it before us.  Recognizing one’s place on the landscape has been a Native practice and tradition for countless generations. Recently, a newfound interest and enthusiasm has emerged for acknowledging the land and its indigenous connections in a multitude of spaces.  

Land acknowledgements are growing as a regular practice in many institutes and organizations. Last year at a Bowdoin College event, my heart soared to hear how the young man at the podium acknowledged the traditional lands of the Wabanaki people. It caught me off guard and felt so authentic that I fought the urge to clap.

The University of Maine has instituted the practice of reading a scripted land acknowledgement before university events. I usually advise to avoid scripted statements that are mechanically recited over and over; however, the University’s acknowledgement was collaboratively crafted with Wabanaki people and often embellished with heartfelt sentiments as well.  Be careful that your land acknowledgement doesn’t become merely a checkmark on an event program, but rather that it feels meaningful. Collaboratively writing it with indigenous peoples is a good practice, but not a necessity. Increasingly, Wabanaki REACH is asked to either do land acknowledgements or to help someone create a land acknowledgement.  My advice is to do it from the heart and it will be alright.

Ideally, a land acknowledgement that you create would reflect intent, purpose, and commitment to action. This gets people thinking what is it that they can do. It’s a good time for dialogue, self-reflection, guidance, and wondering. This begins a solid foundation from which to grow a meaningful land acknowledgement. Do your work.  What was the original name of the place? What did it mean? Are there issues affecting the land and waterways of Wabanakik, the place we all now call home?  Is there something you can do to steward these ancient relatives? To be in right relation with the land and its original peoples?  At the same time that you are reflecting, don’t lose sight of its purpose — to acknowledge the land and the original stewards. There is no need for an epic history lesson in doing so.

Land acknowledgment is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and memorializing the spirit of the people who were originally here.  It is a step toward correcting stories and practices that have erased Indigenous people’s history and culture.  It is a step toward inviting and honoring the truth — truth-telling.

When we stop to acknowledge the land and our relationship to it in this way, we realize our interrelation with the landscape and with each other.  


To learn more, listen to the Dawnland Signals broadcast of November 19, 2020 on this topic:



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