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Native Land Acknowledgments Are Not the Same As Land

The growing practice of acknowledging Indigenous land ancestry is a positive change, but tribal stewardship must be the end goal.

A group of Tongva people originally from the L.A. Basin and Southern part of the Santa Monica Mountains are shown performing ceremonial dances and telling stories. 

A group of Tongva people originally from the L.A. Basin and Southern part of the Santa Monica Mountains are shown performing ceremonial dances and telling stories. 

Photographer: Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It is almost certain that, if you are living in the U.S. (or in nearly any country with a history of colonization), you are living on land that settlers took by force from Indigenous people. You may not have taken it yourself, you may have paid for it, but you are still receiving stolen property. We wish to acknowledge the land of all the Indigenous peoples that has been taken from them/us, by theft, by forced treaty or sale, or by any other means.      

Such recognitions have become known as land acknowledgments, and professors, administrators, nonprofit leaders and government workers have begun to invoke them frequently. At the University of California, Riverside, where Dr. Cleaves is an associate professor of teaching and where Dr. Sepulveda earned his PhD, the administration now encourages presenters at public events to acknowledge that they and the audience are gathered on Cahuilla, Tongva, Luiseño, and Serrano land. Yet we have experienced this increase in the acknowledgment of traditional territories all while our own tribal nation remains landless and formally unrecognized by the U.S. We offer our commentary from that positionality: as proponents of and participants in land acknowledgements, as well as witnesses to their shortcomings.