By Trisha Moquino
“Acknowledgement is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and as a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous peoples’ history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth” (https://usdac.us/nativeland/).
The first time I heard someone do a land acknowledgement in public was while I was attending an American Indian and Science Engineering Society (AISES) conference at Cal State Long Beach in the summer of 1990. I had no awareness of there being tribes in California, and for the first time, I saw a woman from a tribe that originally inhabited the lands of Long Beach, the Chumash tribe. Subsequently, I often heard land acknowledgements given by my fellow students as part of the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) and saw the elders do it at SAIO’s annual powwow. There was, and continues to be, respect given to the original inhabitants of the Bay Area, the Ohlone people.
Land acknowledgements, when they happen, are done in public spaces and/or at public events and are done because it acknowledges the original inhabitants of the land. Those original inhabitants created a respectful relationship with the land and took their responsibility of stewarding the land to heart. Doing a land acknowledgement reminds us all of the tribes that have been intentionally erased through the genocide committed by the United States government and the displacement of Indigenous people.
Land acknowledgements force us to ask what happened to the original inhabitants? Where are they now? It is an opportunity for further learning. Most importantly, land acknowledgements illustrate that colonization IS STILL HAPPENING and that most students in any given classroom on any given day know nothing about the lands they are occupying and who originally inhabited them. We can change that as educators by doing land acknowledgements with our students in the classroom weekly/monthly or more often.
Land acknowledgements need to happen because only then will we begin to provide a more truthful and just learning about Indigenous people of this land; our languages, our histories, our existence, our children. Indigenous people, according to the the ReclaimingNativeTruth.org project found that the number one problem Indigenous people of today face is INVISIBILITY and ERASURE which compounds many of the problems our people face which includes many people culturally appropriating from us, minimizing us, tokenizing us, and devaluing our humanity. So then when we share issues facing our people, they are not considered important and or pressing issues (i.e. our Sovereignty, sacred sites, language revitalization, healthcare, mascots, the education of our children, the Indian Child Welfare Act, our traditional governance systems, and beyond).
Land acknowledgements are a crucial step toward the United States practicing truth and reconciliation. The power and potential of doing land acknowledgements in our classrooms and other public spaces every day is a gateway to providing a more truthful and honest education to all of our children.
For more info on why or how to do a land acknowledgement, please visit, https://usdac.us/nativeland/ or https://www.teenvogue.com/story/indigenous-land-acknowledgement-explained. You can also see the following Land Acknowledgement written by Maria Archuleta which was recently shared at an Embracing Equity workshop in Albuquerque, NM.
A Land Acknowledgement
By Maria Archulata
I would like to acknowledge that this Embracing Equity event is taking place on occupied indigenous land, the closest Pueblos/Tribes being Sandia, Isleta, and Laguna. It’s important that we acknowledge the history and ongoing colonization of where we are sitting right now in New Mexico and in our country. It’s also important to acknowledge our own place in the story of colonization.
I have one of those Spanish surnames that has been here in New Mexico from the beginnings of the Spanish colonization. I grew up in Espanola, right next to Ohkay Owingeh and Santa Clara Pueblos. Like many Hispanos, I loved going to feast days and visiting Bandelier and Puye, but failed to see the ceremonies and cliff dwellings as part of my own history or feel like I had any part of the destruction and continued marginalization of Native peoples.
I admired the conquistadores at the Santa Fe fiestas with little thought that this one-sided celebration was an outrageous display of domination. It never occurred to me that Ohkay Owingeh tribe/pueblo was ever called anything but San Juan Pueblo or that the names of the mountains, rivers and the land might have been called something else. (San Juan Pueblo changed it’s name to its original Tewa name of Ohkay Owingeh which mean “the place of the Strong People” in the early 2000’s.)
I was, however, angry at the arrival of General Kearney, angry about the land grants taken away by the Americans. I mourned the losses of the Spanish conquerors. While I understood that things were much much worse for the people who were already here, the Pueblo People, the suffering of my own cultural group came first.
I don’t pretend to know the answers in undoing the ugly legacy of colonization, but at the very least, I can be accountable and deepen my understanding of my individual and our collective responsibility in fighting for change.
I have been lucky that as the communications director at New Mexico Law and Poverty Center ( NMLPC), I have the opportunity to work for change. Along with Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), we sued the state (Yazzie vs. New Mexico Public Education Department) for not providing our public school students with the education they need--and are legally entitled to-- to learn and thrive. In addition to basic necessities not being met, like enough textbooks and teachers, at the heart of this is the need for a multicultural education framework. Research tells us that children learn better when their education is culturally and linguistically relevant.
We encountered great resistance to this idea. In the recent legislation session, legislators called “multicultural” a trigger word. Though it is disappointing that our leaders would have these attitudes, it provides an opportunity to reevaluate our own long held attitudes and beliefs, understand them as racist, and to think about how we can change those attitudes. This is much easier to do in dialogue with others, and I’m excited to be able to to that today here with all of you.
Trisha Moquino is a Co-Founder and Educational Director of Keres-Speaking at the Keres Children’s Learning Center, a Montessori School in Cochiti Pueblo. Moquino envisions an education that supports Keres language and cultural learning as well as academic development. Moquino has been working for the last 2 years with her KCLC colleagues and Montessori Partners to launch the Indigenous Montessori Institute. Moquino is also a founding board member of Montessori for Social Justice and an Embracing Equity facilitator.