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Building a Culture of Acknowledgement at UMSL

The Anti-Racist Educators group began in the Summer of 2020 to provide a space for faculty to unpack the issues involved in the case of the murder of George Floyd, as well as the larger racial injustices and civil unrest that take place across the nation.  We started as a smaller group that originated in the Resilient Course Design program, a faculty development program offered through the CTL.

The group offers meaningful interactions in synchronous discussions, which allow us to “test out” ideas in a safe space with engaged and supportive colleagues.  That way, we strive to meet people where they are since we all have different backgrounds, motivations, and interests. We pursue lifelong learning and seek common ground by sharing sources and experiences from our diverse academic disciplines.  Ultimately, we aim to brainstorm antiracist pedagogical strategies and think about how to apply this knowledge to our courses and activities.

The group started as a personal learning space for faculty, but over time we have regarded anti-racism as a part of fostering a culture of acknowledgment in our community.

What is a culture of acknowledgment?

When an organization adopts a culture of acknowledgment, it focuses on shared values, promotes harmony, encourages respect for all members' inherent dignity and value, and acknowledges their current and historic interdependencies.

What is a land acknowledgement?

A land acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of the land and the enduring relationship between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. (information from Northwestern University)

They are typically offered at the beginning of public events or meetings, sometimes presented by local Indigenous People but more commonly by event organizers. (information from the Buder Center)

Why create a land acknowledgement? 

Land acknowledgments mean different things to different people; some of the purposes that have been identified include:

    • Challenge thinking and prompt introspection, learning, and action
    • Promote positive feelings and spiritual connections
    • Build affinity and alliances
    • Acknowledge the erasure and oppression of Indigenous People

To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on and a way of honoring the Indigenous People who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought you to reside on the land and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgments do not exist in the past or historical context: colonialism is an ongoing process, and we must build mindfulness of our present participation. It is also worth noting that acknowledging the land is Indigenous protocol. ( information from Northwestern University)

  • Land acknowledgments grew out of the traditions of many American Indian tribes.  They have become more popular recently as countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia has embarked on formal reconciliation efforts. As this trend gained popularity in the U.S., many organizations jumped on the bandwagon, often simply reading or publishing statements created by others.  A land acknowledgment should be developed out of genuine respect, based on growing knowledge of the people and cultures it seeks to acknowledge.  It is an early part of growing engagement, not a politically-correct “checkbox” gesture to promote an organization’s tolerance bona fides.
  • When creating a land acknowledgment, it is important to remember why you are doing it. What do you hope the audience will learn? How do you hope the audience will reflect? (from the Buder Center)
  • It is also important to research the tribes in your area. Whose ancestral land are you conducting this event or meeting on? Who was forcibly removed, and when? Who still lives in this area? At events in St Louis, we acknowledge the Osage Nation, Missouria, and Illini Confederacy. In the samples below, we say “Native people,” but you should fill in the tribes of your region. 
  • Finally, framing your acknowledgment in the present tense reminds the audience that Native people are still here. Indigenous people didn’t just live here in the past–over 80,000 American Indians live in Missouri today. (from the Buder Center)
  • Land acknowledgments are meant to recognize how we have inadvertently benefited from the history of colonization, removal, and genocide of Indigenous people. Land acknowledgments are a starting point. They should not be the only way you recognize or support Indigenous communities and histories. (from the Buder Center)
  • Some organizations have expanded on the concept of land acknowledgment also to acknowledge the ongoing inequities of other aspects of settler colonialism, especially slavery and the devaluation of immigrants. These are sometimes called “land and labor acknowledgments” or “history acknowledgments.”

Learn more about...

Native People, Groups, and Organizations, a PDF compiling many resources by Eric Pinto.  Access the PDF here.