How to Do & Not Do Land Acknowledgements:
Executive Service Corps CEO Rachelle Jervis interviews Jennifer Kasdin
and the Executive Service Corps' Land Acknowledgement as an Example
Published February 2021
Jennifer Kadin: A little bit about me. I grew up on the Cattaraugus Seneca reservation near Buffalo, NY. I spent a lot of time visiting my Dad’s side of the family on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation near Montreal in Canada. I graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY where I met my husband, who is from Lake Forest. I currently live in Lake Bluff (right next to Lake Forest) with my husband and 3 kids. My whole family still lives on those reservations.
Rachelle Jervis: As you know, I am CEO of a charity called the Executive Service Corps which provides consulting and coaching to nonprofit organizations. We cover a lot of topics in our articles. One of the issues that is very important to me is the issue of inclusion and using the public sector to further inclusion because the stakeholder reach is so great and many of those who utilize services of nonprofits are those most in need of support.
Recently I have heard hosts and trainers take a moment to acknowledge that they were recording on land that had been stolen. That made me think, “I have this best friend Jen who is really smart, always gives great advice. Maybe she has an opinion. Obviously, you don’t speak for all who are Seneca or Mohawk.
Jennifer Kasdin: True. I can only provide my personal opinion based on my own experience.
Rachelle Jervis: …But you do give really good advice so I would just like to hear your opinion.
Jennifer Kasdin: I feel like land acknowledgements at public events are a modern occurrence that has become popular in the last couple of years. Indigenous people have always acknowledged one another’s lands at gatherings, ceremonies, pow wows etc. Recently, I have heard about more public events having them. About a year ago I was invited to a land acknowledgement event at the Art Institute of Chicago. They worked closely with the American Indian Center of Chicago to ensure that the event, surrounding programming and gallery installations were centered from a Native American perspective. It’s great that they sought out guidance. I hope more organizations follow their lead.
Rachelle Jervis: Do you think that having land acknowledgements at public events is a positive thing?
Jennifer Kasdin: Yes, I think it’s positive. It’s wonderful that people want to pay tribute to the original inhabitants of the land. I’ve met several people in my life who didn’t realize that there are still Native American people around. For some reason they thought that the only people left had distant heritage and full blood Natives were all extinct. These individuals were always from areas in the US with no reservations nearby. So, I think land acknowledgements have an opportunity to bring awareness to those who aren’t properly educated on Indigenous history, their strong connection to the land or current community issues. But it is important the acknowledgement is historically accurate. They shouldn’t just say, “we’re on land that used to belong to…”
Rachelle Jervis: You don’t want to imply that the land was fairly purchased from a prior owner.
Jennifer Kadin: Correct. The people that called that land home, were probably forcefully removed from it. I think it is important to phrase it in an honest way that makes it clear that the descendants of the people who called that land their home still exist. Maybe address where they were forced to relocate and if they have new territory. Make it clear that they are still a community and they are still around. Mention any Treaties that were created in related to the relocation. A lot of people think of Native Americans in the past tense and only in relation to history. The image they have in their heads of us has us wearing traditional outfits with feathers and long hair or braids. They don’t see us in contemporary clothes participating in current events or working in modern professions. Off the reservations we tend to be invisible.
Rachelle Jervis: As a child in Indiana, we had neighbors who were Native, and we spent a year in school studying the history of the Native peoples of Indiana. It is a surprise to me that their knowledge of history won’t include the history of all of the people of the place where you are.
Jennifer Kasdin: New York State education was the same way. We had a whole year of American History and spent a while learning about the tribes that were and currently are in New York. We studied the Iroquois Confederacy and the tribes that were members - Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca and later the Tuscarora.
Rachelle Jervis: Do you have advice for people organizing a public event who want to have a land acknowledgement? People will have events all over and so it will be on the lands of different nations so there can’t just be one thing everyone says.
Jennifer Kasdin: If you are in an urban area, reach out to a local Native cultural center for guidance. If you don’t have access to one, then I would do research to find out which tribes called the land their home and reach out to them. They were probably relocated, but if they have a reservation or community, reach out to them to get guidance on what to say. Find out what they called the land using their own language. Learn the proper pronunciation of the words. Find out what they call themselves. For instance, the Ojibwe call themselves Anishinaabe and further west the Sioux refer to themselves as the Lakota or Dakota. Find out what they call themselves and use their real names not the names the colonists gave them. That is more respectful. Also learn what they called the land, their prior home, in their own language.
Rachelle Jervis: Right. It seems like if you are going to acknowledge something at an event you should do it properly.
Jennifer Kasdin: Yes, hopefully you can educate people who might not know these things. Use it to not just show respect but to also increase awareness of Indigenous presence and contemporary land rights. Acknowledgement was and still is a common practice in Indigenous spaces but a new practice for non-Natives. I hope it becomes a more common practice. There are online resources as well to provide guidance.
Rachelle Jervis: Are there ever any events or times when you think it would not be appropriate to have a land acknowledgement?
Jennifer Kasdin: I don’t think it would be appropriate if it was done by an organization or group that doesn’t support or is in disputes with Indigenous people. We wouldn’t want a land acknowledgement from a group that was celebrating Indigenous removal or from a corporation that was degrading sacred land. I also wouldn’t want it to be a token gesture either but a meaningful practice.
Rachelle Jervis: Is there anything else I should ask?
Jennifer Kasdin: I think that’s it.
Executive Service Corps' Land Acknowledgement Statement
The Executive Service Corps’ is located on the homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Bodéwadmi (Potawatomi), Daawaa (Odawa), and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Nations. Present day Chicago has one of the largest urban native American communities. The Executive Service Corps would like to acknowledge the native peoples whose land or “ki; ke” in Bodéwadmi we are situated on and honor their ongoing contributions to the heritage and culture of Chicago.
The Executive Service Corps would like to thank Jennifer Kasdin (Cattaraugus Seneca) for her input on the creation of our land acknowledgement statement.
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