The Long Road to Land Acknowledgments


ISA Leader Avery K. ’23. (Estelle L. ’24)

With centuries of neglect and trauma still affecting Indigenous peoples and tribes to this day, it can be hard to imagine that one statement delivered at select events or printed in a few publications can be of any help at all. However, while a land acknowledgement is only a first step in supporting Indigenous populations, its presence helps spread awareness on the history of tribes in an area, as well as their current lives there. Mary Lyons of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, a tribe in Minnesota, says, “When we talk about land, land is part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future. We carry our ancestors in us, and they’re around us. As you all do.”

If writing and implementing a land acknowledgement is a fairly simple task compared to putting funds and other resources into projects led by Indigenous communities, then why hasn’t Lakeside yet started to use one at official events? Many efforts have been made, but despite the simplicity of the goal, it’s become an ever-increasingly complicated task to get one implemented.

As many know, Indigenous peoples have had an unjust and complex history in this country, state, and city. The Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 exchanged 54,000 acres of land (including Seattle, Renton, Tukwila, Bellevue, Mercer Island, and much of King County) to the federal government in exchange for the hunting and fishing rights of the tribes, as well as reservations. A decade later, U. S. government officials started petitioning against granting the full rights of the treaty for the Duwamish tribe, so a reservation never came to fruition. The Duwamish tribe, Chinook nation, Snohomish Tribe, Kikiallus Nation, and many others within Washington still have yet to be federally recognized. A land acknowledgment could bring attention to the issues that Indigenous tribes have been petitioning and protesting against for decades.

Land acknowledgments are not a new conversation at Lakeside. 

The Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) has collaborated with many different groups of students to bring the proposal to Lakeside administration. In 2021, Student Government, ISA (then-NASA, led by Aidan L. ’22 and Justin S. ’22), and a U. S. History class led by former history teacher Damaris Altomerianos presented a nine-page proposal for a spoken and written land acknowledgement, hiring of Native faculty and staff, more Native speakers, and a reevaluation of connections with Native communities through GSL. They included specific people and organizations to contact with their needs in a full appendix and testimonies from students who had experienced this lack in representation. However, when brought to Lakeside administrators, the initial proposal was unceremoniously rejected. This, paired with the fact that many of the students and faculty involved with the project were leaving, brought the land acknowledgment effort to a standstill.

Last year, I led a club called Do It for the Duwamish, which focused on depolluting the Duwamish River. The river has great significance to the Duwamish people and affects many communities of color, so the club became involved in the push for a land acknowledgement at Lakeside. Teaming up with Student Government and the ISA, we became part of a group called the Land Acknowledgement Committee (LAC). We started work on smaller projects, such as getting land acknowledgements implemented in smaller events such as assemblies and publications such as Numidian, Tatler, and school communications. (Numidian and Imago have begun including land acknowledgements in their publications!) While working on these with the ISA, I had the opportunity to read and learn more about the proposal written by Aidan L. ’22 and Justin S. ’22, sparking discussions about why the proposal had been turned down.

When brought to Lakeside administrators, the initial proposal was unceremoniously rejected.

The main reason behind the rejection and the generally slow pace of any action taken by administration on the matter is a fear of “performative activism.” Administrators worry that putting up a land acknowledgement, especially on the plaque suggested in the proposal and by other students, without any other prior connection to the tribe would be an empty act. They believe more “concrete” action must be taken before moving forward with it. Administrators also raise concerns about the wording of the land acknowledgement, specifically if it should be dedicated to the Coast Salish tribes, just the Duwamish, or other tribes.

These concerns, however, can easily be addressed. The Duwamish tribe, along with many other tribes, encourage organizations and businesses to write and publish their own land acknowledgements without contacting the tribe first. While performative activism is a valid concern, the flip side is depending on the Indigenous peoples to decide the exact steps organizations like Lakeside should take, which puts pressure on them to do most of the work for others.

Many tribes have easily accessible guides and information available on the topic online that can be used to construct your own meaningful land acknowledgement. “It is up to you how you feel your acknowledgement should be carried out,” the Duwamish tribe website reads. “We receive countless inquiries on acknowledgements daily and request that those looking to make land acknowledgements first try to construct their own before contacting Duwamish Tribal Services for comments or help.”

While performative activism is a valid concern, the flip side is depending on the Indigenous peoples to decide the exact steps organizations like Lakeside should take, which puts pressure on them to do most of the work for others.

Additionally, as for which tribe to dedicate the acknowledgement to, it is generally accepted that Lakeside rests on Duwamish land. As mentioned above, many Lakeside publications have already included dedications to the Duwamish tribe with the support of current Indigenous Lakeside students, such as ISA’s current leader Avery K. ’23. 

Currently, the project is still moving along, but efforts have slowed again. The LAC still exists, but more progress is being made with smaller, student-led groups and projects, rather than on the administrative level. Meetings are still going on (though some to be led with students of the LAC are still up in the air), and many of the new administrators starting this year have promised to take the issue seriously. It’s clear that the true solution is communication between students and faculty, and the prioritization of action now. This land acknowledgment project has been in the works for years, and its conclusion is long overdue.