Recently, the University of Arizona College of Nursing adopted the practice of acknowledging the traditional homelands of the Tohono O’odham Nation and lands of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in the form of a Land Acknowledgement to open public meetings and events. Subsequently, members of the UArizona Nursing community have asked the thoughtful questions, “What is the purpose of a Land Acknowledgement?” and “Why is it important?” We are very appreciative to those who have asked these questions because understanding the significance in normalizing public recognition of Indigenous Peoples is essential to awareness, reciprocity, and building equitable and collaborative relationships with the communities we serve.
“Acknowledging traditional Indigenous lands should be a meaningful practice with appreciation and gratitude to the original inhabitants, their love for the land and sacrifices made to protect and sustain the land. Beyond words and explanation, we hope to spark curiosity, inspire greater interest to learn about local tribes and communities, not only here in Arizona but, as your work takes you to the various Indigenous lands across the globe."
Among Indigenous people, acknowledgment of the land is a venerable traditional practice. The land where we work and live is comprised of rich traditions, cultures and history. It is important to understand the long-standing history that brought us to reside on the land, and to seek understanding of our place within that history. Land acknowledgements remind us of the sacred and interdependent relationship between people, animals, land, natural elements and the universal environment. Land acknowledgments bring awareness to the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their beloved homelands and the impact historical events have had on the ongoing disparities that continue to exist throughout Native communities today. A formal Land Acknowledgment is an honest, respectful and intentional action to bring forgotten histories into present consciousness and is a simple yet incredibly powerful gesture of acknowledging and respecting Indigenous people and the spirit of the land.
Land Acknowledgments express recognition, honor, gratitude, and appreciation for the traditional homelands of tribal nations and communities. Listeners are encouraged to seek understanding of the history of the specific tribal nations acknowledged and to think about what it means to occupy space on Indigenous lands. Open acknowledgment of traditional lands also provides a valuable learning opportunity for those who may have never heard the names of the tribal nations and communities that have and continue to reside on the land they are on. The Land Acknowledgment serves as verbal memoriam to Indigenous peoples by recognizing where they came from and affirming who they are today.
Acknowledging traditional Indigenous lands should be a meaningful practice with appreciation and gratitude to the original inhabitants, their love for the land and sacrifices made to protect and sustain the land. Beyond words and explanation, we hope to spark curiosity, inspire greater interest to learn about local tribes and communities, not only here in Arizona but, as your work takes you to the various Indigenous lands across the globe. Land acknowledgements represent advocacy and convey willingness to care for the community in which we reside. Exploring the culture, stories and learning about local tribal Nations, and what their civilization was like before colonialism deepens our understanding of the complex history of Indigenous people.
Another, seemingly simple, action of great significance is to normalize and encourage discussions about Indigenous cultures and issues, rather than avoiding the topic. Conversations and discussion about Native issues raise awareness and assist us in understanding how we can all become better at minimizing unintended cross-cultural misunderstandings. An example of a few points of discussion might include discussions on the following facts; approximately 90,000 American Indian families are under-housed or homeless and only 13% of American Indians have a college degree. Many people aren’t aware of these alarming statistics and other profound disparities, which is why opportunities to exchange and promote cross-cultural awareness is a crucial goal. As patient and community advocates, it’s critical for us to lead these sometimes uncomfortable and challenging conversations and recognize them as opportunities to collaborate on efforts that will put a stop to these long-standing disparities.
Repetition and practice foster comfort. The act and practice of regularly speaking, writing and offering a land acknowledgement is a first step towards normalizing this practice. As we acknowledge land, it allows us to enhance our awareness of not only our geographical environment but, also the past, present and future as well as the extensive relationships we have with the communities we serve. Dr. Nadine Caron, the first Canadian female surgeon of First Nations descent, once said, “To learn to understand our present, to be part of what our future holds, one must understand and respect our past.” Land acknowledgment statements validate, honor and infuse an awareness of the constant Indigenous presence that we have always been surrounded by. Land acknowledges must become a comfortable, natural and regular aspect of our day to day professional routine as nurses, educators, scientists. When delivered with intention, respect, and meaning, the Land Acknowledgement is an invitation to learn and grow together. Ahe’hee.