Abstract

What does land acknowledgment do? Where does it come from? Where is it pointing? Existing literature, especially critiques by Indigenous scholars, unequivocally assert that settler land acknowledgments are problematic in their favoring of rhetoric over action. However, formal written statements may challenge institutions to recognize their complicity in settler colonialism and their institutional responsibilities to tribal sovereignty. Building on these critiques, particularly the writings of Métis cultural producer Chelsea Vowel, this article offers beyond as a framework for how institutional land acknowledgments can or cannot support Indigenous relationality, land pedagogy, and accountability to place and peoples. The authors describe the critical differences between Indigenous protocols of mutual recognition and settler practices of land acknowledgment. These Indigenous/settler differences illuminate an Indigenous perspective on what acknowledgments ought to accomplish. For example, Acjachemen/Tongva scholar Charles Sepulveda forwards the Tongva concept of Kuuyam, or guest, as “a reimagining of human relationships to place outside of the structures of settler colonialism.” What would it mean for a settler speaker of a land acknowledgment to say, “I am a visitor, and I hope to become a proper guest”? Two empirical examples are presented: the University of California, Los Angeles, where an acknowledgment was crafted in 2018; and the University of California, San Diego, where an acknowledgment is under way in 2020. The article concludes with beyond as a potential decolonial framework for land acknowledgment that recognizes Indigenous futures.

We begin by acknowledging the skies, waters, land, animals, and people that influence our writing and provide physical grounding for this work. We write together as a Luiseño/Tongva woman and a settler of color in San Diego, California, the home of the Kumeyaay Nation, whose territory traverses the current US-Mexico border along the Pacific Ocean from Oceanside, California, to San Vicente, Mexico, and extends to the east from the Salton Sea to Laguna Salada, including the places now called Tijuana, Tecate, Mexicali, San Diego, and Escondido.1 The Kumeyaay have a vibrant coastal, desert, valley, and mountain culture that preceded contact with settlers, rich cultural, social, political, and spiritual lifeways that continue to this day. We hope that our words are in right relationship to this land and its people.

Presently, San Diego County is home to eighteen federally recognized American Indian tribes, including the Kumeyaay, Cupeño, Luiseño, and Cahuilla. More federally recognized tribes are located in San Diego County and in California than in any other county and state in the nation.2 This acknowledgment refuses the assumption that California Native nations were erased by settler institutions, an idyllic narrative that continues to be perpetuated by the California public education system. We begin here to offer context and to relate our responsibilities as visitors, as opposed to guests—a distinction we will explain—to history, human and nonhuman beings, and the place from which we write.

The thinking and love that go into this writing stems from our work with and respect for Indigenous communities globally, and especially those in California that provide us with a physical home and sustain and nurture our thinking. We write to/for those inside and outside of the university who are thinking and working through land acknowledgment processes. This piece evolved during a time when we witnessed regular gestures toward acknowledging Indigenous land by individuals and organizations. We felt urged to use this opportunity to reflect on this practice in the United States, to discuss the limits and possibilities of acknowledgment in settler institutions, particularly in universities.

Acknowledging the land that a university occupies or that a gathering takes place on through naming the people who are in Indigenous relationship to that land is a growing social justice practice. Universities are settler institutions in that they occupy Indigenous lands as a result of the growth of property and public space facilitated by modern nation-states.3 We use settler not as a reductive pejorative term but, rather, as one that makes transparent the colonial reality facing Indigenous nations and the complex relationships that Indigenous peoples understand they have with visitors/invaders/guests. Likewise, we use social justice practices not as a pejorative but to make transparent that these are not Indigenous practices and, indeed, our social justice dreams may have different goals—abolition, decolonization, inclusion, and equity are not necessarily commensurable projects.4

Indigenous land acknowledgments are more commonplace in Canadian activist and educational gatherings, where they are often called territorial acknowledgments and gained momentum in universities following the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.5 Statements in Canadian contexts may even explicitly acknowledge treaty relationships, thus going beyond sociohistorical recognition to name Indigenous governmental authorities and legally binding expectations of settlers. There is also a wealth of writings by Indigenous scholars and activist-intellectuals, particularly from Canadian contexts, who critique and comment on these practices. According to Métis cultural producer Chelsea Vowel,

When territorial acknowledgments first began, they were fairly powerful statements of presence, somewhat shocking, perhaps even unwelcome in settler spaces. They provoked discomfort and centered Indigenous priority on these lands. . . . Territorial acknowledgments can become stripped of their disruptive power through repetition. The purpose cannot merely be to inform an ignorant public that Indigenous peoples exist and that Canada has a history of colonialism.6

Critical writings such as Vowel's are marked by care and caution—care for the Indigenous activism that brought about territorial acknowledgments, and caution that such acknowledgments are easily co-opted into settler projects of recolonization. They push us to consider how acknowledgments are not enough; rather, we must nurture “a constellation of relationships that must be entered into beyond territorial acknowledgments.”7 We draw heavily from Vowel's thinking in “Beyond Territorial Acknowledgments” to formulate beyond as a framework for the political strategies and contingencies of enacting land acknowledgments in settler institutions.

Although without the same context of federal accountability (yet), land acknowledgments in the United States are increasingly practiced by individuals, institutions, and organizations as a gesture toward creating equitable and inclusive environments. Those of us who attend academic conferences or activist gatherings have likely come across a land acknowledgment. We may have witnessed how Indigenous participants are frequently called on to perform the labor of researching, crafting, and delivering an acknowledgment, even though a simple Google search would have supplied the basic information necessary for non-Indigenous participants to do the same. Indeed, there are popularly accessible resources for people to learn about and craft their own. Teen Vogue published a 2018 article on the whys and how-tos of Indigenous land acknowledgment.8 A commonly referenced online source is “Know the Land.”9 Yet another useful resource is the website Native Land (Native-Land.ca), which provides interactive maps of Indigenous territories globally. The US Department of Arts and Culture provides a guide, Honor Native Land.

We may be in a moment of hegemony when land acknowledgment in the United States is achieving commonsense status as a good practice that all institutions should observe. As with any hegemonic moment, there are real decolonizing opportunities that this moment affords us—especially for those of us in (but not of) the university and other such settler institutions—even while that moment is expiring and even though that (counter)hegemony already feels compromised. Theoretically, it is also important for critical university studies to interrogate what land acknowledgment does, where it comes from, where it is pointing. The title of this special issue, “Educational Undergrowth,” might refer to the deeper sovereignty of land, the literal undergrowth and underground, the before and beyond of the university built atop it. This Indigenous undergrowth is different from but connected to other metaphorical forms of undergrowth, such as the precarious projects and people who burgeon in the mulch of the composting university, like transplanted plants growing in cracks or air plants surviving off of seemingly nothing. Land moves us from an anthropocentric concept of the university and from figurative undergrowth toward literal plants and nonhuman persons. In this vein, we are also reminded by how land teaches us and therefore how land acknowledgment should forward land pedagogy.

We offer some propositions on how land acknowledgment can or cannot support Indigenous relationality, pedagogy, and accountability to place and people. We start with Indigenous protocols of mutual recognition and then proceed to settler practices of land acknowledgment. We retell the findings from some existing literature on land acknowledgment, especially critiques by Indigenous scholars. Building on our understanding about the differences between Indigenous and settler acknowledgments, we ask, Why/not practice institutional land acknowledgments at all? We conclude with beyond as a potential decolonial framework for land acknowledgment that recognizes Indigenous futures. Along the way, we consider the example of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where Theresa—whose homeland it is—was a part of crafting the land acknowledgment in 2018. We contrast this example with our current institution, the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), which has yet to formally adopt an acknowledgment.

We locate our thinking in the particularities of our Indigenous and colonial contexts, in hopes that you may translate our dilemmas to ways that are useful for navigating your own. We believe any discussion about land acknowledgments must be considered in their places, in particular political moments, and in the wheres and whens they are practiced.

Indigenous versus Settler Acknowledgments

What are the differences between Indigenous and settler recognition practices? We begin with this question to urge readers to think beyond the recitation of statements to consider the broader implications of adopting Indigenous protocols for recognition.

Modern Indigenous Protocols of Mutual Recognition

Indigenous communities globally have sustained practices and protocols of recognizing, acknowledging, announcing, welcoming, and inviting each other as well as non-Indigenous people since time immemorial. Cree scholar Karyn Recollet reminds us, “When we talk about the newness of territorial acknowledgments, these aren't new. Acknowledging relationships to space and place is an ancient Indigenous practice that flows into the future.”10 Such practices or protocols reflect deep relationships to land, guiding Indigenous people on how to carry and present themselves during political, ceremonial, and even social gatherings. These practices are modern and constantly evolving, carried on today from yesterday and into the future.

From where we write, Southern California tribes, specifically the Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Luiseño, practice songs that demonstrate their relationship to the land. Wyandot descendant and historian Clifford Trafzer wrote that the Serrano “created oral associations with the land through social songs that ties the people to their special places [i.e., hunting, gathering, ceremonial places].”11 Tribes respected communal and individually owned lands and observed customs when entering another territory, particularly for trade. Explaining entry into a village, historian Natale A. Zappia drew from the historical record to depict trading protocols between Yokuts:

The Yokuts trader Chaw-lo-win explained the highly ceremonial nature of trade that evolved over time: “when they came up to trade they marched up in a straight line from each side. The Tee’-ah [leader of the visiting party] was in front. When the two parties got close to each other they all took hold of the basket straps at the sides of their hands and swung from side to side singing ‘Ho-hoo’-hoo Yao-nah (sung five times) Hah-hah.’ ”12

This example contextualizes how “trading events provided an opportunity to solidify political and economic partnerships between [Native nations].”13

These protocols continue to be observed by the Kumeyaay today when welcoming visitors into their territory, especially other Indigenous people. Specifically, the Kumeyaay offer four Bird Songs to visitors with an expectation that these songs will be reciprocated by the receiver with the return of song or other acknowledgments.14 At UC San Diego we have witnessed and participated in this protocol at Convocation, the unveiling of the Kumeyaay mural, the opening of a Kumeyaay garden, and the birthday celebration of Hawaiian Queen Lili‘uokalani. At these gatherings, a welcome was given by Kumeyaay (Santa Ysabel) leader and cultural practitioner Stanley Rodriguez, who observed the protocol without explanation, as such diplomacy does not necessitate an explanation. Rather, such practices affirm the relationship of Indigenous peoples to land and each other. They also reflect ongoing acts of sovereignty, governance, and diplomacy by and between Indigenous people outside of settler structures.

Other Indigenous communities also participate in ceremonial practices that affirm their relationship to place, political relationships, and kinship. Ts'msyen scholar Robin R. R. Gray, wrote of the resurgence of feasting among communities of the Pacific Northwest,

To luulgit (Feast) means to pass on and assert matrilineal rights such as names, hereditary titles and other forms of property and systems of property ownership that are tied to our lands. Ts'msyen luulgit to embody in/tangible heritage; to sing, dance, drum and evoke the supernatural; to redistribute collectively accumulated wealth through gift-giving; to feed our guests/witnesses food from our territories and acquired through trade; to recount Malsk and Adaawx (to pass on oral histories); to use Sm'algyax (Ts'msyen language); to affirm and reaffirm socio-political relationships within and beyond our nation.15

Today, Indigenous protocols of acknowledgment have evolved but continue to be sustained in contemporary settings. For example, introducing oneself in one's Native language has become one way to establish ethical intentions and relationality with place and people from tribally specific epistemologies. Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer, and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson shared how greetings in Native language often contain worldviews of mutual recognition and respect: “Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg greet each other by saying the word Aaniin, which is a way of saying hello that is common for Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg people to use. . . . Aaniin then can also means ‘I see your light,’ or ‘I see you essence,’ or ‘I see who you are.’ ”16 In San Diego, Kumeyaay greet each other with the term Howka, meaning “I see the fire that burns within you.”17

Contemporary acknowledgments for Indigenous people not only place themselves in relation to place and other nations but also foreground colonial relations to settlers. Menominee scholar Rowland “Ena¯e¯maehkiw” Keshena Robinson shared,

My own practice of territorial acknowledgment is as much about the recognition of these ancient relations of friendship, kinship and alliance between our Ka¯e¯yes-Mama¯ceqtawak, Anishinaabek, Rotinonshón:ni, Attawandaron, Wyandot, and Michif Nations as much as it is about recognition of the relatively obvious fact (as far as we as Indigenous Peoples and Nations see it) that the land was stolen from us by the expansion of white settler sovereign power.18

Globally, Indigenous communities also practice formal recognitions of other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “Trans-Indigenous recognition” affirms a “nation-to-nation relationship outside of colonial governance and provides an alternative to federal recognition policies and structures.”19 Kanaka Maoli scholar Ke¯haulani Vaughn wrote of a contemporary example of nation-to-nation recognition between the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians—Acjachemen Nation, a California tribal nation indigenous to coastal southern Orange County, and the Ka Lahu¯i Hawai‘i, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty group, in their signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Recognition in 1992. Vaughn pointed out that such nation-to-nation recognitions are important decolonial practices of Indigenous sovereignty. Reading into Vaughn's insights, we highlight three important decolonial truths enacted by trans-Indigenous recognitions:

  • Indigenous futurity. “Trans-Indigenous recognitions provide the process that allows us to honor our ancestors by working with another community in our shared sense of responsibility to ensure our survival not only as an individual group, but also a larger community that wants to ensure life for the next generation.”20

  • Decolonial sovereignty. “These relationships exemplify Indigenous self-governance and inherent responsibilities to land that may never be acknowledged by colonial structures of federal recognition.”21

  • Land Relationships. “Protocols are reminders of the way Indigenous people believe they should and want to live in the world. . . . Diasporic Native Hawaiians need to understand our role and function while outside of the homeland, and this would require recognition of the genealogical caretakers of the land wherever they reside.”22

Such truths live beyond the simplicity of settler land acknowledgments by enacting epistemologies beyond the settler present, beyond colonial sovereignty, and beyond the human.

Other instances where trans-Indigenous recognitions more notably and publicly occur include Ihuma¯tao (Aotearoa), Mauna Kea (Hawai‘i), Oak Flat (Arizona), Shasta River (California), and Standing Rock (North Dakota). In the Mní Wicˇóni/Water Is Life movement, Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) supporters from across the globe traveled to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (North and South Dakota) to protest the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which demonstrates how “Indigenous people continue to form trans-Indigenous recognitions for their collective survivance and in resistance to settler states. These recognitions embody acts of Indigenous refusal and resurgence.”23

Grappling with the settler problem engages not only the worst but also the best relations that can be learned from Indigenous protocols on these matters. For example, as Simpson described,

According to our prophecies, the Nishnaabeg knew a “light-skinned” race was coming to their territory. They expected to have to share their territory. They expected Gdoo-naaganinaa [Nishnaabeg protocols on sharing “Our Dish”—one dish from which all eat] would be taken care of so that their way of life could continue for the generations to come. They expected respect for their government, their sovereignty, and their nation. They expected a relationship of peace, mutual respect, and mutual benefit, and these were the same expectations the Nishnaabeg carried with them into the colonial period. Indeed, these are the expectations we carry with us into meetings with settler governments today.24

Working through the differences between Indigenous protocols and settler land acknowledgments means working through the diverse goals embedded in social justice practices, engaging in “an alternate mode of holding and imagining solidarity” and thus working “together in contingent collaboration.”25 To this we now turn.

Settler Acknowledgments

Land acknowledgments are sometimes described as originating in Indigenous protocols. However, critical writers note that they “are a shadow of this protocol,” that settler “statements of thanks to hosts barely even scratch the surface of such traditional protocols.”26 Activist gatherings for Indigenous organizations can be porous, to include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The language and ideas expressed in acknowledgments sometimes borrow from Indigenous protocols. But there is no easy equivalency between settler statements and Indigenous protocol.

Settler land acknowledgments are not the same as Indigenous protocols that are “people specific” and often require speakers “to identify themselves and their relationship to the local land and community.”27 What kinds of relationships do settler acknowledgments actually name? What impacts do practitioners and advocates for acknowledgments hope these statements will have? What impacts do these practices actually have? A globally emerging and evolving practice, land acknowledgment is not a major field of study, and in fact, only a few studies have examined the implementation of statements in settler universities.

Rima Wilkes and colleagues surveyed university land acknowledgments across British Columbia, Canada, conducting a discourse analysis interrogating the language used in statements. They found acknowledgment practices tended toward different emphases: (a) land/unceded territory and people, (b) treaties and political relationships, (c) multiculturalism and heterogeneity, and (d) people and territory.28 These represent a broad spectrum of political intentions, from explicitly naming Indigenous sovereignty, and thus the limits of settler sovereignty, to assimilating Indigenous lands and peoples into the multicultural (neo)liberal nation-state. In a Canadian context, the use of unceded territory reflects “the unique legal and political situation” where technically no treaty has been signed and therefore the Canadian state ought to have no claim.29 Language of treaties, although attending to political relationships, may reinforce Indigenous peoples’ dependency on settler recognition;30 thus, “university acknowledgment, if primarily referencing treaties and treaty relationships, could be on pace to maintain colonization.”31 Multicultural inclusion into the settler state does little to challenge supremacist sovereignty. The recognition of people and territory can be an anthropological gesture that reinscribes Native peoples as premodern and politically extinct. In this way, Wilkes and colleagues highlight the fluidity in meaning and the divergent political projects implied within the texts of territorial acknowledgments.

A cursory application of Wilkes and colleagues’ discourse analysis on US land acknowledgment practices reveals similar contradictions of desiring decolonization while also encouraging settler tropes about Native peoples. For example, one common rhetorical approach involves honoring, respecting, and thanking Native peoples, their histories, and their stewardship as the traditional/original inhabitants of a territory. Such discourse simultaneously unerases Native histories and reinforces the trope of Native peoples as historical and romantic ecological Indians. The following are a few examples:

  • “A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.”32

  • “Formal statement that pays tribute to the original inhabitants of the land . . . The purpose of these statements is to show respect for indigenous peoples and recognize their enduring relationship to the land. Practicing acknowledgment can also raise awareness about histories that are often suppressed or forgotten.”33

  • “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.”34

The rhetoric of tradition can function as a disciplinary discourse used by colonial governments as a way of “defining Indigeneity and therefore setting the terms of who is entitled to Indigenous people's land.”35

Adding to the contradictory impulses in land acknowledgments, colonization and decolonization also form a discourse that is (less often) included in land acknowledgments:

  • “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 acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation.”36

  • “Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. . . . It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.”37

  • “Acknowledgment is a critical public intervention, a necessary step toward honoring Native communities and enacting the much larger project of decolonization and reconciliation.”38

Statements that address colonization should be understood as presuming a non-Indigenous audience, even if they are developed and used by Indigenous individuals. Thus, they are “fundamentally pedagogical interventions” premised on a theory of change that teaching settler society may lead to decolonization, leading Lila Asher, Joe Curnow, and Amil Davis to state, “It is worth examining what people learn from it and whether it serves any decolonial purpose.”39

Asher, Curnow, and Davis specifically examined how student activists engaged land acknowledgment practices in a case study of the Fossil Free student divestment organization at the University of Toronto. Students in the group developed a territorial acknowledgment practice after listening to Cree environmental activist Clayton Thomas-Mueller speak about acknowledgment as a tool for combating Indigenous erasure. Asher, Curnow, and Davis documented significant political changes among the participants:

As territorial acknowledgments became a normalized practice, group members’ awareness of the Indigenous histories of Toronto increased. The repetition of the acknowledgment that we met on the land of the Nishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Wendat peoples was a constant reminder of the history of the land, and that Toronto was not terra nullius. This learning looked different for different members of the group: Keara, a Nehiyaw (Cree) woman in first year, said the acknowledgments were an inspiration to learn more about the specificity of local Indigenous groups, while for some settler participants, the statements interrupted the invisibility of colonial histories.40

Non-Indigenous members who were initially opposed to Indigenous solidarity work brought in Indigenous content and rethought their position on Indigenous politics. They “moved from rarely talking about colonialism to developing nuanced arguments on either side of the question of solidarity work that consistently engaged with content relevant to Indigenous peoples.”41

Nonetheless, they found that, despite these shifts in awareness, the collective would contain discussions about Indigenous solidarity to the moment of the territorial acknowledgment. Once the acknowledgment was concluded, the group would move on to the business matters of their campaign. Increased awareness did not result in “concrete actions embedded in relationships of solidarity.”42 Asher, Curnow, and Davis concluded, “Though territorial acknowledgments challenged the erasure of Indigenous peoples and were unsettling for settlers, they ultimately fell short of decolonial pedagogy.”43

Why/Not Practice Institutional Land Acknowledgments at All?

Anishinaabe scholar Hayden King shared his regret for writing the territorial acknowledgment for his institution, Ryerson University: “I started to see how the territorial acknowledgment could become very superficial and also how it sort of fetishizes these actual tangible, concrete treaties. . . . For us to write and recite a territorial acknowledgment that sort of obscures that fact, I think we do a disservice to that treaty and to those nations.”44 King said he and Indigenous campus community members felt a lot of pressure to develop a territorial acknowledgment, but they could not have realized how widespread a phenomenon it would become in Ontario, Canada. King explained that a territorial acknowledgment, through repetitive public performance, can come to function as a script or, in its most superficial manifestation, “a phonetic guide for how to recite the nation's names.” The existence of such an announcement can operate as an alibi or excuse, through which “institutions provide themselves permission to be on that territory.”45

Nearly all writers on this topic comment on how land acknowledgments can become platitudes so widespread that they lead “to the rendering of such statements meaningless through repetition.”46 Moreover, they critique how statements can function to make the speaker and their institution appear blameless, to appear to be in solidarity with Indigenous nations, when in fact, the words may not reflect any meaningful relationships with Native communities and obscure institutional complicity with land occupation, resource extraction, and Indigenous dispossession.

A speaker acknowledged that we were on the traditional territory of the Musqueam peoples—and that was it. Yes, there was an acknowledgment, and yes, that is better than no acknowledgment at all. However, the speaker failed to situate themself—by that I mean, they did not locate themself as a guest who is actively working against colonialism. In failing to do so, the speaker revealed their complacency in ongoing settler colonialism.47

Indeed, sometimes acknowledging Native nations is conveniently understood to be the action in and of itself, as if recognition is itself a decolonizing act. It is not. It is a first step.

The question that those of us in institutions with or without formal acknowledgments face is, Why practice them at all? Both Vowel and King suggest that the relative newness—the state of the conversation about Indigenous nations at the university—determines the impact of the statement. They push us to assess whether we are in a place that “has a lot of work to do in terms of acknowledging Indigenous presence (and Indigenous students)” compared to other universities,48 or whether the acknowledgments are such a widespread convention that their impact may be stagnating, in which case universities need to engage the depth of their implications. Below we spell out a few of the whys, why nots, and what nexts of land acknowledgments.

No Acknowledgment (Yet), Start Conversations

Vowel describes how a campaign at McGill University to pressure the university to acknowledge Kanien'kehá:ka land could interrupt an otherwise “incredibly alienating and invisibilizing environment.” Likely for most of us in institutional settings, this has been the situation for most of the university's history, and still is the situation for many Indigenous students. “Where you're in less privileged spaces and maybe the acknowledgement is just evolving for the first time, then it does have the power to compel a conversation.”49

For Acknowledgment, Get in Relation

Ideally, acknowledgments are written in consultation with the Indigenous communities where they are taking place. If not, the next step is to build relationships with the peoples whom you are acknowledging. With deliberate intention and sustained efforts, “establishing a practice of acknowledgement can be part of wider attempts to address settler colonialism and build better relationships with Indigenous peoples.”50

With Acknowledgment, Learn Your Responsibilities

If acknowledgments were an Indigenous protocol, speakers would reflect on their commitments and obligations to the people/place where they are visitors. Therefore, a question worth answering is, “How can you be in good relationship with Indigenous peoples, with non-human beings, with the land and water?”51 King suggests that, rather than a script, each person should write their own territorial acknowledgment, so that the practice requires reflection about personal commitments. “It's one thing to say, ‘Hey, we're on the territory of the Mississaugas or the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee.’ It's another thing to say, ‘We're on the territory of the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee and here's what that compels me to do.’ ”52 Acknowledgments should materialize responsibility to Indigenous people.

Beyond Acknowledgment, Build Institutional Accountability

In contexts where acknowledging Indigenous nations is more established, institutional accountability must follow rhetoric. King returns to this point repeatedly: “I want to see the provost of the university or the president of the academic conference or the premier of Ontario saying, ‘This is the land that we're on and this is what we're going to do to breathe life into our obligations to those communities and those treaties.’ ”53 Speakers must ask what these statements compel them to do differently. Those with greater institutional power have greater obligations. University administrators at Ryerson, for example, have greater obligations than the student members of the Fossil Free student divestment organization at the University of Toronto.

Into the Beyond: Guests, Visitors, and Responsibilities

In this vein of why/not use statements in particular circumstances and how to wrangle with institutional accountability, we now turn inward to ask how to move beyond land acknowledgments. Along the way, we offer examples from our institutions, UCLA and UC San Diego. Both are within the context of Southern California but with very different political and geographic realities. UCLA is located in a dense urban area, and the Tongva are not federally recognized, whereas UC San Diego is located in a county with the highest number of federally recognized tribes. The Tongva recently completed an important repatriation of ancestors in partnership with San Manuel and Santa Ynez Bands of Mission Indians and with UCLA.54 The Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, in contrast, recently won a decades-long court battle for ancestors’ remains against UC San Diego. We bring to light how circumstances and place (and time) are critical in how we think and enact land acknowledgments.

We need to go beyond land acknowledgment—often these are the literal words used by many critical writers. How can we push the practice of university land acknowledgments into the beyond of Indigenous futurity, decolonial sovereignty, and land relationships that are already integral to Indigenous protocols? We draw from Chelsea Vowel's formulation, “Into the Beyond” (this is a Star Trek reference), particularly her discussion about hosts, guests, and invaders:

Often, territorial acknowledgments characterize non-Indigenous peoples as “guests.” Are guests only those people who are invited? Or they anyone who finds themselves within the physical territory of their hosts? Why guests and not invaders? To what extent was permission actually sought to be in these territories, and conduct the affairs that Indigenous nations are thanked for “hosting”? What if an Indigenous person stood up and revoked that assumed permission?55

In other words, there are obligations expected of guests that settlers are rarely aware of. Vowel proposes a series of reflections that a speaker should be engaging in:

Great, that's awesome you know you're on (for example) Treaty 6 territory. . . . Perhaps you understand the tension of your presence as illegitimate, but don't know how to deal with it beyond naming it. Maybe now it is time to start learning about your obligations as a guest in this territory. What are the Indigenous protocols involved in being a guest, what are your responsibilities? What responsibilities do your hosts have toward you, and are you making space for those responsibilities to be exercised? To what extent are your events benefiting your hosts?

Being a guest requires research and reflection. It means entering a relationship of reciprocity.

Acjachemen/Tongva scholar Charles Sepulveda has forwarded a theoretical framework of Kuuyam, the Tongva word for guest. Referencing Indigenous protocols of acknowledgment, Sepulveda argues that being a guest implies invitation and obligates Indigenous communities to be hosts. “Indian people had well-established protocols of how to treat visitors as Kuuyam. This concept of Kuuyam can continue to be applied today. Settlers of California, and elsewhere, can be guests on the lands they live on. Kuuyam to the local Indigenous peoples, but, more importantly, to the land itself which contains spirit and is willing to provide.”56 Understanding oneself and one's institution as visitors, not guests, makes transparent the question of how to become Kuuyam to the Indigenous land, water, air, nonhuman persons, and peoples. Such a sense of obligation forwards decolonization. “Kuuyam is a reimagining of human relationships to place outside of the structures of settler colonialism. Kuuyam is also a theorization that attempts to imagine a future for California Indians in which we can bring our lands and our sacred waters back to life. It is a thoughtfully a continuation of our culture and traditions that prioritizes sacred human relationships with land and water.”57 We want to push this idea further by suggesting that settlers should view themselves as visitors, not Kuuyam. To visit is “the act of going or coming to see a person or place socially or for some other reason.” To visit can also mean “to inflict someone.” This interesting play on the word visit implies some complicity in colonialism, in harm inflicted, and also refutes claims to permanence and to proprietorship over Indigenous lands. Visitor also gives Indigenous people a choice rather than obligation, which is fitting since settler acknowledgments do not/have yet to actually fulfill the reciprocal obligations of Indigenous protocols. Visitor does not obligate Indigenous peoples while also allowing them choice to be gracious hosts nonetheless. What would it mean for a settler speaker of a land acknowledgment to say, “I am a visitor, and I hope to become a proper guest”?

To be a good guest is to be in good relation to the land—to learn from and to be accountable to the land. We offer beyond as a framework for institutional land acknowledgment practices (that others may want to add to). Beyond ultimately leads in the direction of accountability to land, which from an Indigenous perspective means responsibility to decolonization, to all our relations.

We conclude with the importance of the Black-Indigenous relations in particular, for pushing beyond land acknowledgements in settler institutions.

Beyond Acknowledgments: Indigenous Relationality

Klamath-Modoc scholar Angela Morrill says that land acknowledgments are meaningless unless you are in relationship with the tribes being acknowledged. As the director of Indian education for Portland Unified School District, Morrill has resisted delivering land acknowledgments for the same reasons described by many Indigenous writers. However, she gave her first (and to date only) one, out of a sense of relationality for Portland Council Member Chloe Eudaly. “I agreed to do this one today, for this event, and this woman who I love dearly and respect so much because for a land acknowledgment to mean something, it should reflect current relationships.”58 This is to say, land acknowledgment must lead to “authentic relationships and informed action”—relationships ideally informed by Indigenous conceptions of relationality.59

Shawn Wilson shared that “all forms of interpersonal relationships take on special significance within Indigenous communities.”60 This point is critical in understanding the importance of relationships to Indigenous people. “Identity for Indigenous peoples is grounded in their relationships with the land, with their ancestors who have returned to the land, and with future generations who will come into being on the land. Rather than viewing ourselves as being in relationship with other people or things, we are the relationships that we hold and are part of.”61 Relationships currently existing between universities and tribes are often because of Indigenous individuals (and allies) who understand the significance of these bonds. Moving beyond, we argue that settlers who learn and embody Indigenous understandings of relationality can aid in fostering authentic relationships with Native nations, who see the institution and Native nation as a reflection of the relationship—as opposed to separate entities—with mutual but differentiating goals in relation. Enacted, this means understanding the institution's role in the past, present, and especially future of Indigenous communities, recognizing the institution's current role in the sovereignty and self-determination of Native nations. UCLA, where Theresa worked and attended school for fifteen cumulative years, offers an example of being in relation with Native nations—in this case the Tongva.

UCLA is located within Tovaangar, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Basin. The Tongva are the first people Indigenous to this region, sharing parts of the territory with the Tataviam, Chumash, Serrano, Acjachemen, and Luiseño. Relationships between members of UCLA and Tongva community are long-standing and reflect decades of sustained collaboration and consultation among individuals across the university—although not necessarily the institution as a whole. In early 2000, for example, the American Indian Studies Center (AISC), under the direction of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa scholar Duane Champagne, supported the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians in their federal recognition petition with the Bureau of Indians Affairs Office of Federal Acknowledgment. (The petition was denied). Since 2007, UCLA Fowler Museum and Tongva community members have developed and sustained the Pimu Catalina Island Archaeology Project, which trains students and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers in ethical cultural preservation. In the summer of 2017, the Los Angeles Unified School District, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ Center X, and American Indian Studies Inter-departmental Program (AIS-IDP) partnered with Tongva cultural educators on a two-day teacher training session at Kuruvungna Springs to address fourth-grade history-social science education standards.62

In January 2016, UCLA along with the Departments of Transportation and Parks and Recreation completed a landmark repatriation to the Tongva, Chumash, and Tataviam, with support from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians—notably the largest repatriation in the University of California system and in the state. This collaboration paved way for the development of a UCLA acknowledgment statement, which reflected a genuine desire to further relationships with the local Tongva community. Following, the AISC and AIS-IDP began drafting a statement in collaboration with Tongva community leaders. Led by Tonawanda Seneca scholar Mishuana Goeman (also professor of gender studies, AIS-IDP chair, and recently named special advisor to the chancellor on Native American and Indigenous affairs), the process took two years in its entirety and involved students, staff, faculty, and community. An initial draft was reviewed by the American Indian Studies Faculty Advisory Committee and subsequently presented to Tongva community members in the summer of 2017 for feedback. In 2018, the following final draft, which included Tongva language, was agreed on by the collective:

American Indian Studies (AIS) and American Indian Studies Research Center (AISRC) at UCLA acknowledge the Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (Los Angeles basin, So. Channel Islands) and are grateful to have the opportunity to work for the taraaxatom (indigenous peoples) in this place. As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to Honuukvetam (Ancestors), ‘Ahiihirom (Elders), and ‘Eyoohiinkem (our relatives/ relations) past, present and emerging.

Since its drafting, the statement has been used at gatherings hosted by the AISC and AIS-IDP. Academic and student affairs programs, such as the Department of World Arts and Culture under the School of Arts and Architecture and Center for Community College Partnerships, have formally adopted the statement at the urging of American Indian faculty and students.63 For the past two academic years, the mandatory freshman orientation program, This Is Bruin Life, also featured a more thorough acknowledgment scripted and performed by Sicangu Lakota doctoral student Clementine Bordeaux and Kumeyaay (Barona) alumnus Kenneth Ramos.64 At the time of this article, UCLA is in the midst of celebrating its centennial year and the Chancellors Office released the following public statement: “It is important for UCLA to acknowledge that our campus resides on what was historically the homeland of indigenous peoples who were dispossessed of their land . . . We encourage all UCLA schools, departments, institutes, units and other campus entities to include a similar acknowledgment at any significant public events that you host on campus property.”65 We remain critical of the university's endorsement, noting how it narrates Tongva homelands as a thing of the past and the dispossession of Indigenous people as fait accompli. Neither guest nor visitor in this statement, UCLA avoids recognizing the Tongva as present-day, modern peoples who still carry their responsibilities to the land. Nonetheless, the adoption and use of the institutional land acknowledgment reflect decades of sustained relationships.

Whether in place or in development, institutional land acknowledgments should materialize improved relationships. We now move from UCLA to UC San Diego where Theresa is an assistant professor and Wayne is a professor and the provost of Muir College.

Beyond Education: Land as Pedagogy

Land as pedagogy means learning from, with, and on the land. It means learning from Indigenous knowledge holders, with Indigenous pedagogies, through Indigenous methodologies. For example, Sto:lo scholar Joanne Archibald wrote about storywork as an Indigenous pedagogy where knowledge holders weave stories that holistically teach intellectual, ethical, spiritual, relational, and reciprocal responsibilties.66 Land as pedagogy goes beyond “bringing Indigenous Knowledges into the academy on the terms of the academy itself.”67 Rather, as Hesquiaht scholar chuutsqa Layla Rorick stated, “To learn the language of the land on which one lives means that a different set of ideas, knowledge, and wisdom can be shared and proliferated to influence a change in the future; a different way to organize our ideas and approaches to living on this land.”68 Paraphrasing Yup'ik scholar Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, the land has a culture, and it is an Indigenous culture; when the land speaks, it speaks an Indigenous language.69

In our context of San Diego, the Kumeyaay understand their language to be a gift from the ocean, significant because our university sits on the cliffs where some of their oldest ancestors are buried, above the Pacific Ocean, where some of their oldest villages are sleeping under the waters of the cove. UC San Diego is located within the westernmost part of Kumeyaay territory, in the originally named village Mat Kulaaxuuy (now named La Jolla). Mat Kulaaxuuy means “the land of holes” in the Kumeyaay language, in reference to the numerous sea caves and caverns along the La Jolla shores, and continues to hold deep cultural significance to the Kumeyaay. San Diego County is home to eighteen federally recognized tribes; thirteen of these reservations are Kumeyaay: Campo, Viejas, Barona, San Pasqual, Inaja Cosmit, Capitan Grande, Santa Ysabel, Cuyapaipe, Manzanita, La Posta, Jamul, Mesa Grande, and Sycuan. The county is also shared with Luiseño, Cahuilla, and Cupeño Nations.70

Relations between UC San Diego and the Kumeyaay nation differ significantly from those between UCLA and the Tongva. While this is changing, UC San Diego does not have long-term sustained relationships rooted in collaboration; rather, its tenuous relationships stem from legal contention.71 In 2016, after a final US Supreme Court ruling, the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee won a forty-year-long battle for ancestors’ remains unearthed during renovations of the chancellor's residence in 1976. For some Kumeyaay, today a chasm exists between the university and community; others are constantly looking for ways to move forward without having to “move on” or “get over” the past.

In the absence of an institutional acknowledgment, some Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, students, and faculty have organically practiced their own land acknowledgments over the years. Arguably, these practices have raised awareness, started conversations, and created possibilities. Beginning in 2015, the university has asked Stanley Rodriguez to open each academic year at Convocation. For the past five years, Rodriguez has greeted the thousands of incoming students in language, grounding their educational journey in Kumeyaay understandings about knowledge and education. In June 2019, the first and only public art piece by a Kumeyaay artist was emplaced on campus, after a two-year effort driven by student leaders Alexandra Harbert and Roy Velazquez. The students raised funds, established relationships with different Kumeyaay groups and individuals, navigated bureaucratic pathways, and commissioned artist Johnny Bear Contreras of San Pasqual Band of Diegueño Mission Indians.

Bear designed a three-dimensional aluminum mural, When the World Comes to Life, consisting of two panels. The left panel depicts gender-nonbinary figures holding onto and flowing into each other, almost in dance, representing gender fluidity as collective care and personal growth. The right panel, which informs the title of the art piece, depicts the bird singers of creation interwoven by sea kelp and native plants. The mural faces west, where according to Bear the owls come to roost, and they are knowledge holders for the Kumeyaay. At the unveiling ceremony, Rodriguez opened with a blessing and spoke about the significance of the land Mat Kulaaxuuy; historian Michael Connolly Miskwish of the Kumeyaay Nation (Campo) spoke about the enduring presence of the Kumeyaay; and chancellor Pradeep Khosla gave a land acknowledgment. Johnny Bear and Christy Gomez (also of San Pasqual) presented silver bracelets to Alexandra and Roy, awarding the gifts to inaugurate the Kumeyaay Futures Award for student leaders who build stronger relationships between the university and the Kumeyaay bands.

Significantly, prior to the official unveiling, the mural was welcomed by an intersectional group of Indigenous, Black, Brown, queer, and multiracial students, staff, and faculty—including those representing long-time campus activist organizations. Bear shared sage, song, and story and talked about how the mural was more than an art commission, that it was important to cocreate the piece and the space in a good way. Two Ka¯naka Maoli students gifted song to Bear, while all offered flowers to the art piece. In the months leading up to the mural, student leaders learned on the land at San Pasqual; they worked the earth of Matayuum, an Indigenous garden and gathering place created by the nonprofit Indigenous Regeneration; and they visited Bear's studio at the reservation. Students and staff collaborated with Rez Beats, an Indigenous youth spoken word, performance, and concert event that meets monthly at different reservations, to hold a session at the College Center next to the eventual home of the mural. A few months after the mural was installed, San Diego Kia‘i, a Native Hawaiian community group organizing to protect Mauna Kea from encroachment by a proposed thirty-meter telescope, celebrated Queen Lili‘uokalani's 102nd birthday. In front of the mural, Ka¯naka Maoli and Kumeyaay conducted Indigenous protocols of acknowledgment by exchanging song, performance, and greetings. In collaboration with Indigenous knowledge holders from the Sycuan Education Center (of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation), San Diego Kia‘i arranged a day of workshops in the same space where Rez Beats had performed. Ka¯naka Maoli and non-Indigenous participants talked about their responsibilities as guests, and Kumeyaay participants reciprocated by articulating their responsibilities to the struggle at Mauna Kea.

These many activities surrounding the mural's creation enacted a land pedagogy that was concerned with Indigenous-guest land relationships and responsibilities, Kumeyaay language and worldviews, Kumeyaay bird song and ways of sharing knowledge, and Indigenous knowledge exchange well beyond the academic enterprise. Likewise, in September 2019, students from the Native American Student Alliance and Student Sustainability Coalition, along with members of local Kumeyaay nations, collaborated on the installation of a Kumeyaay Garden, completed with a plaque that includes an acknowledgment and information about Kumeyaay plant ecology.

Continued engagement with local Kumeyaay nations has been the impetus behind drafting and pressuring the university to adopt an official land acknowledgment. While a statement has yet to be officially adopted, significant strides to include Kumeyaay nations on campus appear as verbal, written, and artistic acknowledgments. For example, every official campus tour begins with an acknowledgment (by student guides, who often stumble over the pronunciation). Kumeyaay language is being incorporated into welcome signage in the student union. The following land acknowledgment statement was drafted by Elena Hood (Luiseño - Pauma), who is the director of the UCSD Intertribal Resource Center:

The UC San Diego community holds great respect for the land and the original people of the area where our campus is located. The university was built on the unceded territory of the Kumeyaay Nation. Today, the Kumeyaay people continue to maintain their political sovereignty and cultural traditions as vital members of the San Diego community. We acknowledge their tremendous contributions and our region and thank them for their stewardship.72

This statement is now used by university administrators and community members publicly at formal campus-wide events. It currently serves as a mechanism for fortifying relationships, raising awareness, and arguably creating a less toxic environment in which an Indigenous educational undergrowth continues to take root.

Beyond Words: Accountability to Land

We conclude this writing by moving beyond acknowledgment and into accountability to the land, with a particular acknowledgment of Black-Indigenous relations, not because these are the only relations that matter but because blackness brings into sharp focus the coloniality of relationships. Blackness offers a challenge to land acknowledgment practices in settler institutions that is otherwise easily overlooked. Settler colonialism affects not only Indigenous peoples but in the United States is also intricately bound with the racial capitalism of antiblackness: the transatlantic slave trade, plantation capitalism and its mark on human relationships to land, and the creation of caste-like anti-Black statuses of modern-day racism. Vowel gestures at this in her critique, saying that schools who wish to go beyond “merely doing” an acknowledgment must also address antiblackness. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson states clearly, “I have a responsibility to make space on my land for those communities of struggles, to centre and amplify Black voices and to co-resist.”73 From an Indigenous decolonial perspective, accountability to the land requires peoples to practice freedom.

At UC San Diego, the Black Student Union has adopted a practice of acknowledging Kumeyaay land. At the most recent 2020 Black History Month scholarship ceremony—in front of a thousand people, including the chancellor, campus leadership, and many Black community leaders from San Diego—three of the scholarship recipients gave land acknowledgments prior to their acceptance speeches. All three were members of the Black Student Union. Black practices of land acknowledgment are inherently different from settler practices. They are inflected by the Black radical tradition, that is, by the long freedom struggle beginning from when Indigenous Africans were made captive through “the loss of Indigenous name/land.”74 The voices of Black student leaders resonate with those of Standing Rock Sioux educator, mother, and warrior Alayna Eagle Shield in her acknowledgment of Black healer, grandmother, and warrior Fania Davis: “This time we greet each other as relatives.”75

Indigenous land acknowledgments are not a new practice but one rooted in ontological and epistemological relationships to place and reflect inherently cultural, spiritual and political beliefs and practices. The adoption of institutional land acknowledgment practices by settlers over the last decade inside and outside the United States is complex, and there is cause for concern. For some, land acknowledgments represent a necessary step in creating an inclusive campus environment for Indigenous (and all) students but run the risk of becoming rote gestures. For others, especially Indigenous peoples, land acknowledgments are a decolonial intervention, challenging Indigenous erasure and historical narratives, even operating as mechanism for increasing institutional accountability to Native nations. The informal use of statements, where institutions have not formally adopted statements, comprise an educational undergrowth for Indigenous futures.

What does land acknowledgment do? Where does it come from? Where is it pointing? Beyond reflects decolonial possibilities through Indigenous relationality, land pedagogy, and accountability to place and Native peoples. Land acknowledgments are not the end; they are a beginning and should lead to greater institutional responsibility. Conversations with Native nations on how (or whether) they desire to be acknowledged, greater understanding of cultural and political sovereignty, deeper engagement with tribal governments, and formalized institutional commitments to Native nations are part of the beyond where land acknowledgment points.

As we write, the political climate of university, state, and federal systems is constantly evolving and shifting. Since 2018, when UCLA AIS-IDP and AISC drafted and adopted an institutional land acknowledgment, the University of California campuses at Santa Cruz, Merced, and Davis have adopted institution-wide statements. Meanwhile Indigenous programs and personnel push for adoption of statements at the remaining six University of California campuses. While federal accountability has yet to exist, in early January California Assembly member James Ramos (Serrano) introduced Assembly Bill 1968: Tribal Land Acknowledgment Bill of 2020, which would “authorize the owner or operator of any public school or state or local park, library, or museum in this state to adopt a process by which Native American tribes are properly recognized as traditional stewards of the land on which the school, park, library, or museum is located, as specified.”76 Clearly, the commonplace practice of institutional land acknowledgments is on the horizon, especially in California.

Like Indigenous activist-scholars that inspired this writing and inform our thinking, we too offer care and caution to readers thinking, writing, and adopting land acknowledgments practices. Deep considerations must be taken. We do not, cannot, and will not offer formulaic scripts for approaching land acknowledgment. Readers must move beyond perfunctory and rote gestures that serve as excuses and alibies for settler institutions. Rather, we call on readers to consider Robinson et al.’s query, “What must occur for acts of acknowledgement to transform into action that effect Indigenous sovereignty?”77 For all the ways that our writing about beyond falls short, we invite others into conversation with us (and with one another) to think/write/work through institutional land acknowledgments. These ideas are not complete but represent a germination of our thoughts, hopes, and deepest prayers as we move beyond.

Notes

3.

The Morrill Act that granted over 17 million acres of Indigenous land to US states to endow their universities is an eminent example, but not the only mechanism, of how private and public universities have come to acquire, sell, develop, and occupy land.

44.

King, “ ‘I Regret It.’ ”

45.

King, “ ‘I Regret It.’ ”

58.

Angela Morrill, notes from land acknowledgment shared with author, February 28, 2020, Portland, OR.

63.

See the UCLA Center for Community College Partnerships home page, www.aap.ucla.edu/units/cccp/ (accessed July 20, 2019), and the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance home page, www.wacd.ucla.edu (accessed July 20, 2019).

71.

A notable exception is the decades-long work by Geneva Lofton-Fitzsimmons (La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians and past chair of the La Jolla Tribal Council), who worked on-the-road outreach to the American Indian community in San Diego and Imperial Counties (including eighteen tribal reservations) as part of the Early Academic Outreach Program. As mentioned earlier, much of this kind of labor is actually born by Native staff and their embodied relations and does not reflect institutional relationships with Native nations.

72.

Elena Hood, email message to the author, November 30, 2018.

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