Land Acknowledgment at HSS 2018

Indigenous communities owned the land on which many institutions of research and education have been built. Academic conferences and events are also routinely held in these spaces. This land is essential to the identity and worldview of Indigenous groups. Often these lands were taken under unjust and violent circumstances resulting in forced relocation that continues to have devastating effects on native communities. Indigenous Land Acknowledgements are one small but tangible way institutions of culture and education in the United States can begin repairing the harm caused by mainstream historical accounts, which have excluded Indigenous voices and obscured the centrality of violence to colonialism in the United States.

Indigenous Land Acknowledgement refers to the practice of recognizing an Indigenous community’s ancestral ties to the land on which a meeting or event is taking place. Acknowledging the communities that have an inseparable connection to the land on which these institutions reside challenges the mainstream narrative and calls attention to the strength of Indigenous communities which have survived the devastating effects of displacement and colonization. Further, this history informs the present experience of Native American peoples, so it is essential to the contextualization of current events.

The ad hoc committee on Land Acknowledgement recommended that the History of Science Society implement the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgment for the 2018 annual meeting in Seattle and for subsequent meetings. We see this as a step toward reparation for the harm caused by centuries of misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and denial of their right to participate in the telling of their own narratives. These statements represent respect for Indigenous voices, acknowledgement of the violence of US history, and demonstrate that in most cases Indigenous peoples are still here to tell their story.

The Seattle-area is home to six Nations: the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, and Tulalip peoples. This year, Chairwoman Cecile Hansen from the Duwamish nation will open the conference at our Plenary Session. This ceremony is intended to provide an official welcome for all Meeting activities. Should your session or business meeting also wish to include a land acknowledgement, a sample statement can be found below. We strongly encourage conference attendees to learn about each nation’s history and current realities through their websites.

While the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgement is new to research and educational institutions in the United States, it has long been an established protocol among Indigenous groups around the world. It has even become standard in both Canada and Australia. Acknowledgement guides by Australians Together, the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the U.S. Department of Art and Culture all echo many of the same sentiments. They point to a similar general format for an acknowledgement, which could sound something like: “Before we begin [description of event], I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered today on the ancestral territory of the ( ) peoples, and I pay my respect to their Elders both past and present, as well as living descendants and future generations.” All three guides also state that it is important to be genuine in the acknowledgement, so this basic format can be altered to include information that it is appropriate to the specific setting. Additionally, all three emphasize the importance of reaching out to the specific Indigenous group or groups being acknowledged to ensure that the statement is respectful and accurately represents them in the way that they want to be represented. This is particularly important because, for far too long, Indigenous peoples have been denied a say in their own representation. This inclusive approach is therefore a step toward decolonizing these institutions.

Academic institutions and societies are particularly important spaces in which to challenge the invisibilization of Native peoples in the contemporary United States. Historically, the collection of Indigenous artifactual and biological material and intangible cultural heritage was motivated by the belief that Indigenous cultures would soon disappear. Further, these collections were used to judge and hierarchically organize the cultures represented by these objects. Scientists, policy-makers, and laypeople used the conclusions drawn from such studies of collections to justify violence of entire groups of people, including Indigenous communities. Additionally, because these pursuits were considered scientific, the knowledge of western trained scientists and collectors was and continues to be privileged over that of the represented peoples.

The colonial, visual and global turns in the history of science have started to bring attention to the historical significance of Indigenous knowledge systems. We see land acknowledgment policy as a logical next step in this positive trend towards more inclusive scholarship in the history of science.

Academic institutions must focus on the realities and voices of contemporary Indigenous communities, since academic work from a range of disciplines has given the impression that these societies no longer exist. Indigenous land acknowledgement is already an established and common practice among Indigenous individuals and tribal or other Indigenous identity-related institutions. While these statements do make mainstream research and education institutions more welcome to Indigenous audiences, they are not the only audiences who need to hear them. This practice is about more than making space—it is about making the history of marginalized populations part of the mainstream consciousness. Though land acknowledgement is a small step, it is an important one that demonstrates an interest in truth-telling.

As legal scholar Chelsea Vowel (Métis) and other Native scholars suggest, land acknowledgement should constitute the first step in a process of opening dialogue with Indigenous communities to learn about the specific laws and protocols of that Nation regarding the responsibilities of guests. A verbal acknowledgment, moreover, must be accompanied by concrete allocation of time and resources to both educate regarding the colonial history of the specific land upon which the meeting or event occurs, and to support the participation of Indigenous people in the society or institution.

Language plays an important role in the construction of historical narratives and is therefore, fundamental to the topic of land acknowledgement. Many representations of United States history do not convey the gravity of the devastation that colonialism had on Native American peoples. They often deploy language that obscures the United States as the perpetrator of violence. Yet the use of truthful language is a central tenet of decolonizing methodologies. As described by Amy Lonetree (Ho-Cunk), “Scholars writing from the Indigenous paradigm employ more powerful and precise terms to describe what happened, including ‘genocide’ and ‘atrocity,’ and they do not shy away from naming the perpetrators of the violence in our history.” It is important to make this statement in a space that is accessible to all visitors--not just those who are already inclined to seek out information related to Indigenous topics.

One criticism of land acknowledgment policy has been the perception of its tokenism. We intend to correct for this by demanding that the land acknowledgement practice be a starting point that is then backed up by long-term efforts toward social justice. Dylan AT Miner, a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar stresses on the fact that Land Acknowledgements “must be preceded by relationships with living Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations. It must then be followed with ongoing commitments to these same communities. Land Acknowledgements are a responsibility.”

For HSS, we propose that this practice include: (a) a formal invitation to Elders or community leaders from the Indigenous peoples upon whose land the meeting will occur to open the distinguished lecture or plenary session if this fits with their nation's protocols and interests (to be determined through direct consultation); (b) proposed text that panel chairs can consider using for land acknowledgement at the beginning of each session; (c) a guide to Native history of the region, available on the HSS website so that attendees can educate themselves about the history of the land where the meeting is taking place; (d) the commitment of resources or the appropriate fundraising to provide bursaries for Indigenous scholars to present at the conference.

Bibliography and Resources

Ad Hoc Committee Members:

  • Marissa Petrou (Louisiana State University)
  • Elaine LaFay (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Felicia Garcia (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, School for Advanced Research)
  • Rosanna Dent (New Jersey Institute of Technology)
  • Khyati Nagar (York University)

We are grateful for the generous help of Polly Olsen, Joshua Reid, and Michael Yates.

Please e-mail our committee with thoughts, questions, ideas or if you are interested in joining us at

Indigenous History of the Seattle Area

As you explore Seattle, you’ll see numerous monuments and civic gestures to the city’s Native heritage. While these rightfully implicate tremendous Indigenous influence in the early days of colonization—a recognition that comes on the heel of decades of Native activism—they also co-exist with violent marginalization.

Prior to the arrival of settler colonists, the area currently called Seattle was known as Sdzidzilalitch (Little Crossing-Over-Place). Members of Coast Salish nations began witnessing the arrival of whites interested in land and wealth in the mid-nineteenth century. The emergence of Seattle unfolded slowly through a series of encounters and exchanges between settlers and Indigenous people, whose knowledge and labor shaped Seattle from its “village period” through the 1870s. By the late nineteenth century, those same encounters were marked by widespread disease and wrenching transformations to the landscape. During the Progressive Era, a contingent of Indigenous peoples resisted federal attempts at relocation and, despite enduring oppressive socioeconomic policies, some remained in Seattle. Native migrants also came to the city for seasonal employment and contributed to a brimming Indigenous urban community. Many Indigenous residents who remained moved within Seattle’s underclass, living in working-class neighborhoods and frequenting social institutions on Skid Road.

Beginning in the postwar decades, organizations such as the American Indian Service League and community leaders like Ella Aquino and Bernie Whitebear led calls for better living conditions for Indigenous residents of Seattle—both new and old. Native activism centered on socioeconomic issues and the multiethnic Indian community’s place in the city. The fish-ins of the 1970s, for example, were a means of regaining Indigenous rights to Seattle’s fisheries and waterways. Many of these groups continue to exert authority over Indigenous rights in the city and undermine colonial narratives of Seattle’s founding. Across the past century, white residents pushed Indigenous peoples to the hinterlands at the same time as they appropriated native cultures, traditions, and wares as status symbols. But these and other broader civic gestures to Indigenous heritage, manufactured and marketed largely in favor of an imperial narrative of extinction, obscure a longer, entangled history of presence.

Further reading:

  • Duwamish Tribe. “Our History.” (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Tulalip Tribes. “History.” (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. “History of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Its Reservation.”
  • (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Snohomish Tribe of Indians. “Snohomish Tribe of Indians History Timeline.” (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Snoqualmie Tribe. “History.”  (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Suquamish Tribe. “History and Culture.” (accessed October 15, 2018)
  • Harmon, Alexandra. Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Klingle, Matt. Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Reid, Joshua L. The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Thrush, Coll. Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over-Place. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007.