This is the second in a new series of posts that will consider the future of Preservation Archaeology. Each post will introduce a Preservation Archaeology Position Paper. We welcome and encourage feedback and sharing.
(May 5, 2023)—The idea to create an expanded Land Acknowledgment came about shortly after the time Ashleigh and I started working on the Tribal Collaboration Model. It was not my intention at that time to be the one who would write the first draft of the Land Acknowledgment, but after suggesting it to the other Directors on staff, it fell to me to do so. At the moment I volunteered to take on the task, I thought to myself, “Well, this shouldn’t be too difficult.” After all, I am an Indigenous person, and have probably sat through hundreds of Land Acknowledgments over the years.
It turns out it isn’t so easy.
Ashleigh and I joke about there being a thousand and one drafts of the acknowledgment, so it is a little difficult to think back to those initial drafts, but my starting place was to see where an acknowledgment existed and how it was used in Archaeology Southwest’s (ASW) programming. It was there I found my starting place.
In the “What We Do” section of the ASW website, there is one sentence prefacing all that ASW does that stands as an acknowledgment. I also saw that the Archaeology Café series would kick off with a Land Acknowledgment, usually delivered by Bill, who would also encourage the virtual audience to do the same for wherever they were tuning in from. Altogether, I was concerned about the lack of acknowledgment in our public-facing programming, as well as the fact that it did not reflect the goals and aspirations set forth in the Tribal Collaboration Model.
Looking at our organization’s name, Archaeology Southwest, and dissecting the words Archaeology and Southwest was the next step. It was paramount that we acknowledged that archaeology has advanced as a science much to the detriment of Indigenous Peoples. We needed to acknowledge the hard truths of the discipline’s past and require Preservation Archaeology to be not only inclusive and collaborative, but also respectful to the rights of Indigenous Peoples over their Ancestors’ legacies.
When it came to Southwest, it was essential to acknowledge lands far from Tucson, Arizona, because ASW’s work is not limited to Tucson’s city limits. It was also important to acknowledge that today, land has political and legal layers atop the natural landscape stemming from the complex history that has played out on it, and that Indigenous Peoples have had little to no say in how those layers are written and manifested—in addition to being physically removed from many of these lands. This also meant acknowledging that Tribes have Homelands on both sides of the US–Mexico border.
In conversation and in the editing process with Ashleigh, it became apparent that “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk” was essential to making the acknowledgment more than just another in the thousands that are out there. You may have noticed that Land Acknowledgments have become somewhat of a fad, and in becoming so, have lost much of their original potency and intention. In some sense, they have become a “box to check,” and I did not want this acknowledgment to fall into that category.
It struck me then that I was not writing the acknowledgment as an Indigenous person, but as a staff member, and ultimately for Archaeology Southwest as a whole. This informed the tone, diction, and voice that comes through in the acknowledgment. Land Acknowledgments can vary depending on who is delivering them and the context in which they are being delivered. For example, an acknowledgement delivered by one Tribe visiting another is very different from ASW’s acknowledgment in that it is offered as sign of deep mutual respect between one Nation and another, or among a number of Nations. These types of acknowledgments existed much earlier than the Land Acknowledgments put forth by non-Indigenous people and organizations. Keeping this in mind while writing and editing was essential, as ASW is not an Indigenous-led organization.
Around the time we had reached 500th draft or so, in one of our Directors’ meetings, Bill read a section of the draft acknowledgment aloud to the group. Hearing those words coming from him—and not from my inner voice, as had been the case up to that point—really drove home the fact that these are not just words. Living up to these words and really “walking the walk” not only falls on me, but on our entire staff and organization as a whole.
That raised the question of how to ensure ASW would be able to hold itself accountable. A start was to create a section of the website that would feature the Land Acknowledgment and the Tribal Collaboration Model. A Land Acknowledgement allows our partners, collaborators, members, volunteers, and the public to know this is something ASW is committed to, and we expect to be held accountable by others. For that same reason, we felt it was important to outline some specific things ASW would commit to do, or in some cases, not do, and thereby putting some more weight behind our “talk.”
It occurred to me soon after that meeting that “a thousand and one drafts” was not a joke, but exactly the way this Land Acknowledgment properly should have come into being; it should, likewise, remain a living document that will evolve and improve alongside the Tribal Collaboration Model, especially as we learn to walk, fulfill, and embody the words we offer in the two documents. Though I took the opportunity to write the first drafts of this acknowledgment, it would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the help of the other Directors and staff members, especially Ashleigh, whose knowledge and wisdom is an integral part of it. For their help, questions, suggestions, and edits, I say thank you to all who played a part in the writing of the Land Acknowledgment.
To close, I would like to share an article from NPR’s All Things Considered sent to me by ASW’s Bookkeeper and Office Manager, Linda Vossler: “So you began your event with an Indigenous land acknowledgment. Now what?” It has an option for a five-minute listen that will provide some helpful context regarding Land Acknowledgments and some of the nuance around them. I also encourage you to check out https://native-land.ca/ to learn about more about land and territory acknowledgments, as well as which Indigenous Territory(ies) you reside on.