Five steps for moving beyond land acknowledgement

This article was written by Native Governance Center and originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of Nonprofit News. Read the full issue.

Native Governance Center is a Native-led nonprofit dedicated to assisting Native nations in strengthening their governance systems and capacity to exercise sovereignty. Visit their Resource webpage for additional materials on moving beyond land acknowledgement.

Has your organization written a land acknowledgment? These statements recognize the Indigenous past, present, and future of a location.

While well-intentioned, land acknowledgments oftentimes have unintended negative consequences. In response, we’ve developed five steps for moving beyond land acknowledgment and toward meaningful action.

Before we introduce our action planning process, let’s talk about why land acknowledgements can be problematic.

First, it’s easy for land acknowledgments to become yet another form of optical allyship. Optical allyship, coined by Latham Thomas, “makes a statement but does not go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.” Without calls to action and next steps, land acknowledgments are just empty words.

In addition, land acknowledgements can sometimes result in non-Indigenous folks asking Indigenous people for free labor. When we’re unsure and anxious about something, it’s easy to impulsively reach out for help before doing our own research. But it’s important to put those anxious thoughts aside and spend the time that’s required to develop a thoughtful statement. Asking Indigenous people for help on land acknowledgements creates an unfair burden and additional stress.

The Action Planning Alternative

Because of the challenges associated with land acknowledgment statements, we advocate for creating a land acknowledgment action plan. If you already have a land acknowledgment statement, you can simply add your action plan to your statement; it’ll complement the work you’ve already done.

We developed the following five-step approach to guide individuals and groups through the process of creating meaningful action steps. Action plans feature much of the same information that land acknowledgments do, but they center the all-important next steps.

If you’d like to engage in written reflection on the various action planning steps, visit our resources page and download our “Beyond Land Acknowledgment Action Planning Worksheet.” 

Land Acknowledgement Action Plan
Step #1: Assessment

Before creating an action plan, analyze what you’re already doing.

Are any of your current behaviors causing harm to Indian Country? Examples might include appropriating culture, your voting record, how you recreate, or the language you use. If you are doing harm, hold yourself accountable for changing your habits within your action plan.

The worksheet referenced above features key questions for guiding self-reflection for both individuals and groups.

Step #2: Resource Assessment

After you’ve assessed your current behaviors, you’ll want to consider your resources. What resources can you provide to support Indigenous people and nations?

Here are a few sample questions:

  • Can you set aside money each month for a recurring donation to an Indigenous organization?
  • Do you have time to show up to an Indigenous-led protest?
  • Do you have land you want to return to Indigenous people, either now or in the future?
  • Do you have tickets, admission, tuition, or entry fees that you can give away to Indigenous people?
Step #3: Research

After completing your assessments, it’s time to do some research. Your research questions will help you better understand what’s happening in your area and how you can help.

The below questions can help you start the process:

  • What is the Indigenous history of the land I occupy?
  • What Native nation is located closest to me?
  • What Native-led organizations operate in my area?
  • Are there any Native-led events happening near me?
Step #4: Action Step Creation

Now, it’s time to outline specific, measurable action steps to support Native people and nations. Your steps should make it immediately clear how and when you plan to take action.

For example, perhaps during your research, you identified an honor tax program benefitting a Native nation in your area. And during the resource assessment, you determined you can direct up to $10/month to an Indigenous-led initiative.

Use this alignment to create an action step.

Step #5: Plan Release and Reflection

Tell your community that you’re committed to supporting Indigenous people.

And don’t forget to reflect. Check your progress from time to time. If you’ve made any life changes that will make it difficult to continue executing your plan as written, restart your self-assessment and resource assessment, and outline new steps that will work for you.