Indigenous land acknowledgments are growing — but do they go far enough?

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2021 - 12:05pm
Updated: Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 12:36pm

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Indigenous land acknowledgments are becoming more popular. The statements recognize the Indigenous people who lived on this land long before the rest of us — and their knowledge systems and connection to it.

Today, you might see someone in a bio or Twitter profile identify themselves and where they live alongside a line that says something like “on occupied Tohono O'odham land in Tucson.”

Or you might hear an Indigenous land acknowledgement read at the beginning of a city council meeting, like is being considered in Flagstaff right now. Or, you might read one like the one librarian Alex Soto helped write for Arizona State University's library recently.

Soto co-authored that particular acknowledgment last year as part of his work leading the library's Labriola National American Indian Data Center. But Jacob Moore is the man at ASU who first brought the idea of a land acknowledgment to light there.

Indigenous land acknowledgement of the ASU Library
ASU Library
Librarian Alex Soto co-authored the acknowledgment for the ASU Library in 2020 as part of his work leading the library's Labriola National American Indian Data Center.

Moore is the assistant vice president for tribal relations at ASU, and back in 2015, he was instrumental in authoring a statement from ASU President Michael Crow that outlined the university’s commitment to tribes and their people.

But the idea began far from the school — or the tribes of what’s now the American Southwest.

Moore said it can be a flawed idea, as sometimes having an Indigenous person come and read a land acknowledgement at the beginning of a public meeting can be akin to fetishizing Indigenous people. And sometimes it’s too easy for institutions to stop at the acknowledgement and not take any real action to push for change.

But to Moore, it can be a really important starting point — and a point of pride.

It’s a sentiment that Soto, who is from the Tohono O'Odham Nation, echoed. The Show spoke with Soto to learn more about land acknowledgments and what he wants to see from them.

Alex Soto
Kelsey Hinesley
Alex Soto

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