The NCSL Blog


By Tansey Moore

Higher education institutions and non-profit organizations have taken steps in recent years to formally acknowledge Indigenous people as the traditional stewards of the land where the particular entity is located or is holding a meeting.

DrumsState and local governments are moving in the same direction. The California State Legislature is considering legislation this year (AB 1968) to require that a land acknowledgment process be adopted by owners and operators of schools, parks, libraries, museums and other state and local buildings. It has passed the assembly and is under consideration in the senate.

In keeping with the spirit of collaboration underlying the Washington state statute on government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes, the Washington State Health Care authority begins its meetings and events with a land acknowledgement. Denver and other local governments across the nation are also adopting similar approaches.

Tribal land and nation acknowledgements are ways to correct the stories and practices that have long distorted our nation’s history and culture and provide a simple yet powerful way to show respect.

Many countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, honor Indigenous people of the land with acknowledgements, as well as with public policy that has been put into place such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

If this practice of acknowledgement of traditional lands was widely adopted in cultural places, institutions, conferences, churches, sports stadiums, and town halls, many people would be exposed to the names of the Indigenous inhabitants of the lands for the first time, and may  inspire them to increase their awareness.  It also provides a way to be more inclusive of Indigenous communities and make them feel comfortable and free to introduce an idea or statement that reflects the Indigenous perspective.

For those pursuing development of a tribal land and nation acknowledgement, here are a few tips adapted from the National Governance Center and other resources.

  • Introduce legislation for a Tribal Land Acknowledgement Act, such as the example from the State of California. The legislation would encourage the state’s public institutions to recognize Native American tribes as traditional stewards of the land where schools, parks, libraries, or museums are located. 
  • To begin development of an acknowledgement, include research on tribes within the location of that region. Focus beyond a specific city or county as many tribal communities may have been relocated because of historic practices and laws. Include culturally important areas, treaty, and ceded territory as this is part of the cultural connection to the land and reserved rights under the federal government. There may be multiple tribes that will be included in the acknowledgement based on the history of the area.
  • Include indigenous names of places such as cities, towns, or counties as part of the history. For example, Missouri in the Siouan language is translated to mean “wooden canoe people.”
  • In addition, focus on the positivity of who Indigenous people are today. End the acknowledgement with living celebrations of Indigenous communities. A question to consider is, “How am I leaving Indigenous people in a stronger, more empowered place because of this land acknowledgment?”

NCSL’S  Executive Committee staff officers, Peggy Piety (Indiana) and Karl Aro (Maryland) partnered with the Chicago American Indian Center for an opening prayer at the “Salute to Legislative Staff Luncheon” during the 2016 Legislative Summit.

There are different ways to approach tribal land and nation acknowledgement.

Be creative and connect with your local resources such as tribal-state liaisons so that you have the best available information on local tribes. These steps to adopt, call for and spread the practice of tribal land and nation acknowledgement, is a meaningful way for states and tribes to focus on their shared history and bridge the gap to the future.

Tansey Moore is a member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and staffs two working groups of tribal government representatives for NCSL’s work with the U.S. Department of Energy.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.