Beyond the Land Acknowledgement

Centering Indigenous self-determination, power building and movement leadership is an experience of deep learning and humility. Because of the enduring mythos of America that centers the settlers and the immigrants, and the Western worldview dominating this country’s systems, entering into Indigenous worldviews is one of the most radical shifts possible into what it means to reparate the wrongs of the past and present, and to build a regenerative, just future.

I was grateful for the invitation to listen at the roundtable talk of three powerful and wise teachers: Tina Kuckkahn (Ojibwe), director of grantmaking at NDN Collective; Gaby Strong (Dakota), managing director at NDN Collective; and Quita Sullivan (Montaukett/Shinnecock), program director at New England Foundation for the Arts.

As the first step in entering a respectful relationship with Indigenous communities, Tina Kuckkahn offered this teaching: to consider that all creation stories are true.

“That’s about respect and understanding that our creation stories are not myths, but teachings about how we came to be on this place, on this earth, at this time. It indicates the beautiful diversity of our indigenous peoples and deep connection to the land.”

Beyond the land acknowledgement, what does meaningful support of Indigenous peoples and communities look like?

Gaby Strong honed in on a core message for grantmakers. Since 2006, the share of grantmaking to Indigenous communities and organizations has hovered at 0.4%, not just in the arts and cultural sector but in all areas of funding. Foundations must do more and better. But beyond that, movements such as #LANDBACK are fighting to reclaim Indigenous stewardship of public lands and economic practices that empower communities and create sustainable and equitable systems.

“We do not subscribe to the notion of donor education,” Gaby said. “We call for repatriation and rematriation of wealth to Indigenous and BIPOC communities. The liberation of that wealth first and foremost, anything less than that is secondary.”

Quita Sullivan reminded funders of the importance of building and being in relationship—that supporting Indigenous artists and organizations is not about a transaction that ends when program funding runs out. “You’ve built a relationship, what are you doing to continue the relationship even when the resources are not there? That is building trust, and putting people at the center.”

In Indigenous worldviews, artists and culture bearers are valued and provided for communally. Cultural creations and artwork was made, given and shared, without people having to worry where their next meal came from when they did that work. The arts is a way of living and being, not a separate thing.

“In my language, we don’t have a word for artists and that’s because it’s such a big part of who we are and what we do every single day,” said Quita. “People want to fund the beadwork, the carving, the jewelry making, but not the heat in the house so that it can be made, the food required for the elder to survive to pass down the knowledge that we cherish. We need to de-silo arts and acknowledge that it is a part of everything.”

The land acknowledgement is not enough, but let it be a reminder each time you do it to look toward and support the leadership of Indigenous organizations and movements at the forefront of decolonization, reindigenization and radical transformation of this country, so that it works for everybody.