Land Acknowledgments

The progressive person's version of thoughts and prayers

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency, for obvious reasons) states:

IN COUNTRIES SUCH AS NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA, CANADA, AND AMONG TRIBAL NATIONS IN THE U.S., it is commonplace, even policy, to open events and gatherings by acknowledging the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of that land. While some individuals and cultural and educational institutions in the United States have adopted this custom, the vast majority have not. Together, we can spark a movement to change that.

We call on all individuals and organizations to open public events and gatherings with acknowledgment of the traditional Native inhabitants of the land.

Acknowledgment is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth. Imagine this practice widely adopted: imagine cultural venues, classrooms, conference settings, places of worship, sports stadiums, and town halls, acknowledging traditional lands. Millions would be exposed—many for the first time—to the names of the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of the lands they are on, inspiring them to ongoing awareness and action.

I've got two words for this, especially that last sentence: Bull. Shit.

When people park their asses in a seat at the Roxy in Missoula to watch a film and see the Salish land acknowledgment before it shows, who even remembers it afterward? No one. I don't think any event I've attended over the last few years that included a land acknowledgment was improved by it. Why? Because no one is doing anything about it. Maybe nod gravely once or twice, but that's it.

Who are these acknowledgments for? The Indigenous people themselves? Then, why? To make us feel better about what we used to have but don't anymore? Is that what "Native Pride" has been reduced to? I want better than that. I want to be proud to be Little Shell for what we are doing today. Same for my Blackfeet friends and Crow friends and everyone.

I don't think asshats from all over the country should be able to drive million dollar truck and trailer/RV with towed SUV/boat/mountain bikes/etc. combos THROUGH TRIBAL LANDS to get to vacation playgrounds without paying a hefty tax or toll. Put a gate at every access in or out, interstate, highway, or dirt road, I don’t care. Don't like it? Don't come here. Take your butt-ugly three-story RV to Ohio and marinate your peeling, sun-burned Texas hide in one of their scummy, shallow, man-made lakes instead.

Nor do I think non-tribal businesses, or businesses not owned by tribal members, particularly on reservations, should be allowed to operate without a hefty tax or toll ... if at all. Do you live on a reservation and have a business and don’t like this idea? Move. You’re only there because the feds have been trying to take lands from Indigenous people from the get-go and you are a direct beneficiary. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the more generations back you brag about your family being here, the more likely it is that your ancestors had direct involvement in the bloody taking of that land from someone else. That's no way to impress anyone worth impressing.

Missoula people, you want to feel good about your Salish land acknowledgments? Do something about it. Put a Salish tax on every dollar spend from the Bitterroot to the Flathead that goes straight to CSKT coffers. Put a Blackfeet tax on every admission sold into Glacier National Park. If someone buys a little stuffed marmot in a giftshop to take home? Blackfeet tax.

At the federal level, guarantee a certain level of income to every tribal member. Everyone thinks the feds give us money anyway, may as well make it a reality. Have you seen how much Mitch McConnell's wealth has soared since he's been awfulling up Washington, D.C.? How is that legal? Put him, and everyone like him, in prison and give that money to us. All of us. Tribes, working class, everyone. Level the playing field. Give it to journalists, for crissakes.

The last couple weeks I've been visiting all seven Indian reservations in Montana for a story I'm doing for Montana Quarterly. It's been sobering and I am frustrated and angry. All the Trump signs and Daines signs and Gianforte signs and Rosendale signs tell me enough about what direction the winds of my neighbors are blowing and it makes me want to give up. I saw park rangers—park rangers!—armed and armored-up like they were about to deploy to Portland to beat people. The way the United States shares the world with others, even its own citizens, and particularly the sovereign nations within its borders, is a travesty. And most of us are sleeping through it. Our lack of action makes us participants in the oppression of millions, and no amount of signing online petitions will do a damn thing.

There’s work to do, and lots to figure out. Everything is raw right now. I’ll be better after some rest; I might even be back to my usual cheerful self next week.

In the meantime, be kind to each other, walk in another person’s shoes for awhile. If not you, who?