On Whose Land Do You Sit?: raceAhead

July 23, 2019, 9:19 PM UTC

Hugh Weber is a consultant, a creative convener, a marketer, a design expert, an advocate for rural communities, and a dear friend to raceAhead.

So, I was prepared for his most recent TEDx talk, organized in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to be inspiring. But his elegant introduction got my attention first.

He talked about the collective inheritance of place, made more complex by how people came to be in that uniquely “American” room. “Some of us… not many of us, came from ancestors who were brought here against their will,” he said, others were drawn in by the hope of a better future. “And others have lived here since the beginning of time.”

“Since I believe that the foundations of community are acknowledgement, trust, and a mutual respect across barriers of heritage, belief, and difference… I would like to acknowledge that this event is being held on the traditional ancestral lands of the Ochente Shakoan people.”

This simple acknowledgment is becoming more common now, finding its way into high profile moments, like Anne Hathaway’s similar acknowledgment when she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this spring. 

“I started to think about the land that goes underneath the star, that land that goes beneath all of these stars, and how it was cared and kept for millennia, more than millennia, by the Tongva people,” she said. “I think it’s important to mention that they still live here today. So the soul and the spirit that runs through the earth beneath us originates with and continues to be kept by them.”

“So I would like to begin by thanking the Tongva people and by acknowledging that they are the rightful keepers of the land this star is on.”

But they’re also found in everyday moments, too.

The United States is late to the land acknowledgment practice, lagging behind New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. There, schools, meetings, even hockey games frequently begin with even a perfunctory acknowledgment, explains Teen Vogue. “An acknowledgment might be short: ‘This event is taking place on traditional Chickasaw land.’ Or it might be longer and more specific: ‘We are gathered today on the occupied territory of the Musqueam people, who have stewarded this land for generations.’”

I am writing this column today on the ancestral lands of the Tequesta people. They hunted, fished, and lived their lives in this beautiful place. From what I can gather, they were slowly devastated by European diseases starting in the 1500s, embroiled in colonial-era conflicts, and pestered to convert to Christianity against their will. Most Tequesta survivors were sent to Cuba by the Spanish by the mid-1700s. Only ten words from their language have been preserved.

I can now attest that land acknowledgment really makes you feel some type of way.

Felicia Garcia (Chumash) and Jane Anderson, both associated with the Museum Studies department at New York University, have compiled a comprehensive guide to land acknowledgment statements for arts and education organizations which looks like an excellent resource for everyone else, too. 

Northwestern University has an interesting resource that shares their work with healing and acknowledgment. They’ve posted a list derived from a steering group of Native and Indigenous people who shared what the practice means to them. Here are a few choice ones: Addressing invisibility; defrosting the past; feels good spiritually/emotionally; can be performative; must be paired with action; honoring.

It’s all part of the delicate work of decolonizing, a journey very few organizations or individuals have begun in any kind of earnest. Maybe it’s just the oppressive heat of the racist times we’re living in, but “defrosting the past” sounds like something worth doing.

Let me know what you think.

By the way, Weber works as a professional “creative counsel,” advancing the aims of creative organizations by connecting the dots between their capabilities and possibility. His excellent TEDx talk, well worth your time, soon moved from the dusty plains of Ochente land to a miraculous school in the D.C. neighborhood where a fifteen-year-old “king” named Gerald Watson had been shot and killed. 

He quickly makes the case that all dots are there to be connected if you’re just willing to open your heart and look. Enjoy.

On Point

Protecting Hawaii’s Mauna Kea The dormant volcano has tremendous significance to many kanaka ’ōiwi (native Hawaiians), explains marine paleoecologist Sara Segura Kahanamoku. But now, kiaʻi (guardians) are currently holding vigils to stop the construction of the world’s largest ground-based telescope on its summit. The protesters are being framed as anti-science and barriers to progress. This is a false choice that masks the bigger issue, she says. Who gets to decide the future? “I am kanaka ‘ōiwi, and I do science because I am Hawaiian,” she begins. “I research out of aloha ’āina, a deep familial love for the land.” There is a dark, colonial history of astronomy in Hawaii that’s worth learning. “I envision a future where the practice of science is truly ethical,” she says. “[W]here human rights, including the rights of indigenous people to self-determination, are upheld through the practice of science.” Massive Science

Research: Officer diversity doesn’t change racial disparities in police shootings Data published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday found that as the percentage of officers of color increase, citizens who are killed in officer-involved shootings are more likely to be people of color. The research also claims to find no evidence that white officers are more likely to fatally shoot people of color. Researchers used a database of 900 officer-involved shootings from 2015; their explanation for the primary findings were that the officers were drawn from the same demographic pool. By way of comparison, an investigation by The Guardian found that in 2015, people of color were more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by police officers. The Guardian

Trump administration seeks to remove food stamp benefits from 3.1 million people Currently, 43 states allow people to automatically qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, if they also qualify for other types of federal assistance; the proposed rule change would force 3.1 million to reapply for the benefit. If successful, the move could save the federal government some $2.5 billion a year. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said the change is to remove a loophole that let unqualified people participate. But Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, says he’s wrong. “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.” SNAP provides free food to 40 million Americans, or about 12% of the total U.S. population. Reuters

On Background

The ‘safety net’ works, y’all Two Harvard University economists examined 133 U.S. policy changes over the 50 years looking for the biggest bang for the investment buck—which includes analyzing Medicare and Medicaid expansions, the introduction of food stamps, and dozens of state and local programs. The goal was to identify the interventions that saved the government money long term, typically by figuring out which who ended up need less assistance over time, or who were able to increase their earnings and taxes paid. Programs benefitting low-income kids were the clear winner; every dollar spent on education and health care programs returned 47 cents in down-the-road savings. “The results show there’s a potential to get really high returns when you’re focusing on kids,” says co-author Ben Sprung-Keyser. Wall Street Journal

What’s another way to be transgender in young adult novels? We live in a time in which its possible for a transgender or questioning teen to see themselves in works of fiction. This is tremendous progress, notes reviewer Clarence Harlan Orsi, ticking through a helpful list of popular books. But what comes next?  “A lot has changed for trans people in the last 15 years, yet the novels reflect a relatively unified perspective,” he says. Part of the problem is the formulaic nature of YA novels themselves. “The pedagogy of these novels entails setting up a series of rites of passage and then repeating them in different iterations,” which always means some predictable moments—gender affirming prom clothes, the first bullying, coming out to an unwelcoming family. All of this requires a “didactic obligation” that masks missed opportunities to tell different stories. “[I]t is not enough to simply want to transition. Rather, these books must prove that changing genders is the only thing that will keep these characters alive.” L.A. Review of Books

Sixty years later, a picture of closeted love emerges This is a story that’s sure to bring the water to your eyes. In 1957, a young man dropped off a roll of film to be developed at his corner drug store. The pictures were of his wedding, but he never received them. The photos were of a touching commitment ceremony to another man, and the store manager withheld them for being “inappropriate.” But a warm-hearted clerk kept the pictures, hoping to run into the groom somewhere. Now, many years after her passing, the photos belong to an advocacy group who are looking to reunite the photos with either the couple or their families. Do you know them? The Philadelphia Citizen

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead.


“I believe in white supremacy. We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks… I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [Native Americans], if that's what you're asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

John Wayne in an interview for Playboy

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