Land Acknowledgments: A Mindful Approach
March 1, 2022
Cindy Khatri and Van McGary, Downers Grove Public Library
Over the course of our library’s ongoing equity, diversity, and inclusion journey, we discovered important omissions, including the lack of acknowledgment of Native peoples and their history in the space we occupy and utilize. The Downers Grove Public Library (DGPL) believes it is important to be mindful of the history of the land we use and to bring awareness to the Indigenous peoples who inhabited and continue to reside on these lands. To support this purpose, our library worked on a land acknowledgment over numerous months and released it in the Fall of 2021. While there is no one single way to create a land acknowledgment, we learned many valuable insights along our journey that we believe could be useful for anyone looking to begin writing a land acknowledgment or to revise an already existing document. After all, a land acknowledgment is a living statement or document that can, and should, be revised and refined, as one’s organization continues to grow and learn.
The first several steps in writing a land acknowledgment actually have nothing to do with writing. A genuine land acknowledgment, that is, one that is not hollow or performative, begins with introspection and self-refl ection. Ask yourself, why are you pursuing a land acknowledgment? As the Native Governance Center points out, “If you’re hoping to inspire others to take action to support Indigenous communities, you’re on the right track. If you’re delivering a land
acknowledgment out of guilt or because everyone else is doing it, more self-reflection is in order”(1). Reflecting on why you and your organization are writing a land acknowledgment will help you to more deeply think about the impact or outcome you are seeking. This, in turn, will help guide you during your process by keeping you focused on impact over intent.
You will next need to determine who will be writing the land acknowledgment with you. A land acknowledgment not only formally recognizes the historical context of the land we use, but it should also bring awareness to the truthful history of our community and our nation. In doing so, important issues (both past and present) will be discussed. It is imperative to have conversations and collaborate with local Native organizations and individuals to ensure that Indigenous voices are heard and their experiences are truly seen. In reaching out to Native groups and peoples, be clear that you are invested in forming a true partnership. Communicate clearly that you are looking to work together and to support one another continuously. If your organization is not interested in further programming or partnership outside of the land acknowledgment document, reconsider your motivation for this process.
Connecting with Native groups may take some time and energy. It is important to allow yourself and your eventual partners time, and to not rush the process. Thus, the deadline or timeframe should be self-imposed to allow for flexibility. After forming your partnerships, approach the land acknowledgment (a new one or one to be revised) with an open mind, without any expectation of what it “should” be. Let your partners share what they think is important to include and how they want to be acknowledged, but be mindful that they will not be writing the land acknowledgment for you. Allow your interactions to have a conversational, rather than a transactional, nature. Your Native partners may tell you stories and anecdotes, a random fact here and there, an important date or event, issues their people are facing, etc. It is your responsibility to listen, process, research, write, and follow up for feedback. Our partners shared with us many personal experiences, spirituality, trauma, acts of activism, events, and more over countless hours in person and over the telephone. At times, the conversation may become very emotionally challenging for your Native partners and/or for yourself. Be kind and gracious to them and yourself. Take time and care as needed, and allow the process to develop organically. Try to avoid allowing a sense of urgency and/or perfectionism to take over. These are two characteristics of white supremacy culture that uphold systemic oppression and restrict marginalized peoples from fully showing up as their true authentic selves(2). In our case, there were many revisions to our land acknowledgment. Be sure to clearly communicate the changes to your organization and partners so that you are transparent during your entire process.
Over the course of your discussions with your Native partners, figure out the format for your land acknowledgment. It may be a short version with one paragraph covering the land acknowledgment or it may include a longer or extended version. This also depends on what sort of outcome you and your Native partners are interested in. In our case, we were very intentional about our land acknowledgment raising awareness about historical and ongoing injustices against Native peoples, and for the document to be a learning opportunity and resource for both community members and organizations. Thus, in addition to having a short version that can be read and posted, we have an extended version that includes a detailed history, current issues, frequently asked questions, and numerous resources for learning more: dglibrary.org/land(3).
Regardless of the format or structure of your land acknowledgment, using appropriate language is critical. As the Native Governance Center points out, it is important to “[not] sugarcoat the past” and to name the actions taken by colonizers including genocide and forced removal. In addition, it is important to “use past, present, and future tenses” to make clear that Native peoples are still here(1). The Native Governance Center also has a useful terminology style guide(4). In addition, Native Land Digital has several suggestions for learning how to pronounce a Native nation’s name including “[r]espectfully asking someone from that nation or from a local organization,” checking the nation’s website, watching videos that include people saying the nation’s name, or calling the nation after hours and listening to their voicemail recording(5).
While crafting your land acknowledgment based on the information you receive from your Native partners, be prepared to conduct your own research to supplement that information, add additional historical and current events, and provide supporting resources. While it may be useful to look at land acknowledgments from other institutions for inspiration, avoid copying or duplicating with slight adjustments. Make your land acknowledgment authentic by personalizing it using input and experiences from Native collaborators and by instilling your organization’s values. Furthermore, avoid making a land acknowledgment a performative or token gesture by formulating and following through with a “Therefore” statement. A “Therefore” statement in this context is a clear affirmation of an organization’s commitment to Native communities and their work beyond the land acknowledgment. It helps prevent a land acknowledgment from being a one-time item to be checked off a list. As with a land acknowledgment, a “Therefore” statement can evolve as one’s organization evolves.
TJ, Midwest SOARRING Foundation performer, and Van McGary, Adult and Teen Services Assistant Manager at the Downers Grove Public Library and author of the library’s land acknowledgment.
Downers Grove Public Library
After you, your organization, and Native partners feel that your land acknowledgment is ready to be released, consider how you want to present or unveil your organization’s land acknowledgment to your community. Both of our collaborators, Midwest SOARRING Foundation and Professor John Low of Ohio State University, emphasized that a land acknowledgment is a small but important first step toward truth and reconciliation, and its power depends on the amount of thoughtful detail and commitment behind it. It was imperative to our organization to demonstrate to our community the significance of this work and our commitment to it. DGPL held a special ceremony and formal announcement of our land acknowledgment to celebrate its completion. This event was planned in close collaboration with our Native partners; it is equally important to let your Native partners guide your continued partnership in the same way they led the way for writing the land acknowledgment itself. It was decided that our library would have Trustees introduce the land acknowledgment and provide context about why the library is doing this work, how it fits into our strategic plan, and how our document was written. Then, we turned the event over to our Native partners; they performed a ceremonial healing dance, a 7-direction blessing, and addressed the crowd. To be a good partner and ally, it is imperative to raise Native voices and de-center ourselves. Some partners may prefer not to share performances, blessings, or words with non-Native community members. Some partners will want to use the opportunity to bring attention to issues they currently face, and may not refer to your land acknowledgment. Yield the floor to your Native partners and allow them to participate in the ways in which they are comfortable.
Ensuring that the land acknowledgment does not simply go into a drawer and become a forgotten document is vital. In addition to creating a webpage, our library decided to feature our acknowledgment in a variety of ways. To encourage patrons to consider the land when they are physically in the building, we decided to put a plaque (that can easily be updated as the acknowledgment evolves) at both entrances to our library. We also provide a binder with the extended version and FAQs, in addition to brochures for the Midwest SOARRING Foundation, at the entrance for patrons that prefer a hard copy of our document. The short version of our land acknowledgment can be found as a standard piece in our bi-monthly newsletter, located next to the library’s mailing address. Finally, prior to the start of significant events and meetings, attendees are invited to consider the land through a reading of the short version and are encouraged to learn more. Avoid your acknowledgment from becoming a rote and performative gesture by considering the tone, frequency, and placement.
For collaboration on the land acknowledgment itself and for appearing and performing at our land acknowledgment event, our Native partners were compensated for their time, effort, emotional labor, knowledge, and more. Be sure to approach your partnerships with Native communities with reciprocity in mind and to provide proper compensation. Ideally, the partnerships for your land acknowledgment and any accompanying event is just the beginning of many partnerships and relationships with Native communities to come.
Land Acknowledgement Statements Statewide
In countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it is commonplace, even policy, to open gatherings and events by acknowledging the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of that land. In recent years, in the United States, including Illinois, institutions such as public and academic libraries have started creating land acknowledgments as efforts focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) have grown. Through this lens, organizations and individuals have developed recognition of the importance of raising awareness of the truthful history of the land they use and the land’s original Indigenous inhabitants.
Approaches to creating and sharing land acknowledgments by Illinois libraries vary widely. Accessibility to these documents also differs across libraries from being available on dedicated web pages to only being viewable on specific blog posts, event pages, or during special promotions. Some libraries choose not to make the statement publicly available. The Newberry, a private library accessible to the public, offers full transparency about how their acknowledgment was formed accompanied by information about why land acknowledgments are important and resources available for further education. Academic libraries often have land acknowledgments that were created by their educational institution, as demonstrated by Illinois State University. Their President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee worked closely across numerous departments to develop their statement, which will be revised as they continue working on an Indigenous reconciliation process.
Across the state of Illinois, few public libraries have released land acknowledgments. In November 2021, Brian Blank from Elmhurst Public Library submitted a Reaching Across Illinois Libraries Systems (RAILS) survey inquiring how many libraries have created a land acknowledgment. The survey garnered only seven results, two of which confirmed a document (Downers Grove and Glen Ellyn Public Libraries). The remaining five libraries (Fox River Grove Memorial Library, Three Rivers Public Library, Antioch Public Library District, Cary Area Public Library, Geneseo Public Library) have not created an acknowledgment. Other public libraries that have released statements include the Bloomington Public Library, Berwyn Public Library, Naperville Public Library, and Chicago Public Library.
1) “A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment,” Native Governance Center, accessed December 6, 2021, https://nativegov.org/news/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/
2) Okun, Tema. “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.” White Supremacy Culture, accessed December 6, 2021,
3) “Land Acknowledgment,” Downers Grove Public Library, last modified August 25, 2021, dglibrary.org/land
4) “Terminology Style Guide,” Native Governance Center, accessed December 6, 2021,
5) “Territory Acknowledgment,” Native Land Digital, accessed December 6, 2021, https://native-land.ca/resources/territory-acknowledgement/