Category: Education

Land acknowledgments meant to honor Indigenous people too often do the opposite – erasing American Indians and sanitizing history instead

A portion of a map that erases the borders Colonial powers drew, and shows instead the Indigenous territories, treaties and languages of North America. Native Land Digital, CC BY-SA

by Elisa J. Sobo (San Diego State University), Michael Lambert (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Valerie Lambert (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Many events these days begin with land acknowledgments: earnest statements acknowledging that activities are taking place, or institutions, businesses and even homes are built, on land previously owned by Indigenous peoples.

And many organizations now call on employees to incorporate such statements not only at events but in email signatures, videos, syllabuses and so on. Organizations provide resources to facilitate these efforts, including pronunciation guides and video examples.

Some land acknowledgments are carefully constructed in partnership with the dispossessed. The Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle describes this process:

“Tribal elders and leaders are the experts and knowledge-bearers who generously shared their perspectives and guidance with the Burke. Through this consultation, we co-created the Burke’s land acknowledgement.”

That acknowledgment reads:

“We stand on the lands of the Coast Salish peoples, whose ancestors have resided here since Time Immemorial. Many Indigenous peoples thrive in this place—alive and strong.”

Land acknowledgments have been used to start conversations regarding how non-Indigenous people can support Indigenous sovereignty and advocate for land repatriation.

Yet the historical and anthropological facts demonstrate that many contemporary land acknowledgments unintentionally communicate false ideas about the history of dispossession and the current realities of American Indians and Alaska Natives. And those ideas can have detrimental consequences for Indigenous peoples and nations.

This is why, in a move that surprised many non-Indigenous anthropologists to whom land acknowledgments seemed a public good, the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists requested that the American Anthropological Association officially pause land acknowledgments and the related practice of the welcoming ritual, in which Indigenous persons open conferences with prayers or blessings. The pause will enable a task force to recommend improvements after examining these practices and the history of the field’s relationship with American Indians and Alaska Natives more broadly.

We are three anthropologists directly involved in the request — Valerie Lambert of the Choctaw Nation and president of the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists; Michael Lambert of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and member of the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists; and EJ Sobo, an American Anthropological Association board member charged with representing interests such as those of the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists. We’d like to further illuminate this Indigenous position, not from the association’s perspective but from our perspective as scholars.

‘What was once yours is now ours’

No data exists to demonstrate that land acknowledgments lead to measurable, concrete change. Instead, they often serve as little more than feel-good public gestures signaling ideological conformity to what historians Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder have called – in the context of higher education’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts – “a naïve, left-wing, paint-by-numbers approach” to social justice.

Take, for instance, the evocation in many acknowledgments of a time when Indigenous peoples acted as “stewards” or “custodians” of the land now occupied. This and related references – for example, to “ancestral homelands” – relegate Indigenous peoples to a mythic past and fails to acknowledge that they owned the land. Even if unintentionally, such assertions tacitly affirm the putative right of non-Indigenous people to now claim title.

This is also implied in what goes unsaid: After acknowledging that an institution sits on another’s land, there is no follow-up. Plans are almost never articulated to give the land back. The implication is: “What was once yours is now ours.”

Additionally, in most cases these statements fail to acknowledge the violent trauma of land being stolen from Indigenous people – the death, dispossession and displacement of countless individuals and much collective suffering. The afterlives of these traumas are deeply felt and experienced in Indigenous communities.

But because non-Indigenous people are generally unaware of this trauma, land acknowledgments are often heard by Indigenous peoples as the denial of that trauma. This perspective is reinforced by a tendency to cast Indigenous peoples as part of prehistory, suggesting that the trauma of dispossession, if it happened at all, did not happen to real or wholly human people.

Further, land acknowledgments can undermine Indigenous sovereignty in ways that are both insidious and often incomprehensible to non-Indigenous people.

For example, non-Indigenous people tend to seek local “Indigenous” affirmation of their acknowledgment performance, such as by arranging for a conference blessing or Welcome to Country ritual. Such rites often feature the voices of people who, in Indigenous Studies scholar Kim TallBear’s words, play at being Indian – that is, those who have no legitimate claim to an Indigenous identity or sovereign nation status but represent themselves as such.

A man dressed in Native American clothes, Iron Eyes Cody, giving President Jimmy Carter a Native American headdress. Neither man was Native American.
Actor Iron Eyes Cody, left, with President Jimmy Carter in 1978, built a decadeslong career on pretending to be Cherokee. He was of Italian descent. AP Photo/Peter Bregg

Sovereignty and alienation

Appropriation of American Indian and Alaska Native identity by individuals who are not members of sovereign tribes, referred to as “pretendians” by actual American Indians and Alaska Natives, is endemic. Actor Iron Eyes Cody, for instance, built a decadeslong career on it despite his Italian heritage.

Demographic data suggests that pretendians outnumber real American Indian and Alaska Natives by a ratio of at least 4 to 1. In some cases, pretendians persist in their claims in the face of clear documentation to the contrary.

When non-Indigenous people allow pretendians authority regarding land acknowledgments and blessing ceremonies, it irreparably harms sovereign Indigenous nations and their citizens. The most threatening message communicated by these acts is that American Indian identity is a racial or ethnic identity that anyone can claim through self-identification. This is not true.

American Indian identity is a political identity based on citizenship in an Indigenous nation whose sovereignty has been acknowledged by the U.S. government. Sovereign Indigenous nations, and only these nations have the authority to determine who is and is not a citizen, and hence who is and is not an American Indian or Alaska Native.

Anything less would undermine the entire body of Indian Law, undoing tribal sovereignty. As Rebecca Nagle of the Cherokee Nation explains in “This Land,” American Indians and Alaska Natives would effectively cease to exist.

And so, particularly when they perpetuate misunderstandings of Indigenous identities, land acknowledgments done wrong are heard by Indigenous peoples as the final blow: a definitive apocalyptic vision of a world in which Indigenous sovereignty and land rights will not be recognized and will be claimed never to have really existed.

Respect and restoration

Land acknowledgments are not harmful, we believe, if they are done in a way that is respectful of the Indigenous nations who claim the land, accurately tell the story of how the land passed from Indigenous to non-Indigenous control, and chart a path forward for redressing the harm inflicted through the process of land dispossession.

What many Indigenous persons want from a land acknowledgment is, first, a clear statement that the land needs to be restored to the Indigenous nation or nations that previously had sovereignty over the land.

This is not unrealistic: There are many creative ways to take restorative measures and even to give land back, such as by returning U.S. national parks to the appropriate tribes. Following from this, land acknowledgments must reveal a sincere commitment to respecting and enhancing Indigenous sovereignty.

If an acknowledgment is discomforting and triggers uncomfortable conversations versus self-congratulation, it is likely on the right track.

Elisa J. Sobo, Professor and Chair of Anthropology, San Diego State University; Michael Lambert, Associate Professor of African Studies and Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Valerie Lambert, President of the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists; Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community

Read the full post at the GCI Nexus blog. I’m a proud member of the leadership committee for this project.

My name is Dr. Jonathon Moir and I am thrilled to be writing to you today as the new Program Manager for the Green Chemistry Teaching and Learning Community (GCTLC). The GCTLC—an online platform set to launch in 2023—is a joint initiative announced in December by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and Beyond Benign that will help revolutionize the way green chemistry educational resources are shared and further catalyze collaboration, networking and mentorship among educators, students, industry stakeholders and community members.

Research culture

Hypercompetition. Overwork. Career instability. Lack of diversity. Discrimination. Misconduct. These are just some of the characteristic problems of current academic research culture. Despite the strain these issues place on researchers, improvement have been slow to emerge due to the complex network of interactions between all the parties involved in academic research – including funders, universities, publishers and the researchers themselves.

In this collection, Chemistry World looks more closely at these issues from the viewpoints of the people affected by them and highlight some of the solutions being proposed to make academic research environments healthier and happier places to do science.

In Baltimore schools, cutting food waste as a lesson in climate awareness and environmental literacy

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

America wastes up to 40 percent of its food, and schools are no exception. Teaching students where food comes from is part of the solution.

Study finds natural outdoor spaces are less common at schools

Read the full story from North Carolina State University.

Spending time in nature can have mental, physical and social benefits for children. While schools offer a chance for students of all backgrounds to get outside in nature, researchers from North Carolina State University found natural spaces like woods or gardens were relatively rare in a small sample of elementary and middle schools in Wake County.

Published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, the study found that for schools that did have green natural spaces, teachers played a key role in helping kids experience and enjoy those natural areas.

EPA seeks applicants for 2021 Environmental Education Grants

Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that up to $3 million in funding for locally-focused environmental education grants is now available under the 2021 Environmental Education (EE) Local Grant Program. EPA will award grants in each of EPA’s 10 Regions, for no less than $50,000 and no more than $100,000 each, for a total of 30-40 grants nationwide. Applications are due Dec. 6, 2021 and the Request for Application (RFA) notice is now posted on Grants.gov and on EPA’s website.

The 2021 EE Local Grant Program includes support for projects that reflect the intersection of environmental issues with climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, preventing future water quality and human health issues, in addition to other environmental topics. Funded projects will increase public awareness of those topics and help participants to develop the skills needed to make informed decisions. An RFA containing regional details will be issued by each of the 10 EPA Regions. Applicants should choose the RFA that is for the location of the project. 

“Tackling the climate crisis and delivering on our health and environmental protection mission requires engaged and informed local partners. When we equip communities with the right tools to raise awareness and advance environmental education, it benefits everybody. That’s why I encourage our local partners across the country to apply for the 2021 Environmental Education Local Grants Program.” 

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

Through this grant program, EPA intends to provide financial support for projects that design, demonstrate, and/or disseminate environmental education practices, methods, or techniques, that will serve to increase environmental literacy and encourage behavior that will benefit the environment in local communities, especially in underserved communities. EPA recognizes underserved communities as people or communities of color, Tribal and Indigenous populations that may be disproportionately impacted by environmental harms and risks, high-poverty areas, persistent poverty counties, and Title 1 schools for this grant program.

Since 1992, EPA has distributed between $2 and $3.5 million in grant funding per year under this program, supporting more than 3,800 grants and making the grant program one of the most utilized in the agency.

The full list of solicitation notices are available at Grants.gov and on EPA’s website. The Office of Environmental Education will also host two webinars in the coming weeks on how to write a competitive application and to address commonly asked questions. Background information on the EE Grants Program and resources for applicants is available here.

Diving deep: A fresh look at internships & fellowship opportunities

Read the full story from William & Mary.

In the summer of 2020, the murder of George Floyd sparked demonstrations across the U.S. in support of the countless minorities, specifically Black people, that have been subject to police brutality. For many people, these demonstrations shed light on systemic racism and institutional inequalities that are pervasive throughout the U.S. and around the world. People started actively seeking ways to be involved, show support, and/or make an impact in their communities. For a small team within the Sea Grant and Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), this included solidifying plans for a National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES Planning Grant proposal that would “develop a national ecosystem that nurtures the growth, persistence, and success of students from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups.” The group named the project COME IN (Coastal, Ocean, and Marine Enterprise Inclusion and Network-building), and I was lucky enough to get involved with their team as a Sustainability Ambassador through the William & Mary Office of Sustainability this past spring.

Environmental Justice: Evaluating Zip Codes And Pollution Burdens

View the full lesson plan for grades 9-12.

In this activity, you will use open data sets about environmental exposure and demographics to look for geographic connections between polluting industries, different types of communities, and human health impacts. Then you will explore how communities use the power of data to advocate for accountability and change. Finally, you will take your own action for environmental justice by uniting the power of data with the amplifiers of storytelling and social media.

NSF-funded project to evaluate open-access educational resources

Read the full story from the University of Nebraska.

Brian Couch, associate professor of biological sciences at Nebraska, is leading a new NSF-funded project to assess the quality and implementation of open educational resources: publicly available lesson plans, lab activities and other course materials designed, in this case, for undergraduate biology courses.

10 Years of Innovative Stormwater Solutions: The Campus RainWorks Challenge Brings the Next Generation of Environmentalists to the Table

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

In 2012, EPA’s Office of Water began the Campus RainWorks Challenge, a green infrastructure design competition open to undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities in the United States and its territories. The challenge requires multidisciplinary student teams specializing in engineering, landscape architecture, life sciences, and other disciplines to identify a stormwater management problem on campus or at a local elementary or high school. Student teams work with a faculty advisor to help design green infrastructure solutions. Students can compete in either of the challenge’s two competition categories, demonstration projects or master plan. Demonstration projects focus on site specific applications for green infrastructure. Master plan entries apply green infrastructure across a broader area of campus.

Since the inception of this challenge, more than 700 teams from 272 academic institutions across 48 states and Puerto Rico have participated. The challenge helps EPA engage the next generation of environmental professionals and showcases the environmental, economic, and social benefits of green infrastructure practices.

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