As I’ve mentioned in other sermons, I’m glad that indigenous issues are finally being given some attention. It’s a long way from justice, but it’s a start. We’ll never see justice for Native Americans if more people don’t at least become aware of the injustices they’ve suffered, and continue to suffer. Our systems of White Supremacy, firmly entrenched since before our nation was a nation, affect not only Black Americans, but America’s indigenous population as well.
I first heard and used a land acknowledgement when I was co-leading Active Hope workshops in Ithaca, NY in 2017. There is a reservation nearby and a couple of women from the reservation participated in a workshop and asked us to begin with a land acknowledgement. Our permission came from Freida Jacques, Turtle Clan Mother of the Onondaga Nation. We acknowledged that we were on Cayuga Nation Land with these words:
“Before we begin this workshop, we want to acknowledge that we are, at this moment, gathered on the territory of the Cayuga Nation, Keepers of the Southern Door of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. We acknowledge these people, their history and continued future on this land, and are thankful for their ongoing stewardship of our environment.”
Since then, land acknowledgements have become widespread. When Stephen Fuegi expressed interest in our doing it here in our congregation, I was enthusiastic. It has taken a little while to get here, and in the meantime I have learned that as it has become a widespread practice, some consider it a meaningless gesture, a way to seem caring without any action behind it— in the case of businesses, even an empty PR move.
In the fall, I attended a webinar with Adrienne Keene, a Native scholar and activist, who said that land acknowledgement comes from a good place, but in the past couple of years, it’s become a check box that doesn’t have a lot of content. She suggests we add to our statements “and this is what it compels me to do”. My notes from the webinar include the phrase “Land back is better than land acknowledgement.” She also said that the land acknowledgement shouldn’t be the first step, we need to establish a relationship with the native people first.
Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center
So I looked into it and found we have a community of Indigenous people here in Pittsburgh. It’s called the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, and is known by its acronym COTRAIC. On their website I found Miguel listed as the contact for land acknowledgment, and was thrilled when he offered to come speak with us himself.
Meanwhile, the monthly forum that we produce in partnership with St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church and Trinity Lutheran had a presenter on Thursday night from that same community. Mike Simms spoke about the community, and ways we might get involved.
They hold Community Days in the Indian Center once a month, where they engage in crafts, socializing, drums, songs, and potlucks. The main purpose of these monthly gatherings is to share and teach their culture to the youth. Non-natives are also welcome at the Community Days. They teach ceremonies, sweat lodges, pow wow, how to make fry bread, things like that. They help people research where they come from, what tribe they descend from.
They don’t have funding from any level of government. They write grants, and some they get, some they don’t. They want to upgrade the pow wow grounds, and Mike suggests it won’t cost as much if they have people who come and work with them
The could use money, but also labor, he says, or even just someone bringing them water. Maybe this is something we could do as a congregation.
I want to turn this over to Miguel, who can tell us much more about his community and about land acknowledgment. We want to do it to raise awareness, but more, we want to be in relationship, to begin to do something to help the situation of indigenous people here in Pittsburgh and nationwide.
Editor’s Note – we do not have Miguel’s Text however we do have more information about how to learn from him on our site.
Rev. Jane Thickstun