What is a Land Acknowledgement?

A land acknowledgment is a traditional custom in many Native communities and nations to show respect to the people of the land since time immemorial.

Over the last several years, many institutions have honored the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the land on which the institutions now sit with their own land acknowledgement statements. These statements formally recognize the connection of Indigenous peoples to their ancient homelands and expresses commitment to the current and future relationship between the institution and local Native communities.

Recognizing the land as the traditional homeland of Native Peoples and recognizing the painful history and cultural erasure caused by colonization is a first step toward building stronger relationships with Native communities. Furthermore, it is a way to show respect and gratitude to the traditional stewards of a specific location, while recognizing that the legacy of colonialism is a concern.

Working together with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Marine Biological Laboratory has developed a land acknowledgement statement to recognize the Tribe’s historical and enduring relationship to the land we now call Woods Hole. The MBL is grateful for the Tribe’s guidance during this process and is committed to an ongoing dialogue toward the development of beneficial and enriching interactions.

Marine Biological Laboratory’s Land Acknowledgement Statement

The Marine Biological Laboratory acknowledges that it is located on the traditional and sacred land of the Wampanoag people, whose history, language, traditional ways of life, and culture continue to influence this community. This land acknowledgement is an intentional act to counter the erasure of indigenous people and to demonstrate respect for their sovereign rights.

Guidelines for use

This acknowledgment may be written or may be spoken at the beginning of an event or program.

  • If written, it may be added below your email signature, at the start of a slide deck, or on a poster, etc.
  • If spoken, the suggested order is: (1) Welcome and a few words about the event (2) Land Acknowledgment, (3) Move into the program.
  • We encourage MBL faculty and staff to use the land acknowledgement statement as described above, however, it is a voluntary decision to be made by the employee.
  • Because the MBL’s Land Acknowledgement Statement has been developed carefully with the Mashpee Wampanoag, it should not be edited or altered in any way.

Background

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. The Mashpee Wampanoag are one of three surviving tribes of the original 69 in the Wampanoag Nation (the other two are Aquinnah and Herring Pond). The Mashpee Tribe currently has 2,600 enrolled citizens.

snapshot timeline of the Tribe’s contact with non-Native people is on the Tribe’s website.

The town now known as Falmouth would have been home to multiple villages including Suckanessett, meaning “place by the sea where the black wampum is found,” Teaticket, Waquoit, Coonamessett, Megansett, Sippewissett, Menauhant, etc. Falmouth was incorporated in 1686, originally under the name Suckanessett. It is likely that Wampanoag tribal members in Suckanessett were displaced to Mashpee as the town was settled.

In this video, Darius Coombs, cultural outreach coordinator for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, speaks about the forced erasure of the tribe’s cultural practices by the Massachusetts Bay Company (1646) and subsequently over history; and current tribal initiatives to restore and teach traditional practices to tribal members and to others.

People may or may not realize that the formal education of Indians was based on ‘taking the Indian out of a man,’ in other words, to make us act think and adopt the ideals and beliefs of the white man. It began with conversion to Christianity. We suffered a tremendous crisis in the loss of identity as Indian people, resulting from loss of our language, our land, and our social structures.

Roxanne D. Mills Brown, Director, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Education Department

 

A Vision for Collaboration

On January 19, 2022, the Marine Biological Laboratory welcomed Nitana Hicks Greendeer, Ph.D., for a workshop on Wampanoag history and culture in our region, followed by a community conversation.

Dr. Greendeer, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, has worked with the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project as a teacher, researcher, and curriculum developer and currently as the Head of School for the Wôpanâak Language immersion school, Weetumuw. The mission of this project is to return language fluency to the Wampanoag Nation as a principal means of expression.

Following Dr. Greendeer’s presentation at MBL, ideas were shared for potential interactions between the MBL and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. These included:

  • Research interactions, such as sharing Native knowledge and academic knowledge of Cape and islands natural resources, ecology and environment, and natural history.
  • Education interactions, such as connecting with students through the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s STEP program, a college and career readiness program for middle and high-school students.

“As Native people, we learned by observing, doing, and apprenticing, working side by side with those who have the knowledge. It’s still true today for many of our people.”

Roxanne D. Mills Brown, Director, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Education Dept.

 
Additional resources:

Example of acknowledgement for presentation“Beyond Punishment: Restorative Justice Practice, Policy, & Potential: Welcome & Land Acknowledgment” UChicago Law School

Example of another institutional land acknowledgement statement: Stanford University

We are all on Native land: A conversation about land acknowledgements

Native land digital map