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Land Acknowledgement: Getting Started

Updated: May 11, 2021

SheJumps has made a commitment to address existing colonial, harmful, and racist structures and systems within the outdoor industry and beyond. In this work, we are working to educate our broader community on what equitable diversity and inclusion looks like. The following blog post was written with input and emotional labor from several Indigenous SheJumps stakeholders to help our community better understand the significance and importance of land acknowledgements.

Take a moment to think about the outdoors and your activities. What would they be without the land?

When you build a better connection with the land, you may find yourself taking more time from your adventure to breathe in the air or take notice to a more granular setting of how the earth is living around you.

“If you’re that stoked on getting into the backcountry, get that stoke level for the land! They go hand and hand.” - Renee Hutchens

Dine, Hopi, Pueblo, and Ute

What is land acknowledgement?

Land acknowledgements are not only a way to gain a better connection with the land, but the act of acknowledging the history of land triggers a deeper look at significant Indigenous erasure.

Let us be clear: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding the complex relationships people cultivate with land. But as our world continues to evolve and change, land acknowledgements become a window into understanding the role we all play in making the outdoors a more inclusive place.

“Land acknowledgements are about acknowledging the original and current Indigenous peoples as the stewards of the land while also acknowledging the legacy of colonialism. When a person hears or reads a land acknowledgement, it should raise more questions and lead to further education and research into the complex history of this land. It then becomes a meaningful way to address Indigenous erasure head-on. It creates a starting point from which to move forward and build on-going relationships and coalitions with Indigenous peoples today. When land acknowledgements are seen in this manner as a progression of steps, then we avoid them being merely performative. The power of land acknowledgements lies in the action it motivates. They are about changing the discourse of the outdoor industry to give space to honor the histories, cultures, contributions, and resilience of contemporary Indigenous peoples.” - Renee Hutchens

Land acknowledgement terms

There isn’t one right way to do a land acknowledgement. Not all Indigenous people agree on land acknowledgements or how they should be done. Below are several terms you may come across when researching local land acknowledgements.

Unceded land/territory: Land that was taken usually through forced removal where tribal nations (variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities, and Native villages) never legally surrendered through a treaty, trade, or land sale. This type of removal typically used violence and coercive methods, such as starvation (destroying food sources), and resulted in some of the largest mass killings of Native peoples.

Traditional lands/territory: Areas identified by tribal nations as land they and/or their ancestors traditionally inhabited and stewarded. These are considered their homelands even today. These land areas are not a concept of the distant past, rather they are still connected to traditional knowledge, sacred places, ceremonies, culture, and life-ways today.

Stolen land: The term is used a lot in many different ways. Colonization set into motion the perpetual stealing of land. It started with stealing land to colonize, treaties were made, then broken, then there began the federal policies that supported stealing of more land, resulting in reservations in some cases or nothing at all for many tribes. Land continued to be stolen via broken treaties and federal policies. An example in Washington, a large portion of Pahto (Mt. Adams) and the surrounding drainage basin/mountains were originally protected under the Treaty of 1855. This was then taken away by the government in the early 1900s for Forest Service use. The Yakama Nation has been fighting to get this stolen land back since the 1960's.

Ancestral lands: A word that has a couple of meanings. It can be used similar to Traditional lands, but it could also refer to migration patterns. Ancestral lands could be considered as an area not continuously inhabited due to environmental, cultural, or other changes but in any case (currently inhabited or not), ancestral lands hold historical, emotional, and spiritual significance to a tribe.

Quileute and Makah

Where to start

Deepen your understanding of the "history" of the United States. What events are erased from the mainstream historical narratives of the places you come from and love to spend time in? Land acknowledgements require us to recognize the U.S. was built on Native lands and understand the mechanisms through which this has happened (and continues). Consider these tensions: environmental conservation and advocacy efforts are tied to public lands, yet sustainability and stewardship have always been a practice of Indigenous peoples. Today’s public lands are carved from Indigenous land–all from unceded territories with violent histories and biased environmental policies. Land acknowledgements require us to be thoughtful when saying public lands are ‘everyone’s land.’

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Cyclista Zine hosted a discussion with Renee Hutchens on Land Acknowledgement and Indigenous Representation. Watch the recorded Instagram Live event.

1. Take a step back and educate yourself on the history of colonization and stolen land. Cylista Zine offers a document of resources.

2. Locate the land or territories you reside on using or the Native Land map layer by Gaia GPS.

3. Do the research. Listen, learn, and be open. We may start as a beginner, just as you would in the outdoors, and find a way to progress. Be willing to listen and learn and be open to the idea that the way our schools teach history often omits or minimizes the trauma and violence of settler colonialism. Listen to and learn from Indigenous people and tribal leaders and to consider history from their perspective. Learn more about the past, present, and future of the land where you spend your time. Learn the history of where you live and then ask yourself who has been left out of this history. Whose story is not being told? What perspective is this history coming from? Are you able to answer the following questions?

  • Who inhabited the land prior to the arrival of Europeans?

  • What are the long lasting effects of colonization?

  • What are the long term impacts of federal policies that tribes are actively fighting to reverse?

  • What Indigenous people live in your area today?

  • What issues are important to your local tribes and why?

  • What are the current stories of resistance to settler colonialism and white supremacy, and of survival?

4. When appropriate, learn how to say and pronounce the land names.

  • Recognize that tribes have different names for each of these places.

  • Practice using these first and parenthesizing colonizer names second. e.g. Pahto (Mt. Adams), Tahoma (Mt. Rainier), Agiocochook (Mt. Washington).

Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Cheyenne, Michif Piyii (Métis), and Hunkpapa

5. Share the land’s authentic story with friends and family and keep the conversation going when you can.

  • When someone asks you where you’re from start with: “I am, gratefully, a long-term guest on this land called [insert name] by the [tribe], a borderlands of the Dena’ina and Sugpiaq people."

  • Kittitas, which is an area filled with columnar basalt and big rock climbing routes (Prusik Peak), means "Many Rock People" or "Place of shale rock and white clay."

  • The word Yakama, which has a few meanings including "runaway." There is an origin legend in the Yakama people about the daughter of a chief who broke one of the sacred rules and ran away. She ran until she found a great river that was abundant with life and there she made her home. Her children created the bands of the valley that now make the Yakama Nation.

6. Follow Indigenous people on social media and learn from their voices. Some accounts you can start with include:

  • @indigenouswomenhike

  • @indigenouswomxnclimb

  • @nativesoutdoors

  • @nativewomenswilderness

  • @seedingsovereignty

  • @indigwomenoutdoors

7. Follow hashtags to diversify perspectives:

Wabanaki Confederacy, Penobscot, and Abenaki / Abénaquis

Take a step further

When you see conservation efforts for public lands, ask or research to see if tribal communities are represented in the conversations (and at leadership levels). Challenge the narratives behind the idea of conquering exploration of land. Use a critical eye and ear on these narratives. Ask questions of who is speaking and who is spoken about. Who has power, agency, expertise, and who does not? Who is in the present and who is in the past? Who is privileged, and who is marginalized, re-written, criminalized, erased?

Read up on the current locations of resistance where Indigenous communities are on the frontlines of protecting the lands, waters, and community livelihoods. Use Seeding Sovereignty as a resource or learn more about reparations projects, like Real Rent Duwamish.

Other topics you can research include:

  • Public lands are Indigenous land

  • Land back

SheJumps is learning and unlearning

SheJumps respectfully acknowledges that our work stretches across the ancestral and contemporary lands of many Native peoples. We, as an organization and a community of staff, volunteers, partners, and participants, take responsibility to learn about the deep relationships to place that span millenia, and to learn about the costs incurred and borne by Indigenous communities (and other marginalized communities ) in order to have access to the land on which we do the things we love.

For SheJumps, learning includes:

  1. Learning about land acknowledgements and sharing the importance of land acknowledgements in all of our communications. This includes developing meaningful training and framework for our volunteers to amplify this effort at in-person SheJumps events.

  2. Amplifying and partnering with Indigenous-led projects and programs in the outdoors.

  3. Educating ourselves on the true costs of our experiences in the outdoors. This includes making a conscious effort to unlearn messages that erase Native and Indigenous peoples, their way of life, and their relationships of belonging with the land. This recent article from Vice identifies some examples of those costs, and Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Nagib Pellow’s 2011 book The Slums of Aspen highlight the intersections of these costs.

  4. Identifying and improving on the economics of SheJumps programs. This means identifying how money spent on programs and events can be invested into Indigenous local groups, businesses, and organizations.

Our mission is to increase the participation of ALL women and girls. Institutional and cultural change takes time, but SheJumps is committed to identifying how our mission intersects with these issues. We take responsibility for these commitments within our organization and to educate our community in this arena. As we continue to learn more about these complex issues, we encourage you to do the same. It’s a journey, and we are all in this for a more equitable and inclusive world. Learn more about SheJumps’ commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion here.

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