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Land Acknowledgment: Lesson 1

Unearthing Forgotten Histories: Indigenous Presence and the Shadows of Colonization

Welcome to the beginning of our exploration into land acknowledgments. This first lesson lays the foundation for understanding the historical context and significance of recognizing Indigenous presence and acknowledging a prehistory to colonization. We encourage you to engage with the additional resources provided, as this is just the starting point of a comprehensive journey into a complex and vital subject.

"All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here."”

Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe author and journalist) "Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations" (2016)

Learning Objectives

After this mini lesson, you should be able to:

  • Articulate the role and significance of land acknowledgment in recognizing Indigenous presence.
  • Critically evaluate the historical context, including the brutalities, systematic indoctrination, forced removal, and assimilation of Indigenous peoples.
  • Examine the Western notion of wilderness, considering the romantic view of the U.S. National Park System, and analyze how this has led to the appropriation of native and Indigenous lands.

Key Terms


Social term for groups of Native peoples and associated kin within a geographic area and/or across multiple geographic areas.


Term for the inhabitants of Turtle Island by colonists. Also, the terminology used in the writing of the Constitution. Federal laws about and for Indigenous peoples in the United States are known as Federal Indian Law. Legal terminology of Native peoples as one large group, although incorrect, in use to this day.

Indigenous People(s)

Indigenous peoples are the descendants of the peoples who inhabited the Americas, the Pacific, and parts of Asia and Africa prior to European colonization.Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. The land and natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.


Term used in the Indian Reorganization Act (1934). Gaining popularity after the American Indian Movement in the 1970s amongst Native governments as they reassert sovereignty and self-sufficiency.

Native American, American Indian

Catch all terms for the over 574 federally recognized tribes, and non-federally recognized tribes in the United States. Native American and American Indian are terms used to refer to peoples living within what is now the United States prior to European contact. American Indian has a specific legal context because the branch of law, Federal Indian Law, uses this terminology.


Anthropology term for a culturally distinct society.

Tribal Nation

A legal designation for Native American tribes in the United States and listed in the Federal Register.
*These are all generalized terms. Whenever possible identify tribes by their own name. For example, Oneida Nation.

Nanabush & Creation

Taking A Look Back

The Romantic View of Wilderness and Its Impact: The Western concept of wilderness, epitomized in the romanticized view of the US National Park System, has profound implications for how we perceive and interact with the land. The Fortress model of conservation, built on exclusion and appropriation, is more than just a management strategy; it's a worldview that alienates native people from their land. This perspective, exported globally through models like Yellowstone, reshapes not only landscapes but also cultural and social relationships. Understanding this romantic view and its impacts invites us to reimagine conservation in a way that honors Indigenous presence, rights, and wisdom.

The Complexity of Indigenous Presence and Colonization: Understanding Indigenous presence and colonization goes beyond mere historical facts; it demands an engagement with the deep-rooted complexities of ownership, identity, and cultural erasure. Recognizing that there is a prehistory to colonization invites us to see the land not just as a resource but as a living tapestry of human stories and connections. The brutality, forced removal, and misguided theologies that characterized colonization are not just historical events; they continue to shape our relationships with the land and each other. Unearthing these forgotten histories challenges us to see, feel, and respond to these realities with empathy and action.

Timeline of Indigenous Experience in North America


Reflection Questions

  1. How does the history of colonization and forced removal of Indigenous peoples affect your perception of land and its ownership?
  2. In what ways can acknowledging this history influence current attitudes towards land and Indigenous rights?
  3. How might you engage with additional resources to further explore the historical context of the land you live on, and what steps can you take to honor that history?
  4. How might understanding the prehistory to colonization influence your sense of place and connection to the land?

Engage/Join the Conversation

Further Reading