The Importance of Acknowledging History

I work at the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, D.C., which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples

From the Native Land website map.

I have begun to include this simple statement when I provide remarks at meetings, acknowledging the ancestral lands of indigenous people on which we stand. If you have attended a museum, library or archives conference recently, you most likely have heard speakers prefacing their remarks by acknowledging the indigenous lands upon which their institutions are built.  

On their Native Peoples of Washington, DC webpage, the National Park Service notes,The village of Nacotchtank (from which the name Anacostia is derived) was the largest of three American Indian villages located in the Washington area…After only 40 years of contact with the Europeans, the population of local American Indians was only one-quarter of those that lived in the region prior to 1608. Many of the Nacotchtanks and other local American Indians died from diseases introduced by the Europeans and in wars. Others joined other tribes to the north, south, and west.”

From the Native Land website map.

You might wonder what purpose the simple acknowledgement statement serves or why it is important. Felicia Garcia, in her Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements for Cultural Institutions notes, “Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements pertain to all places, especially to libraries, archives, museums, and universities, because it is their ethical obligation as educational institutions to create truthful and factual representations. These acknowledgements have an educational function that makes them universally applicable, regardless of an institution’s particular focus. They are about respecting and recognizing Indigenous peoples, and their relationships to land through the protocols of naming people, elders, ancestors, and the times of past to future.

The National Archives has archives, records centers, and Presidential Library facilities across the country. This blogpost is the first in a series acknowledging the ancestral lands on which our facilities stand. I encourage you to research and learn about the ancestral indigenous lands on which you work and live. 

For additional research: 

5 thoughts on “The Importance of Acknowledging History

  1. I love it! While visiting colleges with our daughter in Canada in 2018, these were the first words spoken in every presentation (after the greeting, of course). It was also written on all the literature we received. Thrilled to see this taking hold in the US.

  2. The Importance of Acknowledging History … remarks at meetings, acknowledging the ancestral lands of indigenous people on which we stand. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.

  3. Let’s also please recall that these indigenous peoples are not just history. They still live in the Washington, DC, area, and are trying to keep their cultural heritage alive as well.

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