July 20, 2021
David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
You may have
noticed that more and more cultural heritage institutions are opening their
meetings with a simple acknowledgment of the people who lived on the land long
before European settlers arrived. This is usually a brief, factual statement
that is given as part of the welcome at the beginning of meetings and
conferences. The Smithsonian’s National Museum
of the American Indian
describes land acknowledgment as “a traditional custom
that dates back centuries in many Native nations and communities. Today, land
acknowledgments are used by Native Peoples and non-Natives to recognize
Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of the lands on which we now
an archival institution, the National Archives has a responsibility to
acknowledge the history of the land on which we are situated. 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.”
NARA’s First Land Acknowledgment
For our April
2021 conference on artificial intelligence and archival description, we invited
participants from universities, libraries, and archives across the country. I
decided to provide a land acknowledgment as part of my welcoming remarks. I
participated in the digital conference from my office in NARA’s flagship
building in Washington, DC. We researched the history of the land and
discovered that the Nacotchtank people had lived on this land
before colonial settlement. I made this simple statement:
Greetings from the National Archives and
Records Administration. I am pleased to welcome you to this conference on
artificial intelligence co-hosted by NARA and Virginia Tech. NARA has many
archival facilities, federal records centers, and Presidential Libraries in
locations across the country. Today I am speaking to you from our iconic
flagship building at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, which is
situated on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples.
meeting, I wrote NARA’s first blog post that focused on land acknowledgment.
post was read by staff who contacted me and offered to participate in
researching land acknowledgments for our other facilities. We reached out to
additional NARA staff who might be interested in researching information about the land their facilities
were on, and within a couple of months, we had researched almost every NARA
facility across the country.
blogging regularly about the people who were on the land before us, and the
blog series currently includes the National Archives Building in Washington, DC; the National Archives at College
the National Archives in Seattle; the National Archives at Boston and
the Boston Federal Records Center; and the Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover Presidential Libraries. I plan to continue
this series of land acknowledgment blog posts through the fall of 2021.
Our land acknowledgment efforts are in
alignment with NARA’s recent work through our Task Force on Racism as well as our work in responding to the
administration’s Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and
Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. Our land acknowledgments are basic first
steps in recognizing the importance of our shared history and acknowledging
that the past is prologue.
interactive map from the Native Land website has been a helpful starting point for
our research. Type in your address and see whose ancestral lands you reside.
Also helpful is the information provided by the Library and Archives of Canada, who have been at the forefront of Indigenous
heritage efforts for years. Thanks to funding from a generous anonymous donor,
the National Archives has been able to digitize all of the ratified Indian
Treaties, and we have made them available through a partnership project on the IDA Treaties Explorer as well as in the National Archives Catalog.
An additional 18,000 BIA photographs are available through our BIA Photographs Finding Aid.