Let's start each school day with an acknowledgment of the Indigenous people's land we occupy

As a kid, I said the pledge of allegiance every single day in elementary school. I can’t remember if we still said it in middle school, but I think it was over with by high school.

That feels a lot like conditioning, looking back.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

See? I still know it. And trust me, I’ve forgotten a lot of other things.

Of course, many schools still say the pledge of allegiance at least weekly. Many still say it every day.

When I was a kid, I hardly thought twice about saying the pledge. It was just said and done, and that was it. It was like so many other things — especially in school — that were just done, and you tried to get along.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m not sure I want my children pledging their allegiance to anything. My allegiance to the flag depends entirely on the government’s allegiance to delivering “liberty and justice for all” — which, of course, has never happened. Never in the history of our country have we lived up to the code that we have been drilling into our children’s heads since World War II.

This hangs in the window of a building on Seattle’s downtown waterfront.

This hangs in the window of a building on Seattle’s downtown waterfront.

I think that’s worth acknowledging.

So many of us are looking around at the state of affairs in our country — at our presidency and our government, at our schools and our prisons and our police forces, at our nation’s extreme economic disparity and abuse of the land — and we are wishing things were different.

Wishing isn’t enough, though. We can’t expect new results from the same old ways of doing things.

So, rather than pledging allegiance to a flag — or at least alongside that pledge, if it’s something that remains important to you — let’s also pledge our solemn respect and remembrance of the past and present by acknowledging that we are living, working and schooling on stolen land.

The practice of land acknowledgment dates back centuries (at least) among indigenous communities, and is more common in the mainstream in Australia, New Zealand and Canada than in the U.S., but it is a growing movement here as well.

The idea is that before an event — whether it’s a school day, a sports game, a meeting or even a family meal — you take a moment to name, thank and consider the people whose displacement allows you to be where you are. Whose historical trauma makes it possible for you to thrive as you do in the place you live?

“There have always been indigenous peoples in the spaces we call home, and there always will be,” Kanyon Sayers-Roods, a Mutsun Ohlone activist in Northern California, told Teen Vogue in an exceptional article explaining the concept of land acknowledgment. “The acknowledgment process is about asking, What does it mean to live in a post-colonial world? What did it take for us to get here? And how can we be accountable to our part in history?”

That right there is where I hope my kids’ allegiances lie: with asking hard questions, demanding the truth, understanding their place in the world, and earnestly doing their best to do the right thing. A pledge to gratitude, to connection with the Earth and respect for every perspective would feel more appropriate than a pledge of allegiance to a flag that came to prosperity through mass slavery and genocide.

In that spirit, I’ve written a pledge of acknowledgment. Given the increasing rhetoric swirling around us promoting difference, division and discrimination, this becomes more than just a symbolic gesture. We are either actively promoting unity, honesty and healing, or we are condoning the opposite.

Here is a pledge of acknowledgment specific to Seattle:

“I pledge acknowledgment of the past and present: that we are living on the unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish people in a United States that was founded and built on slavery and oppression, the effects of which continue to be felt today.”

If that’s a bit too much for you, I understand. Let’s take this one step at a time. Here’s a simpler (watered-down?) version:

“I pledge to acknowledge throughout the day that I am living on the stolen ancestral lands of the Duwamish tribe.”

Please modify this to your own specific situation, and urge your school — whether it’s where you work, where you attend(ed) as a student, or where you kids currently learn — to begin each day with an acknowledgment of the land they are occupying.

And please let me know how it goes. I would love to hear about it.

Additional Resources:

  • The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, which is apparently a real-sounding but not officially recognized government agency, created a resource called “Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment," in consultation with numerous Indigenous people.

  • Whose loss made it possible for you to live as you do? Native Land (nativeland.ca) makes it amazingly easy to uncover this information for yourself and your own specific situation. You can also read the most recent treaty that applies to your home. It will be eye-opening, I assure you.

  • Consider paying monthly “rent” to the tribe whose land you occupy — or finding another similarly tangible form of acknowledgment, in addition to that which you vocalize.