Announcing The Mountaineers Land Acknowledgment Statement

Land acknowledgments are a first step towards better honoring Native lands and peoples. Learn about our process of developing The Mountaineers land acknowledgment statement, and our commitment to showing respect, appreciation, and support for Native communities.
Betsy Robblee Betsy Robblee
Conservation & Advocacy Director
September 20, 2022

From craggy summits to windswept beaches, Washington’s lands and waters provide inspiration, connection, and transformative experiences. For more than 115 years, The Mountaineers community has been connected through a passion for these places and a commitment to leave outdoor spaces better than we found them. However, it is important to recognize that the places where we gather, learn, and recreate are the lands of Native peoples who have lived here since time immemorial.

Today, the outdoor community is still grappling with the uncomfortable truth that the lands where we live, work, and play were created through the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their traditional homelands. These peoples have lived here since time immemorial, and their descendants are still here maintaining cultural and spiritual connections to the land.

One small way that we can begin to recognize and reflect on the fact that we are on Native lands is through the process of land acknowledgment. Land acknowledgments recognize and respect Native peoples’ historical and ongoing stewardship of and connection to the land. They can be a first step toward repairing the harm and trauma historically endured by Native peoples.

Native land acknowledgments are typically given at the beginning of a gathering or special event, and may also be included on an organization’s website or in written materials. These statements have historically been a part of some Indigenous cultures and are growing in usage throughout Canada and the United States.

Land acknowledgments are especially important for an outdoor organization like The Mountaineers. Our programs, courses, and trips occur on land previously taken from Native peoples. Land acknowledgment statements are an initial step towards addressing this history, honoring tribal sovereignty and stewardship, and striving towards deeper relationships with Native communities.

The Mountaineers Land Acknowledgment Process

Beginning the practice of land acknowledgment

The process for developing a Native land acknowledgment statement for The Mountaineers began several years ago when members of our staff and volunteer community began to incorporate the practice of land acknowledgment into meetings and events. You may have heard a land acknowledgment statement at a Mountaineers Leadership Development Series, an Annual Meeting, an Equity and Inclusion Town Hall, or our 2022 Gala. These statements were informed by individuals’ personal experiences and varied depending on the event.

Our publishing division also began to incorporate land acknowledgments into their publications and events. Mountaineers Books has published several books containing a land acknowledgment, often specific to the place featured in the book and sometimes in coordination with local Native communities. Braided River, the conservation imprint of Mountaineers Books, formally adopted a land acknowledgment statement on their website in 2018.

Tribal consultation

In addition to this organic process of land acknowledgment within our organization, many staff and volunteers encouraged The Mountaineers to adopt a more formal land acknowledgment statement. Along with an organizational statement, we believe it’s important to provide resources for our community to engage in the process of land acknowledgment in a way that is meaningful to them. After several conversations among staff, the Conservation and Advocacy Committee, and the Equity and Inclusion Committee, we developed our statement in collaboration with a well-respected local tribal leader.

Facilitated by Mountaineers Board of Directors member Maya Magarati, Mountaineers CEO Tom Vogl and Conservation & Advocacy Director Betsy Robblee had several conversations with Chairman Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe. Chairman Forsman has served on the Suquamish Tribal Council for more than 30 years and is the President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. He was recently appointed to the University of Washington Board of Regents by Governor Inslee. Chairman Forsman is familiar with The Mountaineers and was a contributor to We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea, a book published by Braided River in 2019. You can view Chairman Forsman discussing tribal treaty rights and salmon recovery in this Braided River video.

In our initial conversation, we discussed how to approach the development and creation of a land acknowledgment. We discussed questions such as: What are important components of a meaningful land acknowledgment statement? Should the statement recognize individual tribes or be more general? We learned that the answers to these questions vary. There is no single, right answer.

Chairman Forsman shared his perspective that a land acknowledgment statement should be heartfelt and simple. It should be reciprocal in nature and express a commitment to meaningful action. For an organization like The Mountaineers that operates in a large geographic region, an organization-wide statement can be more general, while leaving flexibility for statements made in a particular location to be more specific. He challenged us to think about why we were developing a statement, asking “do you want to feel good or do you want to change your values?” This conversation sparked reflection among our staff, and the recognition that our organization has an opportunity to listen, learn, and change.

Do you want to feel good or do you want to change your values?" - Chairman Forsman

Chairman Forsman graciously reviewed a draft land acknowledgment statement and offered feedback. We had a follow up conversation to review his feedback, and discussed the meaning of particular words and how The Mountaineers can embody this commitment in our programs. Together, we drafted the following statement:

The Mountaineers acknowledge that we are on the lands of the Pacific Northwest Indian tribes, who live here and steward these lands and waters as they have since time immemorial. As we pursue our mission, we strive to listen to and amplify Native traditions and values through respectful engagement.

We are grateful to Chairman Forsman for generously sharing his perspectives and guidance. It was an honor to co-create this statement with him. To express our gratitude and appreciation, The Mountaineers made a donation to the Suquamish Museum in Chairman Forsman’s honor.

Our land acknowledgment statement has been added to our website and shared at events. We also believe that this is a living statement; it will change over the years as we learn and grow. However, a statement is just that – a statement. It will only come to life if our members engage more deeply in the process of land acknowledgment and make it personally meaningful to them. The last thing we want is for staff and leaders to recite a formal statement as part of a “check the box” exercise, falling short of demonstrating our commitment to respectfully amplify Native traditions and connection to the lands and waters of the Northwest.

Creating an educational toolkit

To that end, we plan to share a toolkit of information where our volunteers and members can learn more about what land acknowledgments are, find suggestions about how to use them and how to create their own statements, and where to learn more about Native land and place names. We hope that through this process our members will be empowered to acknowledge the peoples and places connected to our outdoor activities, and through doing so, begin thinking about our relationship with Native lands and peoples in a different way.

Educational resources developed by tribes and Native communities will drive our toolkit, which will provide more information on:

  • What is a land acknowledgment?
  • Why are land acknowledgments important?
  • How to give a land acknowledgment
  • When to give a land acknowledgment
  • Additional considerations for land acknowledgments
  • How to recreate respectfully on Native land
  • Resources for learning about Native tribes, history, traditional territories, place names, and more

Many of us are on our own personal journey of learning about land acknowledgment and wrestling with the history of colonization. It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re at the beginning of a journey, and be curious about learning and digging deeper. If you’re further along, we encourage you to share your perspective and be patient with others.

Beyond Land Acknowledgments

 One of our goals in acknowledging Native land is to express our deep gratitude to Native peoples for their stewardship of beloved outdoor places. Land acknowledgment is only a small part of doing our part to help rectify historic wrongs and honor Native peoples. Our statement reads: As we pursue our mission we strive to listen to and amplify Native traditions and values through respectful engagement. Living out that commitment is a more substantive way of showing Native peoples respect and gratitude than only issuing a statement.

Next month, we plan to share more about how The Mountaineers strives to embody those words through promoting respectful recreation, building relationships with local tribes, and supporting shared conservation values. Stay tuned for more on this important topic.

Resources

Look for more information from The Mountaineers about land acknowledgments and tribal engagement in the months to come. In the meantime, here are some initial resources:

    Lead Image of a Sunset over the North Cascades, THE ANCESTRAL LANDS OF MANY NATIVE PEOPLES, INCLUDING SEVERAL COAST SALISH TRIBES, THE UPPER SKAGIT TRIBE, NOOKSACK TRIBE, SAUK-SUIATTLE TRIBE, THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES AND BANDS OF THE YAKAMA NATION, AND THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION.  Photo by Erynn Allen.

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    Tess Wendel
    Tess Wendel says:
    Sep 22, 2022 10:10 AM

    If you want to put actions behind your land acknowledgement make sure that you are paying monthly rent to Duwamish here and advocating for them to receive federal recognition. https://www.realrentduwamish.org/ . Supporting our indigenous community also means supporting resources directed towards housing and health services since natives are only about 1% of the population in Seattle but represent 10% of the unhoused. Voting YES on the social housing initiatve in February's special election is a way to make your words have meaning. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/homeless/seattle-to-vote-on-social-housing-initiative-in-special-election/.

    Diverting resources to public services rather than hiring bonus for law enforcement is part of this. Other indigenous groups locally to support can be found here: https://seattleurbannatives.org/members/