Going Beyond Land Acknowledgments

Last month, we announced The Mountaineers Native land acknowledgment statement. Land acknowledgment is only a first step: read on for more information about how The Mountaineers seeks to honor Native land and peoples.
Betsy Robblee Betsy Robblee
Conservation & Advocacy Director
October 22, 2022
Going Beyond Land Acknowledgments

Last month, we shared our land acknowledgment statement and the process we underwent to develop it. Mountaineers staff and board members developed this statement in collaboration with Chairman Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe. We recognize that land acknowledgment is only a small piece of doing our part to help rectify historical wrongs and honor Native peoples. The actions we take as an organization are a more substantive way of showing Native peoples respect and gratitude.

The Mountaineers land acknowledgment statement is:

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 don’t take those words lightly, and some of the ways we intend to embody this statement is through encouraging respectful recreation, building relationships with local tribes, and supporting shared conservation values.

Recreating Respectfully

As an organization that recreates on Native land, some of the ways we show our gratitude is to treat the land with respect and leave it better than we found it. This ethic is deeply rooted in The Mountaineers through our adherence to and teaching of low impact recreation practices and our stewardship activities. During the last fiscal year, nearly 600 Mountaineers completed our Low Impact Recreation eLearning course, and our members conducted over 4,000 hours of stewardship.

Low impact recreation and stewardship are increasingly important as participation in outdoor recreation has been surging, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing impact of recreation on natural and cultural resources is a shared concern for The Mountaineers community as well as local tribes. We hope to work collectively with tribes to help address these concerns. Educating the recreation community about how to lessen their impact on natural spaces is one way we can help.

We can continue to build on this tradition by becoming more aware of how to recreate respectfully on Native land. The Snoqualmie Tribe’s Ancestral Lands Movement lists several steps visitors can take to practice respect and help the tribe protect and restore their ancestral lands. These include experiencing the land in a way that centers on mindfulness rather than conquest, learning more about the tribe and its history and connection to the land, and practicing land acknowledgment.

We encourage our community to learn more about Native people’s history and connection to the lands where we live and recreate. A good place to begin your own research is the Washington State Tribal Directory provided by the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. The directory will point you to the websites of local tribes where you can learn more about their history, traditions, and current work. We also strive to uplift traditional place names of the locations where our programs take place, such as Koma Kulshan (Mount Baker) and Tahoma (Mount Rainier).

Changing the narrative

In relation to our conservation work, we’re thinking deeply about the implications of acknowledging Native land and peoples. While we’re proud of our 116 year history of advocating for the protection of outdoor spaces, we recognize that much of that work was not done in collaboration or consultation with local tribes. Nor did that work acknowledge the fact that the so-called “public lands” we sought to protect are Native lands, and tribes have deep cultural and legally-protected connections to the land. As a result, Native stories are largely missing from both historical and contemporary narratives of The Mountaineers and our legacy.

Native tribes have long sought increased recognition, respect, and collaboration from federal and state government agencies when it comes to their sovereign, inherent rights, including treaty rights. Tribes are sovereign governments, just like the United States, and our country has a long and troubled history of not respecting tribal sovereignty. Today, land managers at all levels of government are increasingly taking steps to right historical wrongs and partner with Tribal Nations to co-manage public lands and their natural resources. This process is ongoing and there is still much work to do.

Building Relationships

We strive to build relationships with local tribes and Native communities to listen to and support their values and priorities. Cultivating and nurturing relationships with Pacific Northwest Indian tribes is critically important to our conservation goals. Through doing so, we strive to change our perspectives and the stories we tell about our landscapes to uplift tribal lifeways and connection with the land.

In 2019, we partnered with the Tulalip Tribes for a one-day workshop to discuss recreation and treaty rights. This was a special opportunity for Mountaineers to meet with tribal leaders to learn about their culture, history, and connection to their ancestral lands. Those conversations provided the basis for our organizational journey towards a deeper recognition of tribal sovereignty, and we look forward to future conversations and partnership with the Tulalip Tribes. We hope to partner with tribes to share similar workshops and learning opportunities for our community.

We were also grateful to have several conversations with the Snoqualmie Tribe which provided valuable perspectives on the language we use in these posts, how best to share resources from tribes, and suggestions for how The Mountaineers can support and amplify tribal voices in matters affecting lands and waters, while avoiding cultural appropriation. We look forward to future conversations and partnership with the Snoqualmie Tribe, and other tribes in the region.

We also seek to support tribal priorities through The Mountaineers and Outdoor Alliance Washington conservation and advocacy work. For example, as we work to protect landscapes through traditional conservation tools like Wilderness or Wild and Scenic Rivers designations, we seek to respect the sovereign, inherent rights of tribes and tribal lifeways while also collaborating on innovative tools to preserve natural and cultural values of lands and waters. In addition to encouraging our members to recreate respectfully, we also advocate for sustainable recreation management to mitigate recreation impacts on our lands and waters.

In conversations with our tribal partners, we have learned more about the importance of consulting with tribes early and often. Tribal consultation has too often been treated as a “check the box” exercise; instead, many tribes advocate for tribal consultation to be in alignment with Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) principles, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. FPIC was included in Washington State law for the first time in 2021, through Executive Order 21-02. The Mountaineers supports these principles and we plan to engage with local tribes, our Conservation and Advocacy Committee, and our partner organizations to learn more about our own consultation requirements and how we can best support and uphold FPIC principles.

Uplifting Tribal Voices

We strive to support tribes and their efforts to reconnect to their ancestral lands in other ways, such as working to ensure that signage on public lands and waters does not contribute to Native erasure. You can learn more about Native erasure in this resource from the Snoqualmie Tribe. We also seek to raise awareness of Native place names on our region’s public lands, and support tribally led efforts to restore traditional place names to specific natural landmarks.

We are committed to approaching this work with humility and an open mind, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. The way we have done things in the past should not serve to limit how we work in the future, and we seek to approach our conservation efforts and partnerships with inclusivity. This work will be slow and incremental, with inevitable setbacks and missteps. But we do not want to simply check a box, and we acknowledge that we have a long journey ahead. As the saying goes, trust is built at the speed of relationships. We appreciate your engagement in this process, and look forward to learning and growing together.

In case you missed it, please read our blog post announcing The Mountaineers land acknowledgment statement. If you are interested in learning more about these efforts to honor Native lands and peoples, feel free to email us at conservation@mountaineers.org.

Lead image of colchuck lake, THE ANCESTRAL LANDS OF MANY NATIVE PEOPLES, INCLUDING the Wenatchi, Yakama, and the confederated tribes of the colville reservation. photo by nate derrick.