Territory acknowledgments are on the rise by organizations and for opening meetings in order to acknowledge whose territory you are currently occupying. Do you know whose territory your home sits on? Your business? Your child’s school? Your doctors office? Or even the Forest Service lands?

I can guarantee the lands of which you drive home on, go on vacation and conduct your local business on is that of Indigenous peoples. But which Indigenous communities or Tribes? That is the big question that has become the movement of land acknowledgments or as I like to refer to them as territory acknowledgments. With this new movement comes responsibility and awareness not only for the organizations, groups or businesses but for the Indigenous and/or Tribal communities as well. In order to understand that we as indigenous and/or tribal people have a responsibility also is to understand the complexity of Tribes who represent more than one Tribe.

Take my Tribe for instance, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) which includes the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute people, each representing a Tribe with their own culture, language and traditions. Technically three Tribes, but if we go back further in history we learn that not everyone identified as “Tribes.” Through the stories shared by my grandmother, our family came from the Tygh Band which resembled a family unit which is much smaller than the current structure of a Tribe. And that not every individual of the Tribe comes from all three tribes that make-up the CTWS and we cannot speak for each Tribe within the Tribe.

I will use myself as an example. I am Warm Springs, Wasco, Shoshone Bannock (Idaho), and Yakama Nation (Washington). Two of those Tribes are from the CTWS and two are not. I would not be comfortable speaking on behalf of the Paiute (the third tribe of CTWS) people because I am not from that Tribe. Therefore I would not speak on their behalf but I am comfortable including them in the territory acknowledgment, but not going into details of their history, because again I am not comfortable speaking on behalf of a Tribe I am not a part of and we should be respectful of not speaking on behalf of people, but of only ourselves.

So as you are considering requesting territory acknowledgments for your events, meetings or to use in any way you see fit, understand that it is complex and that Tribes may or may not be ready to offer an official territory acknowledgment because it is not that simple. Our histories are complex and cannot be narrowed down to a few paragraphs. Also, this may not be a priority for Tribes given the layers of services and work Tribes deal with on a daily basis. Lastly, when you are requesting services, understanding the difference between speaking as a member of a Tribe versus speaking on behalf of a Tribe is different. One is speaking from our own experiences, knowledge and perspective. The other is speaking from an official capacity of a Tribe. Both are appropriate however have different request processes.

Now let’s take a look at place. Depending on where you are located does matter when requesting a territory acknowledgment. How? Let’s take Bend, Oregon as an example. Who would you ask to provide a territory acknowledgment for your business today if you were located in Bend?

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs?

The Burns Paiute Tribe?

The Klamath Tribes?

All three of these Tribes have territory in the Bend area. The territory is based off access to food, shelter, medicine and ceremonies of which these Tribes traveled. I am not going to provide history because again I will not speak on behalf of other Tribes or people. I am simply calling attention to the fact that CTWS was not the only Tribe that lived off the land in and around Bend. That is a part of the responsibility of Indigenous and Tribal people to ensure we are accurately providing information and awareness for all Tribes who should be involved. More importantly is the responsibility of all of you to understand that reaching out to only one Tribe is not a best practice and to ensure you are doing your research to accurately reflect the true history of the territories of which you occupy today.

Another responsibility to ensure when requesting territory acknowledgments that the intention has actions that lead to positive outcomes for Tribes and Indigenous communities. That the request is action oriented and will not further harm the communities you want to uplift and acknowledge. Territory acknowledgments should not be a box you get to check off, they should be intentional and lead to change within your organization, business or groups. Lastly, be patient. It may be an emergency for your organization, business or group, but for Tribes and Indigenous communities it may not be and getting away from western timelines and deadlines is a part of this process for this service.

Territory acknowledgments can provide a platform for accurate history being acknowledged and Indigenous voices being uplifted and recognized. It can provide teachable moments, shared knowledge and the beginning of change in how we mobilize, partner, collaborate and in the ways policies are decided. Per usual, with any of my work I always like to leave you with actions steps and put the work back on the people in the room. It is through you that our work can make a greater impact. So I leave you with somethings to consider that can be put into action:

  1. Whose territory do you currently reside on and who will you share that knowledge with? (you can find information at this website https://native-land.ca/)
  2. Do you currently work with Tribes and does that reflect in your policies within your organization and/or business?   

About the author:

Jaylyn Suppah
She / Her
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

Jaylyn is a mother, educator, advocate for social justice and a member of the Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs (CTWS). She was raised in Simnasho, Oregon and is a traditional food gatherer for her Tribe. She is a mother of two beautiful children. Her Indian name is Alish (Ah-lish) which was given to her from her namesake; Margaret Suppah, her grandmother who raised her. Her passion is decolonizing education for herself, her children, her community, and always looks for ways to incorporate her culture into her home, classroom and programming.

Jaylyn works for the CTWS as the Community Planner for the Health & Human Services branch advocating and advancing health equity practices and policies. She currently serves on the Oregon Indian Education Association board where she uses her voice to work towards equitable education for all students. She developed the Papalaxsimisha program which incorporates historical trauma, healing, self-identity, cultural awareness, high school readiness, college and career readiness in a curriculum she and two other native teachers developed. Her background includes Cultural Awareness trainer, Traditional Health Worker, youth mentor, historical trauma facilitator, curriculum development and youth program development.

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