Anti-Indigeneity (What does it look like) / by Joel Garcia

Anti-Indigeneity (What does it look like): Click to download the Land Acknowledgement Guide.

It’s becoming more and more a common practice for folks in social justice circles to do land acknowledgements, but what does that actually mean? Many times it feels like it’s a box to check off and it’s very passive. While at SHG I had a great deal of conversations with folks about doing this in authentic ways and I have to give major props to the programs team at the California Endowment for pushing this within the foundation and influencing their partners to do the same.

Language has a great deal to do with invisibilizing Indigenous Peoples. I guess we can begin the spelling of Indigenous, and Indigenous Peoples, yes with capital letters and with an “s” at the end. Homogenizing Indigenous Peoples is also problematic as we are many many nations, communities, bands and very few actually use the word tribe in their formal names. So let’s stop using the word tribe.

As we worked to acquire the building SHG is in and ultimately working to for it, one of the reframings I pushed was the use of the word stewardship versus ownership, because how could we own land and buy land when its land that the Tongva were displaced from. Those originally displaced by 1st world developments. All that context and more played into to how I spoke about the current gentrification and displacement struggles. How can you talk about land use issues and not take into account the Tongva, Tataviam and Chumash. You have to start with them. Whether it’s the LA River project, the housing crisis, etc., this context needs to be included.

Before SHG moved forward with the purchase of the building I wanted to ask permission from the Tongva, even if it was symbolic, at the minimum. But I can’t blame anyone for not doing that. That’s on me.

You’d figure that incorporating language that uplifts others would be an easy thing to roll into our narrative for a social justice based organization like SHG. But no, even that was a struggle with the Board.

If you’re doing work with social justice based organizations, if you’re an artist, musician and are asked to perform or participate in a festival, exhibition, etc., here are some helpful tips to make sure you’re not invisibilizing those whose land you stand on.

For organizers

  • Before the start of any program, meeting, class, workshop, etc. acknowledge the Peoples by their desired name and the land you’re on by its original name. For example, in DTLA you would use Yaangna and in Boyle Heights/East LA you would use Apachiagna as the land name and Tongva as the original stewards of these lands.

  • Include the original name of the land in the event or organization’s address such as 100 East 1st Street, Los Angeles (Yaangna), CA 90012 

  • For large festivals or community events especially as we enter into Dia de los Muertos season - ask the original stewards of the land if they can open the event with a blessing. Ask them far in advance (like now) and set aside a stipend for their time. If needed arrange for someone to pick them up. 

  • It is not enough to simply do an acknowledgment, we must also work to build actual relations with the original stewards by working with them to see how their perspectives fit in. 

  • You might not at times get an answer because well people are busy which is why you should ask far in advance. Do not take offense but you should at minimum ask for their participation. 

  • If possible ask in person and when doing so it is customary to offer an elder a gift when requesting their participation. Most elders have various real life needs because well colonization so ask if they need anything specific such as coffee, tea, etc. 
    If it’s not possible to ask in person have the offering ready at the event. 

  • Include Native artists in your programs. Asking Indigenous Peoples to solely do the spiritual labor is another form of erasure. Indigenous Peoples are also land use experts, contemporary artists, conflict resolution experts, etc. 

  • For panels and similar talks if you can’t find a Native person to participate, I would suggest findings ways to represent them. (I have tips for doing so).

For participants (attendee, artist, etc)

  • Ask the organizers how they plan to acknowledge the original people and land. 

  • If there is no planned acknowledgment please request they do so. 

  • If the organizers refuse to do an acknowledgment please consider withdrawing your participation.

For more resources on land acknowledgment please visit:

Click to download the Land Acknowledgement Guide.