Going Deeper: Anti-Oppression for Facilitators

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Installment 1: Land Acknowledgments

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a series of articles we hope to publish exploring first steps and how to go deeper with anti-oppression approaches in facilitation.

By Aravinda Ananda

Over the past five years I have been on a crash learning course of how to more deeply integrate anti-oppression approaches into my Work That Reconnects facilitation as a resident and facilitator in the United States. As there is no set course on how to do this, I engage in both independent study and learning with others whenever I can.

Some books have been helpful as well, such as An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, or the third edition of We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools by Gary R. Howard. I organized co-learning opportunities such as a webinar series with Eleanor Hancock of White Awake and “A Brain and Body Approach to Undoing Oppression” with Madeline McNeely. For over a year, I spoke weekly by phone with other facilitators on selected topics, and now we continue with monthly calls. I also gathered in person with facilitators and friends of the Work on several occasions to explore more deeply. I learned a lot in this process, and am continually waking up to how much more I have to learn.

It is a long-term journey to learn how to show up well for one another in the interruption and transformation of systems of oppression.

I have come to realize that it is a long-term journey to learn how to show up well for one another in the interruption and transformation of systems of oppression. In the above mentioned book, Howard explores just one system of oppression – racism. He describes how those most privileged by racism in the United States – white people – go through different stages in a process of waking up and moving into action. While this process is not the same for everyone, nor is it necessarily linear, white people tend to progress from ignorance about racism, to waking up to its horrors, to either retreating back into racism or doing knee-jerk or performative actions to interrupt racism, to ultimately (ideally) being able to be in deep solidarity with people of color in the dismantling of racism. This is a painful journey that I am also traveling since I am of mixed race but pass as white to many people.

Those being oppressed by a particular ism (racism, sexism, ableism, classism–the list goes on) have intimate day-to-day knowledge of the impacts; those privileged by these systems of oppression are often shielded from seeing the impact, so it can be quite a learning journey for those waking up to the pain of a system in which they have enjoyed privilege. Given our respective social identities and social locations, each one of us will have more experience with some systems of oppression and less experience with others. Our first steps of solidarity in systems of oppression in which we are not well versed may be clumsy, as is to be expected for any learning process. Even so, we can have compassion for ourselves as we strive to do better. On the path towards collective liberation, how can we support ourselves in first steps, as well as support ourselves in not stopping with first steps, but going deeper? It takes time to shift consciousness as well as to digest and integrate new concepts. We go from repeating the words and going through the motions, to being more present and more deeply relational, and finally to responding in the moment with knowing and experience.

It takes time to shift consciousness as well as to digest and integrate new concepts.

 

This article focuses on some first steps and how to go deeper in the area of making a land acknowledgment. It feels like a good place to start this series, because it is a good place to start a workshop – orienting in space and the histories of power in a particular place. Other important areas to address early in a workshop include introductions and group agreements. Future articles are intended to cover more areas, but for now, this article will focus just on land acknowledgments. This article is potentially most addressed to facilitators in the United States, but hopefully may also be of interest to people in other countries and other contexts.

Making a Land Acknowledgment

Offering a land acknowledgment at the beginning of a workshop or other gathering is an important way to honor the traditional inhabitants of a territory. In settler colonial states such as the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, it is also an important way to acknowledge a painful and ongoing history of colonization, theft, genocide, and occupation of indigenous lands.

Some places in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have more customary land acknowledgments. In the United States, where I live, I have not found the process to be as formalized, and it has taken me some time to figure out how to make a land acknowledgment with authenticity and integrity. If you are a facilitator in the United States, your process may be different, but here were some of my steps.

When I facilitate where I live in Watertown, Massachusetts, to make a land acknowledgment, I might say, “As we gather here today, we are in the homelands of the Massachusett and Wampanoag peoples. I respectfully honor their memory and ongoing presence as we set about our work today.” I have heard other people make land acknowledgments in a way that explicitly acknowledges if land is unceded territory and therefore occupied.

When I was first starting to learn how to make a land acknowledgment, I turned to internet to research the history of the people native to the land where I live in Watertown, Massachusetts. The first peoples of this land are the Pequosett, a band of the Massachusett Tribe, after whom the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was named. I remember how bewildered I was at the initial paucity of information available on the internet about the first human inhabitants of the land where I live. At the library, I was able to learn a little bit more through books, but there was a striking absence of information about the first peoples of the area in settler history books. When I first started giving land acknowledgments, I would share not only my social location as a settler, but also my sense of overwhelm about the erasure of native peoples from settler historical accounts, to emphasize ongoing native invisibilization. It took me several years to finally start making connections with local indigenous people and hearing about history through their perspective, and this has yielded much more information than any settlers’ historical accounts.

If you are just getting started with how to offer a land acknowledgment and are not sure of who the people native to the land where you are, https://native-land.ca is a great resource for preliminary information on traditional territories, languages, and treaties in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. If you live in Canada, there may be a more specific traditional land acknowledgment given by province. This Amnesty International advice for putting together a land and territory acknowledgment may be useful in figuring out how you want to make a land acknowledgment that feels authentic to you, or, if you know native people in your area, reach out and ask if there is a way they would like a land acknowledgment to be made.

Verbalizing the names of the first people of a territory is an important first step in interrupting native invisibilization and erasure, and how it is done matters. It is also important to not make the acknowledgment as if native peoples only existed in the past, which is another form of erasure. I want to apologize for any harm I caused in my earlier days of making a land acknowledgment when I spoke in ways that placed first peoples only in the past and am grateful to Work That Reconnects facilitator Aryeh Shell and others who have gently pointed out to me when I was doing this.

 

Beyond Land Acknowledgments

Naming the first people of a territory in a land acknowledgment is an important first step, but our responsibility does not end there. More is asked of settlers (potentially anyone whose ancestors are not indigenous to a place in a settler colonial state. Some people contest that people brought to the United States against their will, such as people from the African continent brought in slavery, should be included in the settler category). Settlers are asked to be in active relationship and solidarity with peoples indigenous to where they/we live and facilitate.

Settlers are asked to be in active relationship and solidarity with peoples indigenous to where they/we live and facilitate.  

To quote Sachem Hawkstorm, hereditary chief of the neighboring Schaghticoke First Nations at length:

        I think it’s great that people want to acknowledge the peoples whose land they are on. What I’d like to see more of is inviting us to the table, having intentional interaction and conversation. Yes this is (insert Indigenous communities name here) land. But if you know this and really wish to honor this, then talk with the people you wish to acknowledge. Otherwise it perpetuates a feeling of invisibility, as if we are a past tense, a museum exhibit. We are asked to come and ‘welcome’ people to our territories at times and, yes, this can be a step in the right direction. But it can also be harmful. It can feel that we are being tokenized and used to make you feel better about what you are doing. We also want to feel good about the work that you are doing. ‘We would like to first acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of the land that we are on.’ YAY!!! This is great, where are they? Who are they? What do you know about them? How are you involved with them? How do you support each other? Or are they extinct? Let’s be intentional about our coexistence in this space. We are still here.

In February 2018, I joined a group of facilitators and friends of the Work That Reconnects gathered on Whidbey Island – occupied Snohomish territory – to explore ways of facilitating Work That Reconnects with a deeper anti-oppression lens and approach. Our host, Belinda Griswold offered her version of a created practice, “Beyond Land Acknowledgments,” where as a group we walked from the land where we had been meeting to the Salish Sea. On its shores, Belinda spoke of contemporary Snohomish struggles and triumphs and ways we could get involved and be in solidarity.

In the days prior to that gathering on Whidbey Island, I had the opportunity, along with fellow facilitator Sarah Nahar, to visit the Duwamish Longhouse, a museum and cultural center for the First People of the area now known as Seattle. There we had the opportunity to meet the Chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, Cecile Hansen, who is a direct descendent of Chief Si’ahl (Chief Seattle, after whom the city of Seattle is named). We also spoke with Blake, the Duwamish cultural director, who told us about the Duwamish Real Rent campaign and the Duwamish struggle for federal tribal recognition.

With the Duwamish Real Rent campaign, people who live and work in Seattle are invited to make monthly payments to the Duwamish Tribe to more justly compensate Seattle’s First Peoples for their land, resources, and livelihood. As their website states:

Paying monthly rent acts to uplift the Duwamish Tribe as First Peoples of Seattle in the face of the U.S. government refusing to honor the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855. Descendents of European settler families continue to benefit greatly from the resources of the land incorporating the city we know as Seattle. Those of us who are not from the tribes of these lands might benefit in different ways from being here, whether we live, work, or visit this beautiful place. As guests to this land, we can create a story of equity and action instead of being complicit in dishonoring the treaties. Often people think of treaties as ancient history, but we know from our Duwamish friends that this story continues to impact all of us. This land has a story. What role will you play?

Paying a land tax is one way for settlers and visitors to be in solidarity with people indigenous to that area.

Paying a land tax is one way for settlers and visitors to be in solidarity with people indigenous to that area. During that February 2018 Whidbey Island retreat, Sarah Nahar also led us in another act of solidarity. She shared the names and numbers of elected officials and encouraged us to call or email them, right then, to ask for support of Federal Tribal recognition for the Duwamish. Creating a quick and simple on-the-spot practice of solidarity is something facilitators could consider incorporating into their workshops and other programs. In this case, the practice was something that was a request of the Duwamish, not something we as settlers had decided to do. Being in solidarity means following the leadership of those with whom we are in solidarity.

The weekend following that gathering on Whidbey Island, I was again with another group of facilitators and friends of the Work That Reconnects exploring anti-oppression. This time, we were gathered in Oakland on Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land, so I was sure to not only mention the Sogorea Te Land Trust and the Shuumi Land Tax, but to also make a contribution. Sogorea Te is a land trust working to acquire and preserve land for the Ohlone people so as to build a community center and roundhouse and establish a cemetery to re-inter stolen Ohlone ancestral remains. The Shuumi land tax is a voluntary annual contribution for non-indigenous people who live in traditional Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone territory towards those goals. As the Sogorea Te website explains, such a contribution helps acknowledge how setters in the area have inadvertently benefitted from the genocide waged against the Ohlone people and the theft of their land as well as contribute to healing.

I have lived isolated from the people native to this land, but they are still here.

Back in the state of Massachusetts where I live, and European colonization and settlement began over 400 years ago, the timeline of European colonization and settlement looks a little different than on the West Coast. More centuries have passed since first contact and the first waves of genocide, and I have struggled to find native connections. I have lived isolated from the people native to this land, but they are still here. I am grateful for organizations such as Nolumbeka, an organization dedicated to the preservation of history of Native Americans/American Indians of New England, and NAICOB – the North American Indian Center of Boston – that help strengthen my connections with people indigenous to this area. It was through Nolumbeka that I first found out about a current campaign to change the Massachusetts state seal and flag to remove symbols, words and representations of white supremacy and indigenous genocide. Supporting this campaign is one of the solidarity actions that I will now invite participants of my workshops to do. I look forward to learning of other ways I can be in solidarity with the first peoples of the land I live in.

At a recent campaign event about changing the Massachusetts state seal and flag, I felt so grateful to meet a Massachusett woman for the first time in my life – Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett at Ponkapoag – and for the opportunity to be in the living presence of the people indigenous to the land where I live. This moment was such a long time coming. When Elizabeth said, “this is native land,” I felt a deep understanding in my body about what it means to live in this particular place that was completely different from any of my efforts to learn about the first peoples of this place through the internet or any settler accounts. Yes, the settler colonial state of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States operates in this place, but this land is native land. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to move towards more respectful relationship with this land and the first people of this land – and better learn how I can be a better guest and neighbor.

In closing, facilitators in the United States, if you don’t already, please offer a land acknowledgment in a way that recognizes the ongoing struggles and triumphs of first peoples of the land you are on. If you already do that, but aren’t actively in relationship and solidarity with the first peoples of your area, reach out. See what you can do. In a recent White Awake webinar with Lyla June Johnston, she encourages white allies to reach out to local indigenous people and humbly ask, “What, if anything, can I do?”

As an editor of Deep Times journal, I want to invite you, the reader, to consider submitting an article to this “Going Deeper With Anti-Oppression For Facilitators” series. Is there an area of anti-oppression work where you can share experience or insights with the wider community about first steps and how to go deeper beyond those first steps? Thank you for considering sharing with the wider community in this way.


Aravinda Ananda is a member of the Interhelp Council, helped start a Greater Boston Work that Reconnects Community of Practice and has been a part of many co-facilitation teams including the Earth Leadership Cohort – an immersion in the Work for young adults and the Community Leadership Cohort – an exploration of communities of practice. Her primary life’s work is helping to transform human-Earth relationships to be mutually enhancing; she is currently finishing a book called Living rEvolution. She seeks to live the rEvolution daily and support others on this path.

2 thoughts on “Going Deeper: Anti-Oppression for Facilitators

  1. Greetings to you:

    I thank you for your perspective on this issue of land acknowledgment.
    I live in northwest New Mexico.We are a diverse community (European, Arabic, African American); however, we live on the land of the indigenous Dine’ (Navajo) people.

    I realize that I am quite ignorant about the real storied pain of the people with whom I live, side by side, and that I have much to learn and understand about the history and herstory of their displaced realities. They have been sorely mistreated, used, and overpowered.

    I appreciate your statement from Howard’s book [“…white people tend to progress from ignorance about racism, to waking up to its horrors, to either retreating back into racism or doing knee-jerk or performative actions to interrupt racism, to ultimately (ideally) being able to be in deep solidarity with people of color in the dismantling of racism.”]

    It has helped me to identify what I believe is where I have been and where I am now (moving between stage 2 and 3) in the ‘waking up’ process and in acknowledging that all stages have associated pain, questions, and realizations.

    Thank you for the work you are doing. Will you have information about publication and release dates (of your book Living rEvolution) on this site?

    Mirakhel Windsong

  2. Pingback: February 2019 |

Leave a Reply to Mirakhel Windsong Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.