We hear or say it together every Sunday:
“We gather as guests of the Duwamish people on their traditional land that touches the shared waters of other Coast Salish tribes.….”
Our Land Acknowledgement Statement has become an important part of how we open each Sunday’s worship service. But what does it all mean? Is it just a collection of words we say by rote or quickly without thought? Some see it as a statement that supports our anti-racism work – and it is that. Some see it specifically as supporting our Indigenous siblings – and it is that. But what if we see it as part of our theological and liturgical focus – for it can be that also.
Rev. Stephanie Perdew, one of our UCC conference ministers and a member of the Cherokee Nation, has suggested such an approach. In her recent article in The Christian Century, Perdew makes some important statements and suggestions. The best land acknowledgements in faith-based communities are “a process as much as a product, and the process itself is a pedagogy.” We learn about all the removals, landstealing, relocation and breaking of treaties as we write and live with a land acknowledgement statement. Our own land acknowledgment took a couple of years to write as we consulted with local Indigenous people; held workshops on issues relating to the topic; had a Seabeck week led by Dina Julio-Whitaker; and attended an Ally building workshop. We learned a lot in the process.
But speaking the land acknowledgement in worship can be broader than education or allyship. The acknowledgement can also function as a form of confession and repentance both of which are deeply embedded in our Christian tradition. Says Perdew: “Land acknowledgements in Christian communities are not just political but theological and liturgical. We might think of them as a form of Christian anamnesis: remembering, which calls the past into the present for the sake of the future. When it functions as an act of confession and repentance, the gathered community confesses and remembers the painful, sinful actions which displaced tribal communities from their homelands in the name of the state and with the blessing and collusion of the church.”
But we don’t confess in a vacuum. Every week in worship we communally confess – we speak words of truth and then try to live out that truth in concrete ways. After confessing, we hear Words of Assurance, so that loved and forgiven we are sent out
to do the work of God’s kindom here on earth. We are sent forth to do the “work of repair and restoration.” So the next time we say the Land Acknowledgement together in worship, see it as a justice statement AND a liturgical piece of our worship service, part of being the Body of Christ in the world.