Land Acknowledgement Process Paper

Mission Statement

Goucher College established The Hallowed Ground Project in 2018 to examine the legacies of slavery and racial injustice on the land that the college occupies. As part of this initiative, the college began the process of creating a land acknowledgement in fall 2021.

Multi-Institutional Working Group

After attending webinars and reviewing the Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide created by the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), Goucher College joined a new Multi-Institutional Working Group created to reduce the stress and time demands on Indigenous elders and members with whom we consulted. With the guidance of Ryan Koons, an MSAC folklorist with a background in Indigenous Studies, this consortium of academic and cultural institutions includes Towson University, Mount St. Mary’s College, Frederick Community College, Carroll Community College, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, Strathmore, and Roundhouse Theatre. The Multi-Institutional Working Group meets monthly to discuss the issues, concerns, the process of crafting a land acknowledgement, and current and future actionable items. 

All institutions in this cohort understand that the land acknowledgement is the beginning of a process and are committed to establishing relationships with local tribal communities. Consultations with several Indigenous elders or members of the Susquehannock Tribe, Piscataway Indian Nation, Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and the Choptico Band of the Piscataway and members of the working group occurred between April and July 2022. The tribal elders and/or members with whom the working group consulted included Chief Mark Tayac (Piscataway Indian Nation), Rico Newman (Choptico Band of Indians, Piscataway Conoy Tribe), Jess McPherson (Susquehanna/Shawnee), Mario Harley (Piscataway Conoy Tribe), and Ayanna Proctor (Piscataway Conoy Tribe/Susquehannock). The Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians, whose geographic sphere of influence is located in what is now considered southern Maryland, chose not to participate.

The Writing Process

As non-Indigenous writers of this land acknowledgment statement, we recognize that we cannot begin to comprehend the extent of generational trauma that the Indigenous peoples of our area carry and endure. Therefore, the Goucher College land acknowledgement statement was composed in dialogue with and in response to the words and perspectives of the tribal members who have a kinship with this land. The land acknowledgement statement was researched and written by education archivist Debbie Harner and undergraduate student Lilia Gestson ’24 in the fall of 2022.

After composing the land acknowledgement statement, we sent it to Ryan Koons (MSAC) for feedback. Other than minor edits, he told us about new archaeological findings that re-shape Indigenous history in Baltimore County. These findings question whether this land was a part of the geographic spheres of influence of the Piscataway Indian Nation, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, the Cedarville Band of the Piscataway, and the Choptico Band of the Piscataway. These revisions were carefully made during the drafting process of the land acknowledgement statement.

The difficulties in researching Indigenous history are directly related to settler’s attempts to eradicate the stories (Indigenous erasure) or by telling stories strictly of the settlers’ perspectives without consulting Indigenous members. The Indigenous peoples of the area we now call Maryland did not have a written language prior to colonization. As tribes were genocided, any survivors typically entered neighboring tribes as refugees and formed new kinship lines, cultures, and histories. There are many unknowns in the historical record as a direct result of the current histories being dominated by the settler perspective. The land itself also holds stories that are slowly being uncovered through archaeological research. However, some evidence of those stories has been destroyed over time through the establishment of towns, cities, and roads. Also, the elements have destroyed some of the evidence of Indigenous history through erosion and natural disasters. We expect more stories to come to light through archival and archaeological research and will make updates accordingly. 

During the writing process, it was important to revise colonizer rhetoric that we found embedded in contemporary verbiage. With the guidance of Ryan Koons, we continued to refine our word choices to honor the intention of this statement and return accountability to the settler mindset. Included in the land acknowledgment statement are intentional phrases such as geographic spheres of influence, Indigenous erasure, polity, and kinship. We have provided definitions for better understanding.  

Geographic Spheres of Influence: Some land acknowledgement statements refer to tribal “traditional territories” or “homelands.” These and similar phrases can be misleading because they suggest that “land” is the same thing as “property”—something to be “owned.” Many tribal peoples continue to conceptualize land as a relative rather than a resource to own. Land has history and meaning, functions as the basis of cultural practices, and invokes responsibility, rights, sovereignty, and belonging for many tribal peoples. ... The phrase “geographic spheres of influence” perhaps more effectively centers Indigenous worldviews, communicates multi-generational relationships between tribal peoples and landscapes, and accounts for tribal moves and migrations. (Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide, MSAC, p. 9)

Indigenous erasure: Indigenous erasure is a series of processes whereby Indigenous peoples are “disappeared” from landscapes and narratives. Indigenous erasure tactics include forced assimilation, such as Indian Boarding School education programs; forced removals of tribal peoples from their lands and other forms of land theft; murder or massacre; the unintentional or deliberate introduction of disease; penalizing the practice of traditional ceremonies or speaking Indigenous languages; destruction of sacred lands; and creating or maintaining national narratives and myths that ignore the presence and contributions of Native peoples. These tactics have combined over the past 500 years to the point that now many people are unaware that Indigenous people are still alive and living in the place commonly called Maryland. (Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide, MSAC, p. 10)

Kinship with the land: While many tribes legally own land as defined within the U.S. legal system, many tribal peoples continue to conceptualize land as a relative, not a “resource” to “own.” Land acknowledgement statements often inappropriately feature a settler “ownership” narrative. Instead, referring to tribal peoples’ “relationship” or “kinship” with lands tends to be more culturally accurate. Over time, settlers and colonial structures changed or broke many of the relationships Native peoples long maintained with lands. (Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide created by MSAC, p. 9)

Polity: A polity (or political authority) has a distinct identity; a capacity to mobilize persons and their resources for political purposes, that is, for value satisfaction; and a degree of institutionalization and hierarchy (leaders and constituents). (Ferguson, Mansbach, p. 34)

Actionable Change

At Goucher College, we are dedicated to creating authentic relationships with Indigenous peoples. We pledge a commitment to this mission by taking the time and care necessary to create a meaningful land acknowledgement statement that resonates with all those who have connections to the land. We acknowledge the shortcomings of institutional practices and claims that merely create performative land acknowledgments that do not offer any substantive, applicable measures to support and benefit local Indigenous peoples.

Moving beyond the performativity of a land acknowledgement statement, Goucher College is committed to actionable measures that support and benefit local Indigenous peoples:

  • Making institutional resources available to tribes (i.e., the library)
  • Living responsibly on the land (environmental sustainability)
  • Repatriating Indigenous artifacts
  • Creating a library guide on Indigenous history and culture
  • Creating exhibits focusing on the stories of the land and its Indigenous inhabitants
  • Adding new titles by Indigenous authors to library collections
  • Working with Indigenous groups and individuals for collaborative opportunities

Community Acknowledgment

We acknowledge the generous time and insight of the tribal elders and members. Creating Goucher College’s land acknowledgment statement has been a community effort, and we would like to give a special thanks to all who supported and contributed to this pivotal step in Goucher College’s mission to mend relations with Indigenous peoples. 



Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide, Maryland State Arts Council 
Ferguson, Yale H. and Richard W. Mansbach. Polities Authority, Identities and Change. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.