A Short History of How AAPT Started Doing a Land Acknowledgement at National Conferences in 2019

posted by Angela Little on

My name is Dr. Angie Little (Chinook Nation). I wanted to share a little bit about a positive experience of advocating for Indigenous causes within the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). There's some more detail that could be added to this account at some point, but here are the basics:

In 2019, the AAPT leadership was asked by an AAPT member about whether the organization would consider making an Indigenous land acknowledgement at their next conference. The AAPT Committee on Diversity Chair at the time, Dr. David Marasco, was also contacted about the request. Dr. Marasco pulled Dr. Ximena Cid into the conversation, who explained to the leadership some of her thinking on best practices. Dr. Cid is a long time organizer for Chicanx/Latinx and Indigenous peoples in the physical sciences and is also a leader in the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) community. Dr. Cid looped me into the conversation as well, as I'd been doing some work to support the APS Committee on Minorities in supporting Indigenous-led causes.

A Zoom meeting was eventually convened across the AAPT Executive Officer, President, President-Elect, and Vice President to discuss this idea. I was asked to join. I was pleasantly surprised that the Executive Officer had asked the leadership to read through a guide about best practices in land acknowledgements before the meeting convened (https://usdac.us/nativeland). This guide has a lot of helpful information and explains things like: “Acknowledgment by itself is a small gesture. It becomes meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and informed action.” On the call, AAPT leadership agreed that, to support a meaningful land acknowledgement, they would provide funds to the Director of a Native American Studies program on a college campus nearby the conference location. These funds would be for the Director to use at their discretion: for their time to give the land acknowledgement, to support their own program, and/or toward another local Indigenous cause. Lastly, the AAPT leadership noted that they understood that the land acknowledgement was only a first step. They agreed that they would try to work toward more long-term relationship building with Indigenous groups such as the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C, since the AAPT headquarters is located nearby Washington, D.C. 

AAPT's 2019 Summer Meeting was in Provo, Utah. Dr. Franci Taylor, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) at University of Utah, was contacted and agreed to give the acknowledgement. The AAPT Program PDF included this description of the first land acknowledgement:

Image Description: This image comes from the AAPT program booklet, with the title, "Land Acknowledgement at Welcome Reception," and includes a brief description of the event (this text will appear at the bottom of this blog post). On the left is a black and white photo of Dr. Franci Taylor - she is a Choctaw woman with long dark hair, glasses, a sweater and turtle neck shirt, and a beaded necklace. To the right of the event description, there is also red circle. "YOU'RE ON INDIGENOUS LAND" is written in white inside of the circle. The word "Indigenous" is highlighted in white with red lettering. 

The land acknowledgement discussion among AAPT leadership occurred in Spring of 2019 and by Summer of 2019, AAPT had followed through with having a land acknowledgement at their August 2019 meeting in Provo, Utah. I really appreciated Dr. Taylor's acknowledgement, which was preceded by some thoughtful context, history, and story-telling. 

As of Summer 2020, my understanding is that Dr. Beth Cunningham, AAPT's Executive Officer, has reached out to some D.C. area Native American leaders and is working toward longer-term relationship building.

Text of the event description that appears in the image is reproduced in text form here:

Franci Taylor, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) at University of Utah and a cross-cultural consultant for University Health Sciences. She will conduct a Land Acknowledgement at the beginning of the Welcome Reception on Sunday, July 21, 2019. This land acknowledgment recognizes the traditional territory of the Indigenous people who called the land home before the arrival of settlers, and in many cases still do call it home. Ms. Taylor earned a B.F.A. and a B.S. in Anthropology/Sociology at Montana State University. She earned her Ph.D. in American Indian Studies through the Faculty of Archaeology program at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. She has taught American Indian Studies and Culture for over 25 years locally, nationally, and internationally at all educational levels. She has worked on creating American Indian curriculum for public schools. Land Acknowledgment is a way to recognize that the land on which we hold this meeting has a very long history, reaching beyond the establishment of European colonies, as well as its significance for the Indigenous peoples who lived and continue to live upon this territory, and whose practices and spiritualities were tied to the land and continue to develop in relationship to the land and its other inhabitants today.


Tags: history  AAPT  organizing  

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