Public schools, parks, libraries and museums may begin recognizing past tribal guardianship of lands where their facilities are located under a measure approved recently by the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment Sports, Tourism, & Internet Media.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) said the voluntary proposal – AB 1968—is a way to educate Californians and others about Native Americans’ current and ancestral stewardship. “Land acknowledgment also serves to remind us of Native history and treatment of the state’s original people.” Ramos said. “We cannot begin to remedy past injustices without acknowledging and educating ourselves about the forced removal of people from the lands where they lived and worked,” Ramos said.
AB 1968, the Tribal Land Acknowledgement Act of 2021, encourages public educational, cultural and recreational institutions to adopt land acknowledgement processes through such means as printed statements, plaques, websites and social media. Ramos introduced the measure in January.
Dr. Joely Proudfit, director of the California Indian Culture & Sovereignty Center, observed that land acknowledgments recognize the traditional land of the Native American people in the state who called, and still call, the land home. She added, “It is important that we share this understanding and responsibility with children, our state’s next generation of leaders and engaged citizens. This is about moving away from relegating us to the past and stereotypical lesson plans, not because of a mandate, but for a desire to learn, share and experience the people on whose land their schools, parks or museums reside.”
Ramos said museums and other institutions also play an important role. “Cultural institutions have a duty to present accurate historical information that concedes past wrongs and broadens cultural understanding.” Had the 18 original treaties with California Native American tribes been honored by state and federal governments, the state’s tribes would possess more than 7.5 million acres of land, he noted. “California tribes today collectively possess only about seven percent of the territory they originally occupied,” Ramos said.
Advocates of the bill argue federal and state governments and agencies eroded the stewardship and visibility of California Indian people. Nevertheless, Native Americans remain actively engaged in cultural revitalization, resource protection and self-determination across the state. Systematic denial of indigenous knowledge, cultural authority and historical experiences has resulted in the practical erasure of Native American history and civilization, according to bill proponents.
The recognition is practiced at tribal events. New Zealand Māori director Taika Waititi’s caused a stir at the 2019 Oscars film awards when he offered a land acknowledgment to honor the tribes that resided in the region where the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center is located. The recognition is practiced in some countries with Indigenous populations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand and in a few states such as Colorado, Michigan, New York and Indiana. The Ramos bill would be the first effort to formally encourage land acknowledgment statewide in California, where most of the nation’s Native Americans reside.
“AB 1968 would encourage us all to consider the past and what it means to occupy lands that were initially and still are inhabited by Native Americans,” Ramos said. He added that Indigenous people already practice land acknowledgment among themselves to establish a respectful routine and a habit of offering reconciliation to tribes and those currently occupying the physical spaces where they gather.
The California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center and California Indian Museum and Cultural Center are co-sponsors. Supporters include the Sonoma Solidarity with Standing Rock, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, California Teachers Association, California Association of Museums and AFSCME, AFL-CIO.
AB 1968 was approved on consent by the committee members.