Remarks and Land Acknowledgement for Sunrise Seattle’s October 2019 Meeting
Gunalchéesh! Kelsey yóo xát duwasáakw. Tlingit áyá xát. Takdeintaan yádi áyá xát.
I’m Kelsey. I’m Tlingit, and my father is from the Takdeintaan people.
We take this moment to acknowledge that we gather on lands traditionally held by the Duwamish, who are still here.
We thank the Duwamish people for taking care of this land.
We honor the land itself and the life it supports.
If you would like to acknowledge the Duwamish in more than just thoughts, I recommend you look online for “Real Rent Duwamish”.
In the Sunrise Movement, we tell our stories. So I’m going to share one of mine.
I already told you I’m Tlingit. That’s a complicated identity, to be native in 2019. I’ve never lived in Southeast Alaska, where the Tlingit are from, though I go there every year. I didn’t catch my first halibut until I was twenty-three.
It’s really common for modern natives to be displaced: from the ancestral land, from the language, from various parts of the culture.
I don’t know what part of my personal culture comes from being Tlingit, just like you probably don’t know what part of your culture is just you, what’s from the people you grew up around, what’s from your family, and what’s part of a history that goes back generations. So I don’t know what part of this story is Tlingit. But I love, and my family loves, the woods.
I love these specific woods: deep dark Northwest woods thick with swordferns and Oregon grape and salal. I moved away for several years and lived in Boston and different parts of California, but the woods there weren’t right for me. When I came home, my heart would stop to see our mountain, big and close. I’m not really home until it smells like damp moss and cedar trees. That smell, dirt under my fingernails, and bare feet on chipped trails, those are part of my personal story.
I’m not really home until it smells like damp moss and cedar trees.
When I was a little kid, we used to go walking “out back” on old logging roads that were by then just footpaths. It was somebody’s private land I think, technically, because somebody logged it way back when. But locally, it was acres and acres of woods anybody could go walking in. You could go all day and get caught up in salmonberry vines and eat huckleberries off the bushes in August.
So it was a huge shock when somebody bought that land and tore up most of the trees and put in giant houses instead. They tore up the moss and put down spray-green grass. The old logging roads were ignored but new roads got built to two-car width and paved, right on the line between my house and what used to be the woods.
To me, it seems crazy that we tell a story where land is something you can own by holding the right paperwork. That that gives you the right to change the ecosystems that are on it.
That is land that I love, and somebody else who didn’t even know it bought it and tore it apart.
That’s a story we’ve been telling for a long time, that paperwork matters more than love, and that living things can be owned. That’s the story of colonialism.
That’s the story of this land, the traditional land of the Duwamish, that we’re currently on. That it’s okay to buy things and not take care of them, and not think about the communities they used to support.
To me, it seems crazy that we tell a story where land is something you can own by holding the right paperwork.
That’s the story that we’re telling worldwide, that you can own the land and not take care of it and all the life it supports.
That story is killing us.
But here’s the thing.
It’s just a story.
It’s a really big story, a story that a lot of people have told generations, but in the end, it’s just a story.
And it’s not the only story.
There’s an older story about this land.
The ritual of land acknowledgement is older than that ownership story. It says: thank you, to the people who live here, who take care of this place. Thank you, to the place itself, to the land, and to the life it supports.
In the Sunrise Movement, we tell our stories, and that’s because stories have power.
I’m here in the Sunrise Movement because I believe we are beginning to tell a collective story that is different than the one that’s been hurting us for so long.
We don’t know all the parts of the story yet, but we know it values life. This new story has to do with bringing people together.
This new story will be told by me and you.
A lot of people telling a new story together, that’s a movement.
Gunalchéesh ax een yéi jeeneiyí, thank you for working with me, for listening to my story and helping me build one together with you.