Living Land Acknowledgement: 2021 Annual Stocktaking

On April 26, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) published our first-ever Living Land Acknowledgement. This was made possible by generous guidance provided by our friends and partners at the Lenape Center. The purpose of this Living Land Acknowledgement was twofold, emphasizing both recognition and action. Through our Acknowledgement, the staff of the Auschwitz Institute recognizes the Lenape as the original people of the land where our New York office sits, far outdating the arrival of Europeans. We also recognized the rich cultural traditions of the Lenape, as well as their strength and resistance to the settler-colonial genocide perpetrated against them. Finally, we recognized our status as guests within the Lenape homeland, Lenapehoking.

With this recognition comes a commitment to take action in order to transform this land acknowledgement into a living land acknowledgement. One of the commitments undertaken by AIPG in this area is to conduct an annual stocktaking exercise on Indigenous Peoples’ Day to assess the progress we have made toward fulfilling each of the institutional commitments outlined in the Acknowledgement. We will provide honest assessments through this practice, highlighting both our successes as well as areas where progress is not being made quickly enough.

In the section below, we list AIPG’s established action points, as well as the status of their implementation over the last six months. Because we launched our living land acknowledgement at the end of April 2021, this first stocktaking exercise is examining the period only of a half year. Going forward, these reports will assess the entire previous year’s activities. Finally, this list of commitments is – itself – a living component of this acknowledgement and will be updated as necessary.

Commitment #1: Support the Lenape people to address the consequences of centuries of destruction through our transitional justice work with the Lenape Center, including a range of activities such as training programs for New York City civil servants and other government officials in the United States on the prevention of genocide through the implementation of living land acknowledgements, raising awareness of the history of genocide against Indigenous populations throughout North America, and other projects identified by our staff and partners.

Implementation: Going back to July of 2020, the Auschwitz Institute began conversations with our partners at the Lenape Center to explore how we could support their efforts to bring greater recognition of the Lenape by all of society throughout Lenapehoking, but particularly within the New York City area. Not surprisingly, this cooperation proved to be mutually beneficial as the Lenape Center has provided great support to the Auschwitz Institute for the development of our own Living Land Acknowledgement practices.

Nonetheless, the support that the Auschwitz Institute has offered in line with this commitment can be categorized into two threads:

  1. Engagement with New York City government officials regarding the eventual creation of a New York City living land acknowledgement and other related actions; and
  2. Support to the Lenape Center’s ongoing engagement with primary school education initiatives.

With regard to the first area of work, in July of 2020, we commissioned a research project that examined existing US initiatives – at the local level and beyond – to address historical and current wrongdoings against Indigenous populations. This research collected a range of city, state, and federal government-mandated initiatives that were implemented as part of a process of – first – acknowledging the historical harm of Indigenous people and – subsequently – working to repair some of this historical harm.

In the end, a total of 30 different initiatives were identified that spanned US government, NGO, and international domains. The final product served as a basis for developing a series of proposed strategies and ideas for action that AIPG recommends that the NYC government should take. Since the production of this research, AIPG has offered our advice and support to our partners at the Lenape Center for engaging with different entities throughout the NYC government structure, such as the Human Rights Commission, and for the development of training programs for NYC government officials. This effort has included quarterly check-ins with our focal points at the Lenape Center, as well as organizing consultations facilitated by AIPG’s US Transitional Justice Programs consultant.

With regard to engaging pre-university education students, the Lenape Center has already been providing powerful presentations to students throughout the New York City area. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many educational programs into the virtual sphere, AIPG has focused our support here. We have offered assistance through our Research Development and Online Education department (RDOE), which specializes in the delivery of online trainings and the adaptation of in-person programs to a virtual format, and through our Warren Educational Policies Program (WEPP) that specializes in working with pre-university school students. Going forward, AIPG will continue to support the development of training materials and action items for NYC governmental personnel, as well as advancing Lenape educational initiatives throughout the local school systems.

Lastly, through the Auschwitz Institute’s work on Artivism – an exhibit that highlights the work of six artists and art collectives from around the world who use art as an instrument of activism in response to identity-based mass atrocity – we have sought to play a role in raising awareness of the genocide committed against the Indigenous populations of the North America. Among others, Artivism highlights work that was donated by survivors to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. Canada established this national Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, which collected testimony and evidence from survivors of the country’s so-called Indian Residential School System. While some survivors presented their testimony through speech, others donated objects that they had created to the Commission, using art to tell their stories of survival. We have been incredibly honored to be able to include artwork that has was created by survivors from Canada’s Indigenous communities in Artivism. The Artivism exhibition is currently on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with AIPG having worked in close coordination with our partners in Canada to receive the welcome of the Elders of Treaty 1 Territory prior to the exhibit opening.

Finally, also in line with AIPG’s contribution to raising awareness, on August 9 of this year, we released a commemorative statement celebrating International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Commitment #2: Open all events taking place in Lenapehoking with the following acknowledgement statement:

I’d like to begin by recognizing the original people of this land, the Lenape, as well as their deep connection to the Lenapehoking homeland. As an organization dedicated to atrocity prevention, the Auschwitz Institute believes in the importance of acknowledging the settler-colonial genocide perpetrated against this community and the resilience of the Lenape who, still today, continue to resist erasure.

Implementation: AIPG staff have been regularly opening events with the acknowledgement statements since the launch of our living land acknowledgement in April. These events have included:

  • European Union Community of Practice Session on mediation as a tool for prevention
  • “Public Memory Culture and Prevention” Making Prevention a Reality: A Framework Approach presentation
  • “The Power of the Past: The Role of Historical Narratives in the Perpetration and Prevention of Mass Atrocities” A Monumental Reckoning: Symposium on Contested Symbols, Contested History, and Public Space
  • Book launch for A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland by Dr. James Waller
  • Atrocity Prevention Briefing on the Escalating Risk of Mass Violence in the United States
  • Global Summit to Support Nyayo House Memorialization Efforts
  • Presentation to the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office on reparations and development
  • Atrocity Prevention Briefing on the Closure of the Refugee Camps in Kenya*
  • Biannual conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars
  • Atrocity Prevention Briefing on Violence and Xenophobia during National Mobilizations in Colombia*
  • Interview with the Beraberce Association
  • Atrocity Prevention Briefing on Applying an Atrocity Prevention Lens to COVID-19 Responses*
  • Atrocity Prevention Briefing on the 2021 Crisis in Afghanistan*

*As these events were hosted from outside of Lenapehoking, the opening statement acknowledged the Abenaki and Pennacook as the original peoples of that land, as appropriate.

Commitment #3: Take stock, on every Indigenous Peoples’ Day, of the actions we have taken over the last year and to update our commitments going forward.

Implementation: This year on 11 October, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we are taking stock of the progress made to date since the launch of our living land acknowledgement. As this initial period covers only six months, we are releasing our initial report in this form. In future years, we will also incorporate live and interactive elements.

Commitment #4: Include the following sentence in the email signatures of staff located in Lenapehoking:

AIPG’s New York office sits on the traditional territory of the Lenape.

Implementation: All AIPG staff located in Lenapehoking included the sentence above in their email signatures. This includes a total of 15 staff members.

Commitment #5: Prioritize the greater inclusion of Lenape voices in our programming that takes place in Lenapehoking.

Implementation: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to resume in-person programming in Lenapehoking. Nonetheless, AIPG will dedicate a future virtual Atrocity Prevention Briefing to addressing issues of concern to Indigenous peoples in North America with regard to genocide prevention. We will also invite Lenape voices to join other activities organized in Lenapehoking as we resume in-person programming.

Commitment #6: Offer a paid internship for future Lenape human rights and atrocity prevention professionals to work in our New York office for 3 months each year.

Implementation: When we initially launched our living land acknowledgement, it was with the hope that we would be returning to our New York office by late summer 2021 and, therefore, would be able to offer an in-person internship. However, developments related to COVID-19 over the past months have forced us to postpone our return to in-person work. However, today, we are launching the announcement for this in-person internship that will begin in February 2022. We will work in closely with our partners in the Lenape community to ensure it is a meaningful and enriching experience. The announcement and details of the internship can be found here.

Commitment #7: Commit to undertake all future AIPG New York job recruitment by advertising through Lenape networks and recruiting channels in addition to standard job-posting platforms.

Implementation: Since we released our living land acknowledgement, we have advertised all New York office position openings through Lenape networks. Since 26 April of this year, this has included two new openings.