Land acknowledgments have become almost perfunctory in recent years. It is the practice of beginning a public event by referencing and honoring Native American tribes whose people used to live on the lands where the event is held, before the colonization by white occupiers.
A land acknowledgment can be considered a mere courtesy, or, in the case of a new exhibition opening Friday at the Gonzaga University Urban Arts Center, a chance to amplify Native culture and/or to issue a challenge.
A group of 17 contemporary Indigenous artists mostly from the Pacific Northwest, including several from the Spokane Tribe, will display their artistic interpretations of land acknowledgments in a show aptly entitled “Land Acknowledgment.” Charlene Teters, the recently retired academic dean of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, curated the GU exhibition. An artist, and a member of the Spokane Tribe, Teters is nationally renowned for her decadeslong activism opposing Native American sports mascots and recently earned a prominent spot on a mural that hangs in the Tilford Center’s lobby on Gonzaga’s campus.
“The art work (in this exhibition) may not provide comfort for those who occupy our land … and our very presence often represents a political statement,” Teters said. “But when we come together and share our art with the community, we are speaking as people from this land, and we are making visible our dreams and our struggles.”