Updated Dec. 14
The city of Sacramento will require that each public meeting begin with a recognition of tribal and Indigenous communities who originally lived on the land.
The City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday to include a land acknowledgement at the start of all municipal meetings, which will be read before the Pledge of Allegiance.
“As we embark on our mission to address racial equity in the city, it was really important for me to move forward with intentionality with our words and also our actions,” City Councilmember Mai Vang said when the ordinance was proposed in November.
A land acknowledgment is a statement that can be read aloud at public meetings that recognizes the Indigenous people who previously inhabited or owned the land where the meeting is taking place.
For Sacramento, the city will recognize the southern Maidu, the Valley and Plains Miwok, the Nisenan people, the Patwin Wintun people, and members of Wilton Rancheria tribe.
“I see this as a great step and I hope it sets that precedent for other cities in our state of California to acknowledge the people that are here, the first native people, Native Americans, the first people,” Wilton Rancheria member Mary Tarango said before Tuesday's vote.
Vang brought the idea of having an acknowledgment to Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the council’s new racial equity committee. These acknowledgements have proliferated in the past year as cities have looked at ways to achieve greater racial equity.
Sacramento’s Measure U Community Advisory Committee, which helps determine how to spend some of the city’s sales tax revenue, has been doing its own land acknowledgments for months, something that inspired Vang.
Steinberg supports the move. “If we are going to be truthful about the past to change the present and the future, then we have to reckon with and acknowledge the original injustice in our country and in our state and in our city, and that is what we did to Native Americans,” the mayor said.
Other governments like the city of Davis also read land acknowledgments at the start of their meetings. Vang and other members of the racial equity committee worked with both the Sacramento Native American Health Center and Wilton Rancheria tribe to craft the city’s approach.
Wilton Rancheria, whose headquarters is in what is now Elk Grove, is Sacramento’s only federally recognized tribe and its members are descendents of the Miwok Native Americans. The tribe once resided across the Sacramento region, but many were killed by disease and destruction caused by the Spanish, Mexican and American military in the mid-1800s.
Wilton Rancheria was recognized by the United States government in 2009.
Vang said she hopes the land acknowledgment can open the door to future action.
“Land acknowledgment can be an entrypoint and a pathway for education but it’s really in our action afterwards,” Vang said. “How are we ensuring authentic engagement with our Indigenous community, that’s going to be key in the policy decisions that we make moving forward.”
Some critics have said land acknowledgments are a way for governments or other entities to feel like they’re aligning themselves with social justice causes without actually taking any action to right the wrongs of the past.
Other institutions looking to create land acknowledgments should be wary of being unintentionally disrespectful. The Pew Research Center lists guidelines for institutions looking to create their own land acknowledgments and how to create them in a way that’s respectful of indigenous communities.
Jesus Tarango is the chairman of Wilton Rancheria. Tarango said he’s glad to see City Council will be formally recognizing their land.
“My thoughts are extremely happy that we have our city here trying to incorporate things that should have been done a long time ago,” Tarango said.
He said the city invited members of the Rancheria to collaborate on the acknowledgment’s wording to make sure it was appropriate (Read the full text of the acknowledgment here).
“I truly believe that when cities take the time to learn, we’re starting somewhere. And I think that’s the end goal for me, is to really educate people about the California Native people,” he said.
For Britta Guerrero, CEO of the Sacramento Native American Health Center, she views the acknowledgment as just the opening of the door for further conversations about the role of Indigenous communities in city government.
“When Native people are missing from these conversations, critical perspectives are missing from these conversations. This is one way to engage folks around what’s important to native people in this community,” Guerrero said. “Land acknowledgement is really a statement, and it’s a step toward building a more inclusive community where Indigenous peoples’ voices, lands, lives and histories are actually included.”
She said she hoped that this was just the first step in doing more to include its Indigenous communities, like considering having a Native liaison for the council to represent this community’s voices in policy decisions.
Here is the full text of the land acknowledgement that will now be read before Sacramento city meetings:
Please rise for the opening acknowledgements in honor of Sacramento’s Indigenous People and Tribal Lands.
To the original people of this land.
The Nisenan people, The Southern Maidu, Valley and Plains Miwok, Patwin Wintun peoples, and the people of the Wilton Rancheria, Sacramento’s only Federally recognized Tribe.
May we acknowledge and honor the Native people who came before us and still walk beside us today on these ancestral lands by choosing to gather together today in the active practice of acknowledgement and appreciation for Sacramento’s Indigenous People’s history, contributions, and lives.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Britta Guerrero's name. It has been corrected.
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