• Allan Classen

Editor's Turn: Acknowledgment must be paid

Staff for the coalition of inner Westside neighborhood associations propose that each monthly meeting begin with a dose of humbling history: a “land acknowledgement” that we occupy land stolen from Native American tribes.

This symbolic act is intended to partially offset centuries of “colonialism, genocide and white supremacy that still affect indigenous communities.”

Neighbors West/Northwest is scheduled to consider adoption of this ritual practice in November, following many governmental and private institutions in a movement rapidly gaining momentum nationwide.

While few challenge the basic principle that Native Americans were driven from their land, the indigenous peoples narrative rests on the naïve impression that there was once a perfect moment in history when every tribe and nation was in its proper place on Earth and that any movement since then has been an injustice needing rectification today.

Though the statement acknowledges a truth, not everything that is true must be stated before conducting a meeting. Why is this truth held above others?

Official acknowledgments are not about overcoming injustices. They have another purpose.

Societies and organizations establish orthodoxies by enshrining statements reflecting the right way to think or believe. Public schools used to begin the day with recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, affirming that we are a nation of equals. “Under God” was added in the 1950s to assert that America was founded for religious purposes.

Orthodoxies seek to establish truth by compelling all to publicly swear oaths of loyalty. Any not touching their hearts or speaking the words can be singled out as unpatriotic, unbelieving or otherwise unworthy.

The towering crosses erected in public parks in many American towns were not there to remind Christians to pray; they loomed to remind those of other faiths or no faith that Christianity had the government’s stamp of approval. Those holding other beliefs may be tolerated but also nudged toward the margins of society.

The bloody social value fights fouling our national political discourse today are in pursuit of symbolic victories to show that “the government (mom?) likes us best.”

I have always appreciated that neighborhood activism is nonpartisan. People work side by side for years without asking or caring about each other’s political party affiliation. Community building is a process of addressing problems of local concern together in a practical, mostly cordial way. We may disagree over things such as traffic diverters, but it’s not a moral issue. Compromise is possible.

Communities come together in times of crisis, recognizing inherently that what unites them is greater than that which divides. They share resources, maintain common spaces and build friendships that help navigate every circumstance or need.

The land acknowledgment will not unify us or help disparate peoples live together. Such orthodoxies are rooted in a desire to wield an invulnerable moral argument, to judge others from higher ground without having to admit weaknesses in one’s own position or to stretch oneself to a deeper understanding.

It is the tack taken by many anti-abortionists, who frame the conflict between the life of the mother and that of her fetus as one of right versus wrong. Without illuminating debate or growth, that issue has divided our country until the appointment of a Supreme Court nominee is taken to justify support for a president who is neither moral nor unifying.

The same tool is brandished by those on the left and the right. Neighborhood associations that acknowledge colonialism may in time be led by those who would instead choose to acknowledge that thousands of unborn in our district have been aborted or that our God-given liberties are infringed upon by directives to wear masks.

Those who wield the sword must acknowledge its two-edged configuration.


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