Acknowledgement of Native Land and Peoples | Graduation 2021
Read by Elizabeth Solomon
Member of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag and director of administration in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
We are gathered today in Native space and on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Massachusett tribe. Congratulations to today’s graduates, and a special welcome to guests who are here visiting our homelands, albeit virtually. If you do live on or visit our lands, please honor them by treating them as something precious, because they are. My name is Elizabeth Solomon, and I’m a member of the Massachusett tribe at Ponkapoag.
When indigenous communities in the United States gather together, they traditionally acknowledge and honor the ancestral holders of the land they are meeting on. Many non-Native communities have begun to incorporate this practice in public events, both to honor the Native peoples who belong to the land, and to recognize that the use of the lands by others has come as a result of the displacement of the land’s original holders.
10,000 years ago, Boston Harbor was dry land, and we were here. 1,000 years ago, much of what is now known as the city of Boston and parts of Cambridge were underwater, and we were here. 400 years ago, English colonists came to occupy our land, and we were here. Today, most of the Greater Boston area is a major urban area occupied by others, and still, we are here. We are the Massachusett.
We remember those who came before us, and we prepare for those who will come after us. Here is where our ancestors laughed, cried, loved, made music, practiced our beliefs, shared both food and knowledge, and made both useful and sacred things. Here is where we raised our children and buried and honored our dead. Here is where we continue to live, holding the land and the traditions of our ancestors, and here is where our children’s children will continue after us.
Harvard University is located in the middle of a major urban area and many people find it hard to imagine an urban environment as Native space. When you think of Native space, you may imagine the sites of former Native settlements, or places that have some historical significance, but my people have always been a part of this place.
Our connection to this place has not been affected, despite thousands of years of both natural and man-made changes to our environment. And our sense of place is not limited by perceived boundaries of time, habitation, or ownership. We belong to this place.
We are part of this place, just as the land, the water, and the sky are part of this place. We are part of this place, just as the plants and animals are part of this place. We are part of this place just as the wind and the rain are part of this place. Just as these elements are not separable from this place, neither are Massachusett people. We do not live in this place. We are of this place.
I asked you earlier to honor the land we share as precious, and I ask you to consider what it might really mean to honor Native space. Honoring Native space means considering every action with its broad consequences in mind. It means understanding that everything we do necessarily resonates throughout a larger environment. It acknowledges that even the breaths we take have an effect well beyond our individual bodies.
It means acknowledging that wherever you are in the Americas, you are in Native space. It means understanding that the indigenous people who belong to that place have an ancient and inseparable connection to it. Be mindful of how you interact with that space and its people. May all that we do in Native spaces both honor the land and prepare the way for those to come. Thank you.