Land Acknowledgement at Convergence-Continuum Should Set Example for Cleveland

click to enlarge Land Acknowledgement at Convergence-Continuum Should Set Example for Cleveland (2)
Sam Allard / Scene
Tremont's Convergence-Continuum Theatre this weekend staged Heirloom, a solo performance written by and starring Mike Geither, a local playwright who teaches at Cleveland State University.

Heirloom was a harrowing probe into Geither's family history of rape and incest and the bouquet of psychological effects emanating therefrom.

The play was unique not only for its content and presentation, but for its introductory remarks. A Convergence-Continuum intern, after inviting audience members to silence their electronic devices and warning them about the nature of the play's themes, concluded with what is known as a land acknowledgement. It's a formal statement that recognizes Indigenous Peoples and their stewardship of their traditional territories.

The statement read as follows:

"Lastly, we would like to acknowledge that we gather tonight on land originally stewarded by the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Miami, Eel River, Wea, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, Kaskaskia, Mingo, Seneca and Ojibwa people. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who lived here and cared for it."

The land acknowledgement was the first Scene had heard in Cleveland. When we contacted Geither to inquire about the language, and why he chose to include it in the play's prefatory remarks, he said that land acknowledgements were commonplace in Canada and the American Northwest.

"I included this one after hearing land acknowledgements at Canadian shows and at the end of emails from Canadian colleagues," Geither wrote in an email. "I like the idea of acknowledging our indebtedness to the original stewards of the land, regardless of the show's content, but I thought it was especially important here, where I'm addressing the American genocide, albeit tangentially." 

Land acknowledgements struck us instantly as an important gesture, and one that could be (and should be) customized at other events, conferences or performances in Cleveland, home of professional sports' most garish Native American mascot.

Dr. Debbie Reese, in a popular Twitter thread earlier this year, warned against the tokenization of land acknowledgements. She encouraged those who were interested in them to do research ahead of time.

"Make it meaningful," she said. "Give your audience a task."

In other words, land acknowledgements need not only concern themselves with tribal territories. Reese recommended, among other things, directing audience members to works by Native American authors, podcasts that address Native American issues and events and programs that promote the current activities of tribes in the area. Reese also specifically referenced addressing Native mascotry. 

Despite the Cleveland Indians' gradual phase-out of Chief Wahoo, the image is still prominent across town, and prefatory land acknowledgements would be an opportunity to dispel myths about Wahoo and to discuss the negative psychological effects of native mascots on American Indian high school and college students.

Moreover, Ohio has more high schools with Native American mascots than any other state in the country, including 11 that use the racial slur also used by the Washington NFL football team. A land acknowledgement might include those statistics and offer specific strategies or contact information for the nearest schools that have yet to change their names.

Kudos to Convergence-Continuum and Mike Geither for incorporating a land acknowledgement into this weekend's production. Others should find ways to use their own platforms to both acknowledge the history and celebrate the contribution of Native Americans in the area.

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