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‘Stolen native land acknowledgment’ statements are ultimately meaningless

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The 2020 edition of liberalism is fueled by the kind of strange, self-torturing religious fervor that’s so medieval it’s straight out of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which monks trudge around chanting while smacking themselves in the face with boards. The central tenet of liberalism is no longer concrete “change.” The point now is to perform your adherence to the dogma — marches, demonstrations and announcements acted out with the kind of fervor that proves to fellow devotees you really mean it. 

The latest in meaningless self-scourging progressive fashion statements is the “land acknowledgment,” in which a board meeting, or a speech, or a seminar, begins with the announcement that the US was established on stolen Native American land. The website of the Art Institute of Chicago announces, for instance, that the museum “is located on the traditional unceded homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations. Many other tribes such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, and Fox also called this area home.” 

Land acknowledgments are becoming ubiquitous these days, especially among institutions run by the wokest of the woke, such as museums (the Field Museum of Chicago is another example) and colleges such as Northwestern, various University of California campuses and Colorado State — all of which include them on their websites. 

Even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, for the first time ever, started this year with a completely unnecessary land acknowledgment that Indians used to own the island of Manhattan. The blessing read, “Creator and Ancestors, we honor you for all things. We honor the Lenape people of Manahatta. We honor all our relations because, long ago, we were here. Now we are here and we will always be here. And so it is.” 

American institutions like, Northwestern University, are now declaring their remorse for operating on land stolen from indigenous people. But what does this actually achieve?
American institutions like, Northwestern University, are now declaring their remorse for operating on land stolen from indigenous people. But what does this actually achieve?
Alamy

That is true. Four hundred years ago, this island became American property because we kicked out the British, the British acquired it fair and square from the Dutch through the Treaty of Westminster, and the Dutch acquired it lawfully by buying it from the Lenape Indians for 24 bucks. Manhattan may have been “a steal” in the sense that finding a mattress at Macy’s for $2.99 is a steal, but that doesn’t mean the island was literally stolen, it just means Peter Minuit outsmarted the Indians. If being taken advantage of voided a deal, the Mets wouldn’t have to keep paying a disappointing third baseman named Bobby Bonilla who retired in 2001 $1.2 million every year through 2035. 

Land acknowledgments, like Black Lives Matter marchers, don’t actually do anything to help the people in question anyway but are just a way to signal one’s devotion and virtue. 

At a teacher-training program for public school teachers in San Diego, a slide shown to classes solemnly announces, “We acknowledge that we meet on stolen land, taken from indigenous peoples. I am speaking to you from Kumeyaay land. We must acknowledge the hidden history of violence against indigenous peoples in an effort to move towards justice.” 

At a teacher-training program for public school teachers in San Diego, a slide shown to classes solemnly announces the acknowledgement of meeting on stolen land taken from indigenous peoples.
At a teacher-training program for public school teachers in San Diego, a slide shown to classes solemnly announces the acknowledgement of meeting on stolen land taken from indigenous peoples.
Alamy

True, the San Diego area used to belong to Kumeyaay people eking out a living on the land, but now the Kumeyaay (which comprises 13 tribes) operate six casinos in the area. One tribe, the Sycuan band, has only 130 or so members yet one of its businesses, the Sycuan Tribal Development Corporation, is worth about $200 million. Last year the tribe opened a $260 million resort. In 2004, it opened a community college to support and promote its cultural identity. 

If you want to help the Kumeyaay, no need to moan about your white guilt: Go on down to their resort, order a few Mai Tais and pump some money into their 2,800 slot machines. Or stay in their luxury downtown lodgings (operated by Marriott), at the US Grant Hotel, where 12 US presidents have stayed. 

Times change, don’t they? The Kumeyaay aren’t obsessing about the past, and San Diego teachers shouldn’t either. 

Kyle Smith is critic-at-large for National Review.

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