by Chrissina Burke, Anthropologist & Festival Board Member

Indigenous people are the scientists who founded the study of our world. Not only did all knowledge of the Americas begin with first peoples, but they have been practicing science here, on the land, with long-term and consistent investigation since time immemorial. With that in mind, the Board of Directors for the Festival of Science launched a committee to develop an organizational statement to honor the Indigenous communities that came long before us on this land and continue to live and thrive here. 

An undertaking to honor our community, should not be, and was not, a process taken lightly. To best support and acknowledge the communities who have taken care of the land of northern Arizona, we first reflected who our Indigenous community members are – and the cultures they come from. For example, we learned that photographs of some animals and cosmic phenomena may make it difficult for our Indigenous community members to attend our Festival, therefore we worked tirelessly to limit our use of images related to these as much as possible. 

We also learned from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) that Indigenous scientists make up less than 0.5% of all scientists and yet their voices are imperative to learning about our world. If we are to encourage our Indigenous students to pursue science here in Flagstaff, they need to not only see themselves in our presenters, but also need to know that we, as the Festival of Science, see them! A land acknowledgement, while read aloud or posted as a statement, is one small way to share with our community that we are invested with the notion that everyone has access to scientific learning and the opportunities for careers in science. 

In developing the statement itself, we discussed drafts with Indigenous community members, and edited our writing carefully to express what we wanted to share without confusion. Our draft was shared and received comments, edits, and support from Indigenous highschool students, members of our local Flagstaff government, and faculty at NAU. As we present to you our first Land Acknowledgement statement, we view it as a living entity, not one static in time, but one that can grow as we learn more about our Indigenous community members and the land that they call home. 

"The Flagstaff Festival of Science recognizes and appreciates that we gather on the lands of Indigenous communities of northern Arizona. We honor the sovereign nations that behold these lands and mountains as sacred and whose commitments to them continue to this day. As we join together to share and seek knowledge at Festival events, we acknowledge the first people who have been practicing science here since time immemorial and respect their contributions to the shared understanding of our world. We honor the Indigenous people who have a past, present, and future on the land and in our communities. Our aim is to build positive relationships, understand each other genuinely, and challenge the effects of colonization."

Everyone, every day, practices science. The Flagstaff Festival of Science is committed to educating our students and community members, while wholeheartedly respecting the land and cultures that have built the foundation and continue to contribute to what we know about our world. 

If you are interested in learning more about the land you live on, please check out these sites: Native Land or ARGIS and consider downloading the app: Native Land in both the Android and Apple stores.

And if you are interested in learning more about what a land acknowledgment is, and why it is important, please check out this website from the Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian.