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Land acknowledgements can open eyes, start ties

Several pastors and congregational leaders recently shared what their congregations are doing regarding land acknowledgement statements and connecting with local tribes for education and solidarity.

On the next pages are stories of what the land acknowledgements say, how the wording was set, what ties the congregations have with tribes in their area and what actions they are taking or have taken.

Ferndale United Church statement includes'the cosmos'

Joel Aosved, pastor at the United Church of Ferndale, said his predecessor Bobbi Virta did a land acknowledgement.

“It is important to address the harms our church has placed on our indigenous siblings and to recognize that even in our hybrid worship with church members who teach abroad.

“At a totem pole blessing, I heard a Lummi neighbor say, ‘If you just started your worship by reminding folks that the earth is sacred, it would have stopped the destruction.’ That comment validated a change I had already made,” Joel said.

In Ferndale’s statement, a living document, they added a phrase about “the cosmos” in February and “our actions and inactions” in May

The Ferndale church has been working at developing relationships with their Lummi neighbors. One Lent with Christ Lutheran, they participated in a Holy Listening Lenten zoom Wednesday night study.

“We listened to some of our Lummi neighbors present information they felt we should know about them,” Joel said.

In 2021, some Lummi attended a book study of Harriette Shelton Dover’s Tulalip from My Heart on boarding schools and reservation life.

Joel said it’s hard to judge the impact: “Does it make us feel good, but not inspire us to make effective change? Does it inspire us to build relationships? How does an institution truly repent for things done and undone long ago? Is building personal relationships different from institutional relationships? How much of our land acknowledgement is preaching to the choir and how much is a reminder of who and whose we are?” he asked.

Ferndale’s land acknowledgement is:

“Let us begin our gathering here by acknowledging that the very Cosmos is sacred. For it is saturated with the One in whom we live and move and have our being. The very cosmos is the first and final cathedral. As such, all lands and all waterways are sacred.

“For most of us gathered here, we reside on the sacred lands and waterways of the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe who have partnered and cared for these sacred lands and waterways since time immemorial. We pause to give our deepest respect and gratitude to for their enduring care and protection of these lands and waterways.

“We also pause to acknowledge the harms that church has placed upon our indigenous siblings—harms done in the name of God when we the church have not followed God’s longing for us—the longing to living deep Shalom with ourselves, our neighbors and the world around us.

“We pause to express our heartfelt repentance for the harms done—both in our action and our in-action.

“We pause to express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors: the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe.

“As new technology allows us to become a community spread throughout the world, if you live in another part of the United States or another country, I invite you to find out who first lived on the land and waterways you are living on, and who helped to build it into the community you know it as today.

“May we each commit to working alongside our neighbors to partner and care for the very cathedral, the very Cosmos we call home. In doing so, may we honor one another, and the one in whose image we are made.

“Let us center ourselves in silence and breathe deeply as we prepare to worship the beauty and goodness of the Divine.

“…No matter who you/we/I are/am, no matter where you/we/I are/am on life’s journey, you/we/I are/am welcome here. Amen.

For information, call 360-384-3302 or email

Bellingham UCC has no official statement

Ted Huffman, interim co-minister of faith formation at First Congregational UCC in Bellingham shared one land acknowledgement they have used:

“Today as we gather, we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we meet. Since time immemorial the Coast Salish People have been the stewards of this land.  The Lhaq’temish, or Lummi People and members of the Nooksack tribe cared for this land and the creatures of land and sea for many generations before the arrival of settlers. We recognize the elders and members of these tribes to have great wisdom for the care of the land, the creatures, and the climate. We pay our respects to elders past and present whose wisdom inspires our gathering. We offer our gratitude for those whose homeland we now inhabit.”

Davi Weasley, pastor for youth, young adults and mission at the Bellingham church, saidii he has not yet convened a group to talk about what would be appropriate in their context. They have no official statement approved by the congregation.

For about five years, they have used a land acknowledgement in large formal gatherings.

“We are close to lands of the Nooksack and Lummi tribes,” they said. “A few in the congregation have contacts but there is more we could do to be in relationship with our neighbors.”

Davi said he has used resources from Doctrine of Discovery Coalition, which advises on land acknowledgements.

“Its resources cautioning that some congratulate themselves for having a land acknowledgement, but never do more,” Davi said. “Their attitude is, ‘We have a statement so we are done.’ Our church has no illusion we are done. It is one of the things we need to be intentional about in our life together.

Land is about a complicated relationship with our indigenous neighbors. We need to name the reality we stole it, but that does not end the process,” they said.

Bellingham clergy participate in annual multi-faith blessings of totem poles the Lummi carve and send across country to call attention to their rights.

Sometimes when the church does a land acknowledgement in a meeting, they invite an indigenous neighbor to do a an education piece.

For information, call 360-734-3720 or email


Suquamish UCC has a long relationship with Suquamish tribe

Sophie Morse, a pastor and member who helped write the Suquamish UCC land acknowledgement, noted that “one Suquamish tribal council member who has a long-standing relationship with our church recently commented that, in her opinion, land acknowledgements—by themselves—do little. They need to be backed up by ongoing, mutually recognized support of regional tribal efforts and name what that support looks like.”

For example, at Bainbridge Island’s recent annual Trans Day of Remembrance, co-sponsored by the local Interfaith Council, the emcee, after the land acknowledgement, told how council had supported recent tribal environmental initiatives to help make the acknowledgement more concrete.

“I see it as an effort to make or keep our allyship growing and evolving,” said Sophie.

“When Mike Denton, former conference minister, gave his first land acknowledgement before worship at Annual Meeting about eight years ago, I remember sitting near worshippers who audibly scoffed and rolled their eyes,” she said. “We’ve come a long way, whether formerly resistant people have, and there’s always more to do.”

Amara Oden, pastor at Suquamish UCC, explained that the church’s land acknowledgment was in place when she arrived in January. At first the statement acknowledged the Suquamish Tribe, on whose reservation the church is located, but now it also acknowledges other area tribes.

Doug Daman, a member and former moderator, has told Amara that sometimes the land acknowledgment feels like the most important part of worship.

“We say it at the beginning of every worship service, council meeting and annual meeting,” said Amara.

This is the Suquamish UCC statement:

“As we begin our worship, let us take a moment to acknowledge with gratitude the land on which we gather.

"We acknowledge that many of us are located and currently reside on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, the People of the Clear Salt Waters, whose ancestors have lived here from time immemorial, preserving the land and waters that we have benefitted from. 

Today we express our deepest respect and gratitude for all indigenous friends and neighbors living today, particularly for the Suquamish Tribe and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways, and for healing and preserving this place for future generations.”

Amara pointed out that the church resides on the “checkerboard” reservation of the Suquamish Tribe.

“We’ve had good relationships with them in the past, and as a new pastor I am working on building on that relationship. Their tribe gave us a generous grant at the beginning of the year to support our church missions, including our 24/7 food pantry and the weekly community meals we serve,” she said.

They recently invited Amara as a representative of the church to their Good Neighbors Luncheon where they offered thanks to the Suquamish UCC along with others for being good neighbors.

For information, call 253-345-9980 or email


Eagle Harbor UCC begins worship with land acknowledgement

Dee Eisenhauer, pastor at Eagle Harbor UCC on Bainbridge Island, quoted the land acknowledgement that church reads every Sunday morning:

“We begin worship today by acknowledging that the land on which we live and worship is the ancestral home of the Puget Sound Coast Salish people, specifically the Suquamish tribe. We acknowledge the harm brought about by land being taken from indigenous peoples generations ago, hurt that lingers today. We seek healing.

“As we learn to respect the cultural heritage of the Suquamish people, we re-commit ourselves to our shared responsibilities to their homelands where we all reside today. May the pouring of this saltwater serve as a reminder of our solidarity with the Suquamish people, the people of the clear saltwater.”

The land acknowledgement is the last announcement before centering music.

“After reading it, we decided to reflect more of a sense of repentance and sorrow. Instead of using we seek ‘forgiveness.’ we chose to say, ‘We seek healing.’ I did not feel we were in a position to go to representatives of the Suquamish and ask for forgiveness. It would put a burden on them,” Dee said.

A seminary intern led an adult class on indigenous history based on An Indigenous Peoples History of the U.S.

Eagle Harbor is one of 13 faith groups in the Bainbridge Island North Kitsap Interfaith Council’s Good Neighbor Committee, which connects congregations and tribes, asking how they can help or advocate with them. About 18 months ago, the tribe wanted help to pressure the King County Sewage Treatment Plant that had broken pipes and leaks.

“They asked us to join with them to call the county to act. The repairs were made,” Dee said, “and we received a letter from the tribe thanking us for our allyship in the effort.”

Several years ago, Eagle Harbor joined an effort led by a young adult from the Suquamish Tribe to appeal for the Snake River dams to be removed. The church helped payfor postage for the campaign.

Dee expects more to come out of the land acknowledgement, adding that a church member serves on the Good Neighbor Committee.

She noted that the Suquamish have a casino, hotel, convention center and good leaders. They are doing well and have a school teaching Lushootseed, the Puget Salish language, once spoken by 12,000 people.

Some churches and businesses in the area pay rent to the Duwamish tribe every month.

For information, call 206-842-4657 or email


Blaine UCC acts on salmon habitats, canoe journeys

Sandy Wisecarver, pastor at Blaine UCC and a social worker in Bellingham, said the church seeks to give back by helping with the salmon habitats and by attending canoe journey gatherings.

For information, call 360-595-4281 or email


Magnolia UCC welcomed Duwamish speaker

On Nov. 21, Magnolia UCC welcomed author B.J. Cummings to speak on “The River that Made Seattle: A Natural and Human History of the Duwamish.”

B.J. said Seattle’s Duwamish River was “once teeming with bountiful salmon and fertile plants. It drew both Native peoples and settlers to its shores over centuries for trading, transport and sustenance. Unfortunately, the very utility of the river was its undoing, as decades of dumping led to the river being declared a Superfund cleanup site,” reported Marci Scott-Weis, pastor.

B.J. founded the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and manages community engagement for the University of Washington’s Superfund Research Program. She was awarded the River Network’s national River Hero award for her work leading community-based clean up and restoration of the Duwamish River.

More than 100 from the community attended the program Magnolia UCC offered. It was underwritten by a Humanities Washington grant.

“We discussed not only the history of the river prior to the colonists but also changes to the river after and the impact on Indigenous peoples,” Marci said. “We also covered the importance of Indigenous-led coalitions to heal the river.”

The event began with this land acknowledgement:

“We would like to begin by acknowledging that we present this program from the unceded, traditional land of the Coast Salish Peoples, specifically the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish People, original stewards of the land, past and present. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe. This acknowledgment only becomes meaningful when combined with accountable relationships and informed actions and this learning forum tonight a first step in honoring the land we are on and their people.”

For information, call 425-681-0909 or email

University UCC team took two years to develop statement

Patti Brandt, Mary Jeanne Phipps, Jessie McAbee and Carol Nelson worked as a team for two years to prepare a land acknowledgement for University Congregational UCC.

Retired from teaching nursing at the University of Washington in Seattle and interested from three years as a nurse practitioner helping set up a clinic in the 1970s with the Navajos, Patti joined the team when University Congregational UCC was thinking about what to say and do for a land acknowledgement.

The church’s Racial Justice and Sacred Earth Matters action teams initiated the Land Acknowledgement Task Force in October 2019. It began with research and education, including surveying land acknowledgements in use. They attended educational events, watched videos and read about indigenous peoples and racism, and consulted with native leaders.

After several months, they wrote three statements and discussed them with the Sacred Earth Matters and Racial Justice groups. With feedback from them, they wrote a single acknowledgement statement. Task force members contacted local Native Americans, who were Haida, Tlingit, Inuit, Duwamish, Tualalip, Yakama and Ojibwe, for feedback

“While the church thought of emphasizing tragedies of the past, such as genocide and land stealing, the Native American consultants recommended we emphasize healing, relationship building and action, rather than belabor the past,” she said. “They emphasized: why do a land acknowledgement without action.

The team made revisions and introduced the final version the Sunday before Indigenous Peoples’ Day, when the church held a discussion on the Doctrine of Discovery and indigenous history.

Their statement is two short paragraphs and an action step that changes monthly.

“We gather as guests of the Duwamish people on their traditional land that touches the shared waters of other Coast Salish tribes. We understand that their identity and richness of culture are deeply connected with the mountains, valleys, waterways and shorelines that surround us all.

“We commit to learning about the Duwamish, other indigenous cultures, and historical and ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples. We strive to nurture our relationship with indigenous peoples, especially our neighbors, by joining their efforts to work for social justice and to care for this land.”

As a land acknowledgement is a gesture of respect and awareness of the land and its history, it becomes meaningful when coupled with informed action that builds relationships. So the UCUCC website offers a list of options for action at

Now the congregation reads the first paragraph every week, and both paragraphs with an action step each month. An example of an action step would be to support Indigenous priorities for climate justice with organizations like Earth Ministry, an ally with tribal groups in promoting environmental justice legislation.

One way UCUCC’s worship integrates indigenous issues and spirituality without culturally appropriating is to use the First Nations translation of the New Testament.

“It is important for church members to have continuous commitment to do activities to live into the land acknowledgement and allyship,” she said.

After obtaining approval by the church council for the final statement, the Seabeck committee, led by team member Jessie, invited Dina Gilio-Whitaker, author of As Long as the Grass Grows, to lead four days of two-hour Zoom presentations at the church’s annual retreat on the indigenous fight for environmental justice from colonization to Standing Rock.

A few months later, the team invited Na’ah Illahee, a women-led indigenous organization in Seattle to lead an ally workshop for members. The workshop was on ways to provide long-term support for the priorities of tribal groups in the region related to climate and environmental justice, food security and food sovereignty.

“The Sacred Earth Matters team and Love and Justice ministry continue to advocate for the church to be an ally in indigenous priorities such as care of salmon and habitat improvement,” she said.

For information, call 206-524-2322 or email


Westminster UCC's pastor offers different words each week

Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane was opening worship each Sunday with a land acknowledgement when Bob Feeney came from Massachusetts to serve as pastor.

“I list the same tribes, but I do it off the cuff,” he said..

In Massachusetts, he did land acknowledgements a few times, such as on Indigenous People’s Sunday, but felt “it was not helpful if that was all we did,” he said.

Bob believes it’s important connect with a tribal community for a land acknowledgement to be meaningful.

Westminster does community organizing with the Spokane Alliance, which has started a Truth and Reconciliation Research Action Team to connect with local tribes.

A member, Mary Rupert, joined a training with the Kalispel Tribe in Missoula, wrestling with the truth of what happened in colonization, counteracting what most learned in history.

The alliance seeks to offer that training in Spokane in the context of relationships with Indigenous communities. It also seeks Indigenous voices in its efforts for the common good.

“To do a land acknowledgement requires relationships,” Bob said, adding, “a narrative of Westminster is that Chief Enoch of the Spokane Tribe and his family helped found the church.

A painting on the wall of the fellowship room in the church’s basement depicts two tribal members at the founding.”

Bob is discerning what justice can look like: “We can’t just wave a wand, rewind time, give back the land and move. We need to face the awful history as we move forward,” he said.

In land acknowledgements, Bob names genocide and erasure, not only as what happened in history but also as what still is going on.

“Christian communities played a role,” he said, aware that as he drives nearby, he passes Cowley Street, named for Westminster’s founding pastor. The next two streets are Sheridan and Sherman, named for generals who killed Indians.

As someone who loves the outdoors and being in the mountains, Bob said his theology centers around land. He is aware that many religions are rooted in a place. In contrast Christian faith came here “as a conquering force.”

“Christians connect with the teachings of Jesus and Hebrew prophets who lived in Jerusalem and Rome,” he said. “What do they have to say about Spokane? Christians talk about stewardship and responsibility for the whole world. Do we think of who God is in the Spokane River and what this place reveals to us about God? Do we consider stories of God in this place where people have lived for thousands of years?”

Bob emphasized the need to keep in right relationship with the world/natural world.

For information, call 509-624-1366 or email


Colville UCC's land acknowledgement makes members aware

Colville First Congregational UCC started doing a land acknowledgement two years ago to make members more aware of where they live.

The statement says:

“We acknowledge that we worship on the land of the Colville Tribe, land that was taken unjustly by our ancestors and government.  We desire to name this wrong and respect this land as part of our commitment to the struggle for racial justice, religious tolerance and inclusion.”

Jim CastroLang, who retires as pastor there this month, wrote it and shared it with the church council. They have read it together out loud every Sunday since them.

“After we read that, we read the UCC welcome statement: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are always welcome here.”

Jim said a land acknowledgement “raises our level of consciousness 1) not to take for granted what we have or how we got it and 2) that it is another statement about who we are as a congregation and why.”

The town of Colville is not on or adjacent to the Colville Reservation, so the church members have few interactions.

He also recommended reading the book, Unsettled Truths, to look at “the dehumanizing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. That book, he said is blunt and critical of apologies without reparations.

For information, call 509-998-7203 or email


 Winter Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News © December 2022


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