Todd Henderson Examines Land Acknowledgements Through Lens of Native American ‘Conquest and Displacement’

The Folly of Land Acknowledgements | Opinion

"Land acknowledgements" are all the rage. For those who haven't been to a graduation or university lecture in Blue America, a "land acknowledgment" is the practice of starting an event with a statement that the land on which the event is taking place once belonged to particular groups of Native Americans. It is easy to dismiss these as ahistorical nonsense, laden with sentimentality. But there is another way to look at these statements that demonstrate American exceptionalism.

Start with the basics. All of human history has been the displacement of one people by another. No one has a claim on land except if they put it to productive use and are capable of defending it. In fact, land moving to a higher-valued use is the premise on which most wealth creation and human flourishing is based.

Moreover, once one starts acknowledging, there is no sensible place to stop. Nearly every plot of land on Earth is inhabited today by groups of people that displaced other people who lived there before. Which of the thousands of groups of humans that have once claimed the land that is now Poland should the current Poles "acknowledge?" In fact, why stop there—don't the Neanderthals who once lived there deserve a nod too?

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