Jackson council begins recognizing town hall sits on native land

Town officials say it’s a first step toward building relationships with indigenous communities.
A recent survey of the town found the majority of respondents wanted their government to invest in stronger equity and inclusion work. (Tyler Pratt/KHOL)

by | Jul 12, 2023 | Politics & Policy

Before the town of Jackson was established in the late 1800s, many Native American tribes depended on the land. In the years that followed, legal battles over land rights, injustice, racism and acts of cultural appropriation ensued

Now at the town council’s regular meetings, officials will recognize this history. Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson read the indigenous land acknowledgement after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the Monday night meeting.

We recognize that the land we are gathering on is the ancestral homeland of the Mountain Shoshone People who stewarded it for thousands of years,” Morton Levinson said, adding that this includes the Bannock, Blackfoot, Crow, Eastern Shoshone, Gros Ventre, Nez Perce, Northern Arapaho and other tribes. 

She continued, “With gratitude, we honor Indigenous Peoples, past and present.”

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‘A first step’

For Cherokee Brown, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, this was a big moment. She leads workshops around the state and country which aim to mend relationships in and with tribal communities and provide history on the decades of intergenerational trauma.

She said Jackson is the first town in Wyoming she’s heard of reading a native land acknowledgment, which have become increasingly popular at public events and universities in recent years. And Brown said it means even more to her because of the town’s history with tribes.

I was impressed. Growing up, I just never thought that I could kind of go to Jackson,” said Brown, who was born and raised in Riverton. “I couldn’t afford to go there. I didn’t belong there.

But Brown said, with the land acknowledgement and other commitments the town is making to build relationships with tribes, such as taking her workshop, she now feels more welcome in town. 

“And I felt maybe my siblings or my cousins or my other family members will feel welcome even more,” she said.

Some indigenous people in Wyoming have said that land acknowledgements can be performative, especially when they don’t come with any actions. 

“Especially at the universities, when you hear a land acknowledgment, I’m like, that’s great,” Jordan Dresser, a filmmaker and former chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, told Wyoming Public Media. “But what are you doing for those tribes and those students that come from there?”

According to Brown, the statements are still a step in the right direction.

“When you hear something over and over and over, it starts to sink in,” she said.

Building relationships with tribes

The move from the Jackson Town Council to start reading the land acknowledgements came at the urging of the town’s equity task force. A recent survey of the town found the majority of respondents wanted their government to invest in stronger equity and inclusion work. 

The task force drafted the statement following an example from the Wind River Community Alliance.

Kate Jensen leads that nonprofit alongside Brown, supporting native-led efforts on the Wind River Reservation. She encouraged council members at a late June meeting to continue to engage with Indigenous people.

“[The statement] is not perfect and that is wonderful because it invites this complicated discussion and it invites reaching out to Native people to ask for their input which we absolutely as a community should do,” Jensen said.

In addition to approving the land acknowledgement readings, council members also signed on to take further actions, including having staff attend Brown’s “Mending Relationships” workshops, visiting the Wind River Native Tribal Buffalo Initiative and reconsidering the land statement on a regular basis.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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