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Pima County Supes adopt Native land acknowledgement for board meetings

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will open meetings with an acknowledgement of the "ancestral homelands" of the Tohono O'odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe, after a 4-1 vote Tuesday.

The statement, which will be read at every board meeting following the Pledge of Allegiance, recognizes the two tribes as the “caretakers of this land from time immemorial” and acknowledges the "ancestral homelands" of both tribes. The Tucson Unified School District and the UA have similar statements that call Tucson the home to both tribes.

“On behalf of Pima County residents, we honor the tribal nations who have served as caretakers of this land from time immemorial and respectfully acknowledge the ancestral homelands of the Tohono O'odham Nation and the multi-millennial presence of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe within Pima County,” the statement reads. “Consistent with Pima County's commitment to diversity and inclusion, we strive toward building equal-partner relationships with Arizona's tribal nations.”

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva, whose District 5 covers parts of Southeast Tucson including parts of the Pascua Yaqui reservation, suggested the acknowledgement in early December. It has since been pushed back twice to later meetings as Grijalva sought input from the tribes. Grijalva is also on the TUSD Governing Board.

Support during Tuesday's meeting came from Supervisor Rex Scott, whose District 1 areas like Oro Valley, Marana and the Catalina Foothills. He lauded Grijalva’s effort to craft the statement and work with the tribes and said it’s “worthy of approval by our entire community.”

“I really want to thank and congratulate Supervisor Grijalva for her efforts to craft language that is acceptable to both Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham leaders,” Scott said. “This land acknowledgement stems from a candid recognition of the entire scope of our history, which is an important lesson for our children.”

The single vote in opposition was Supervisor Steve Christy, the lone Republican on the board. He offered an alternative based on a similar policy by the city of Tempe, which has its land acknowledgement statement read at city events but not at City Council meetings.

“These words should be spread throughout our county on important observations of significant celebration in schools, in gatherings, in historic events and remembrances of important aspects of our history,” Christy said. “But I don’t believe that this has any place as a carved-in-stone reading before the Board of Supervisors.”

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He did compliment the statement, saying “these are beautiful words and beautifully constructed,” but in the past had said that such a statement could be “divisive” by “placing one community over all the others.”

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. didn’t respond to several requests for comment from TucsonSentinel.com. Grijalva and Supervisor Sharon Bronson, chairwoman of the board, had said he was in support at previous meetings. Bronson’s district includes the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, who grew up on the Tohono O’odham Nation and remains involved with them and the Pascua Yaqui, said in a statement that “land acknowledgments are an important way to learn about and honor the local Indigenous communities in the area.”

“Creating a statement pushes organizations, universities and even governments to interact more with the Indigenous community whose traditional lands they occupy,” her statement reads. “It creates an opportunity to learn more about the true history of the region. It serves as a reminder to the folks in the room that if there are no Indigenous people in the room, there’s more work to do. Most importantly, it is a reminder to all that despite genocide, relocation and colonization, we’re still here and we always will be.”

Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio said the Yaqui are often forgotten, and land acknowledgement statements remind people of their history.

"You always would think of —first of all — the Tohono O’odham, the Apache and all the other tribes that were in this region, but the Yaqui have always been here also along with the other tribes," he said. "That's the beauty of where we're at today, acknowledging not only us but all the tribes that have survived in this part of the south of what's become Arizona."

Yucupicio said the statement would also show the tribes and the county continue to "work together in the region to help everybody and this just shows how well we’re cooperating and working with (the county board) on a lot of things."

Although various Apache tribes had a long-standing presence in Southern Arizona before the late 19th century, those groups aren't included in any local land acknowledgments.

In October, The Conversation published an op-ed by anthropologists reviewing land acknowledgments and related practices. Land acknowledgements, they wrote, can "unintentionally communicate false ideas about the history of dispossession and the current realities."

“No data exists to demonstrate that land acknowledgments lead to measurable, concrete change,” the op-ed reads. “Instead, they often serve as little more than feel-good public gestures signaling ideological conformity to what historians Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder have called – in the context of higher education’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts – ‘a naïve, left-wing, paint-by-numbers approach’ to social justice…If an acknowledgment is discomforting and triggers uncomfortable conversations versus self-congratulation, it is likely on the right track.”

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The UA adopted a land acknowledgement statement in the summer of last year that is now read at events like hosting guest speakers, and TUSD started reading their land acknowledgement statements at the start of board meetings in February 2021. The city of Tucson does not have a land acknowledgment statement read at meetings, nor have they recently been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, although they do have an invocation.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Pima County land acknowledgement

On behalf of Pima County residents, we honor the tribal nations who have served as caretakers of this land from time immemorial and respectfully acknowledge the ancestral homelands of the Tohono O'odham Nation and the multi-millennial presence of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe within Pima County. Consistent with Pima County's commitment to diversity and inclusion, we strive toward building equal-partner relationships with Arizona's tribal nations.

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