The following text was approved by ISHPSSB Council on 4 May 2023.

As an international professional society, the International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) has a long history of respecting and fostering diversity in all of its forms. Although we recognize that local practices will differ depending on the various international locations in which we may convene our meetings and their particular cultures and histories, ISHPSSB has agreed to implement the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgment at all of its biennial meetings where deemed relevant by the local organizers. We see this as a step toward reparation for the harm caused by centuries of misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and denial of their right to participate in the telling of their own narratives. These statements represent respect for Indigenous voices, acknowledge the violence implicit in many locales’ histories, and demonstrate that in most cases Indigenous peoples are still here to tell their stories.

Indigenous communities owned the land on which many institutions of research and education have been built. Academic conferences and events including ISHPSSB conferences are routinely held in these spaces. This land is essential to the identity and worldview of Indigenous groups. Often these lands were taken under unjust and violent circumstances resulting in forced relocation that continues to have devastating effects on native communities. Indigenous land acknowledgements are one small but tangible way that academic organisations and other education-related institutions can begin repairing the harm caused by mainstream historical accounts, which have excluded Indigenous voices and obscured the centrality of violence to colonialism in many locations around the world.

Indigenous Land Acknowledgement refers to the practice of recognizing an Indigenous community’s ancestral ties to the land on which a meeting or event is taking place. Acknowledging the communities that have an inseparable connection to the land on which these institutions reside challenges the mainstream narrative and calls attention to the strength of Indigenous communities which have survived the devastating effects of displacement and colonization. Further, this history informs the present experience of Indigenous peoples around the globe, so it is essential to the contextualization of current events.

While the practice of Indigenous land acknowledgement is relatively new to research and educational organizations and institutions in the United States and Europe, it has long been an established protocol among Indigenous groups around the world. It has become standard in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Acknowledgement guides typically echo many of the same approaches, and point to a similar general format for an acknowledgement, as follows: “Before we begin [description of event], I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered today on the ancestral territory of the [community name] peoples which has never been formally ceded. I pay my respect to their Elders both past and present, as well as living descendants and future generations.” It is important to be genuine in the acknowledgement, so this basic format should be altered to include information that is appropriate to the specific setting. Additionally, it is important to consult resources available from or reach out to the specific Indigenous group or groups being acknowledged to ensure that the statement is respectful and accurately represents them in the way that they wish to be represented, and to ascertain other relevant processes that could be integrated into the conference (such as using location names in the local Indigenous language). This process is particularly important because Indigenous peoples have been denied a say in their own representation for far too long. This inclusive approach is therefore a step toward decolonizing current institutions, organizations, and locations.

Academic institutions and professional societies are particularly important spaces in which to challenge the invisibilization of Indigenous peoples around the world. Historically, the collection of Indigenous artifactual and biological material and intangible cultural heritage was motivated by the belief that Indigenous cultures would soon disappear. Further, these collections were used to judge and hierarchically organize the cultures represented by these objects. Scientists, policy-makers, and laypeople used the conclusions drawn from such studies of collections to justify violence of entire groups of people, including Indigenous communities. Additionally, because these pursuits were considered scientific, the knowledge of western trained scientists and collectors was and continues to be privileged over that of the represented peoples. Greater attention to diversity in scientific practices has started to bring attention to the historical significance of Indigenous knowledge systems. It is critical that a professional society such as ISHPSSB transparently engage with these issues, given its foci and mandate. We see land acknowledgment policy as a logical next step in this positive trend toward more inclusive scholarship in the history, philosophy, and social studies of biology. Academic organizations and institutions must focus on the realities and voices of contemporary Indigenous communities, since academic work from a range of disciplines has given the impression that these societies no longer exist. Indigenous land acknowledgement is already an established and common practice among Indigenous individuals and tribal or other Indigenous identity-related institutions. While these statements do make mainstream research and education organizations and institutions more welcome to Indigenous audiences, they are not the only audiences who need to hear them. This practice is about more than making space: it is about making the history of marginalized populations part of the mainstream consciousness. Though land acknowledgement is a small step, it is an important one that demonstrates an interest in and commitment to truth-telling. It is critical to make these statements in places that are accessible to all, not just to those who are already inclined to seek out information related to Indigenous topics.

As legal scholar Chelsea Vowel (Métis) and other Native scholars suggest, land acknowledgement should constitute the first step in a process of opening dialogue with Indigenous communities to learn about the specific laws and protocols of that Nation regarding the responsibilities of guests. A verbal acknowledgment, moreover, must be accompanied by concrete allocation of time and resources to both educate participants regarding the colonial history of the specific land upon which the meeting or event occurs, and to support the participation of Indigenous people in the society and its activities. One criticism of land acknowledgment policy has been the perception of its tokenism. We intend to correct for this by demanding that the land acknowledgement practice be a starting point that is then backed up by long-term efforts toward social justice. Dylan AT Miner, a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar stresses the fact that Land Acknowledgements “must be preceded by relationships with living Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations. It must then be followed with ongoing commitments to these same communities. Land Acknowledgements are a responsibility”.

Hence ISHPSSB has resolved to:

  1. Integrate consideration of these issues into instructions for the Local Arrangements Committee and the Program Co-Chairs, and provide them with support to enable inclusion of sessions on Indigenous-related issues or other relevant topics (such as colonialization, historical injustices, or similar) depending on the location, as well as Land Acknowledgement (or Welcome to Country by a member of the local Indigenous community, or similar) and use of local Indigenous language names for locations where appropriate in the particular locale;
  2. Direct the Local Arrangements Committee to issue a formal invitation to Elders or community leaders from the Indigenous peoples upon whose land the meeting will occur to open the first plenary at the biennial conference if this fits with their community or nation’s protocols and interests (to be determined through direct consultation), and that funding be made available via the conference budget to provide an appropriate recognition of this contribution according to local norms;
  3. Ask the Local Arrangements Committee to provide a proposed text (based on advice from local Indigenous community representatives) to the Program Co-Chairs to be used for land acknowledgement at the beginning of each plenary session at the conference, where locally appropriate;
  4. Ask the Local Arrangements Committee to provide a guide to Indigenous history of the region and make it available on the conference and ISHPSSB websites so that attendees and members can educate themselves about the history of the land where the biennial meeting is taking place;
  5. Provide these guidelines as well as a regularly updated bibliography on Indigenous land acknowledgement, decolonization, and other relevant issues on the ISHPSSB website; and
  6. Charge the Membership Development Committee with fostering initiatives to engage greater participation of Indigenous people in ISHPSSB, which could include developing special sessions or off-year workshops on relevant topics, providing bursaries for Indigenous scholars to present at the biennial conference, or other initiatives as they see fit, on which they should report regularly to the ISHPSSB Council.

Ad Hoc Committee Members:
Rachel A. Ankeny (University of Adelaide, Australia, on Kaurna land)
Abigail Nieves-Delgado (University of Utrecht, the Netherlands)
Charbel El-Hani (Federal University of Bahia, Brazil)
Emily Parke (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

Text adapted from the History of Science Society’s Committee for Land Acknowledgement proposal, with their permission. We are especially grateful to Marissa Petrou (University of Louisiana, Lafayette) for her advice and support.