We acknowledge and honor that we live, work, and research on the Indigenous lands of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what now is called North America.
War Department. Office of the Chief of Engineers. 1818-9/18/1947. “No 2 – Austin, Texas.” Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, National Archives at College Park – Cartographic.
This virtual, critical, and reflective space is dedicated to the memory, preservation, and teaching of histories lesser told, those vilified, and those left uncelebrated. Like these histories, the landscape has tended to be reduced, in its case to property, rather than playing a vivacious part of public history and memory. Consequently, this site recognizes both the land and those people associated with it, who have lived on, stewarded, enjoyed, and revered it long before its contemporary form called Central Texas. With a purpose to educate, this site contributes to expanding public history by foregrounding the understanding of this space in settler-colonialism and its destruction and removal of indigenous people as creating this rupture between people and land, the lack of a primary relationship with the land and ancestry, and the omission of these histories and sensibilities. The site thus remembers the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, the Caddo, Carrizo and Comecrudo, the Chickasaw, the Coahuitlecan, the Jumanos,the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas, Kiowa, the Kónitsaaíí (Lipan Apache Tribe), “Nʉmʉnʉʉ” (Comanche), the Tonkawa, Tigua Pueblo, the Waco and Wichita peoples, the Ysleta del sur Pueblo, the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians. Other indigenous peoples may have connected to this land and those mentioned may not claim this region as ancestral or traditional territories. By acknowledging the interwoven history between this land, indigenous peoples, and other lesser discussed people, the ongoing legacy of killing, domination, theft, displacement, cultural and literal genocide becomes a missing part of the public history that serves to inform the complexity of contemporary social issues and relations. Through information and new vantages, this site seeks to inform how this legacy presently exists in this region, while also appreciating the diversity of life and landscape that brought and sustained both indigenous and non-indigenous people in this area.
Land Acknowledgments and Racial Geography
It’s likely that you have either heard of or been asked to participate in a land acknowledge. In many academic spaces and beyond, it is now common practice to begin events with such an honoring. Land acknowledgements serve as a call, a practice, and shift in orientation around how we do our work and where it arises from. In writing the land acknowledgement for this website I have attempted to make it my own. Experiences with acknowledgements in other forums and by learning more about them instructed me to craft my own in service of more deeply understanding and thus living this form of honoring, rather than performing it as a repetition. In the list of resources below, this site includes a link for one, among many places, to start learning the value of personalizing a land acknowledgment. But, the significance of this practice and its particular significance to the work of this website offers a good space to begin.
Turtle Island and the place we call North America
The name Turtle Island is an indigenous reference to the continent of North America. The term comes from indigenous creation narratives that tell the story of the flourishing of life as taking shape around a turtle’s back. While not homogeneous, invocations of the turtle often invoke its symbolism of life and earth, as well as its cultural and spiritual significance for indigenous people of this land. The (re)introduction of this name centers indigenous memory and history and serves to correct and reorient settler histories of this land.
Speaking of Turtle Island recalls the history of this land before settler colonization as the home to indigenous people for over 10,000 years. Contrary to a notion of discovery, this continent was populated by thriving peoples organized by territories, in bands, and confederacies of their own. Turtle Island recalls this memory and tells the history of colonization, assimilation, and violence that decimated indigenous peoples and their ways of life. It also introduces a different sensibility of respect and care towards the environment and our human interaction with the planet and all of life.
In a similar spirit to the reclamation of Turtle Island, land acknowledgments follow indigenous practices of honoring the primacy of human relations to the land. For non-indigenous people, these acknowledgements invite a familiarization with this perspective and encourage a more sustaining relationship with the land. These acknowledgements also educate and appreciate those people and ways that came before settler-colonialism and its treatment of land as principally property. Land Acknowledgments instruct and re-orient about what relations, practices, and histories guide our existence and ways of being.
Those who came before in Central Texas
As a public memory and history project, the CTXRetold website gathers less-known histories about this region. What often is told about this area is the history of the powerful who overwhelming were white men and the institutions they created. By using a racial lens, the site articulates the racial dimensions of those in power and traditional histories told orally and in the books, while shining a light on the everyday, less powerful, and often non-white histories of peoples of this region—formidably including indigenous tribes, Mexicans, and later black Texans.
Various indigenous peoples lived on and moved about this land now called Texas. Long before settler-colonialism, the Apaches, Caddos, Coahuiltecan, Jumanos, Karankawas, and Tonkawa populated this vast area. Eventually killed or forced out of the areas, these tribes declined in the midst of both Anglo colonization and the arrival of “immigrant tribes” from the North and east into the region. The Comanche, Wichita, and Kiowas had a presence in the 19th century and the Comanches, Wichita and Caddos are those known to have fought continuously in the 18th century over these lands in Central Texas. Portrayed as enemies and as the violent others of Western expansion in traditional nationalistic histories of this land, more recent historiography has sought to move away from heroic driven accounts of Texas history into fact-driven and pluralist histories that contemplate the indigenous presence, destruction, and fight to remain on this land interwoven with the Tejano, Mexican, Anglo, Black, and a host of European immigrants’ history. For such accounts, please see the bibliography below.
Black people arrived in Central Texas in the 1820s, in the context of settler-colonialism. Brought as enslaved laborers by Anglo farmers, black people, like the land, served as another exploitable good. The population of enslaved African Americans continued to grow after Texas independence in 1836, rising to a third of the population in the pre-Civil War years of the 1860s (Anderson 2019). Planting and harvesting cotton, black people worked the land, providing the labor for the wealth in the state. By the Civil War, there were approximately 1000 black people in Austin, close to 30% of the city’s population (Lack 1981). In the post-war period, black people migrated to Austin and settled freedom colonies, fleeing persecution in the flood of anti-black violence in areas of North Eastern central Texas, or the Brazos River Valley. The new black homesteaders in Austin created communities across the city, grew their own food and kept livestock, founded churches and opened schools. Both women and men worked in a variety of vocations that while skilled, were poorly paid.
One important directive of land acknowledgements for this site is the invitation to recall these forgotten histories, still present and legible in the landscape.
Land Acknowledgments and The Racial Geography of Central Texas
Land acknowledgments are another symbol of the US’s racial geography itself. This land acknowledgment serves to recall the ways that Central Texas spaces are home to many histories and living memories. They are not singularly the product, in the case of Austin, of Stephen H. Austin and the Anglo founding of Texas, but of thousands of years of lives lived by varied peoples. Through encouraging spatial literacy, the racial geography tour linked to this web site works in the spirit of land acknowledgements to read and relate to the land and what sits upon it and has sprung from it as alive with the expressions of peoples past and present.
This site foregrounds black and white histories in order to more deeply integrate black presence into the social, historical, and spatial ways we understand the region. But this is only the history of two groups among the many. It is offered as a way to encourage the dignified exploration of other residents and, with the shared essence of land acknowledgements, to instruct in other ways of thinking about and relating to these well-walked spaces.
Anderson, Gary Clayton. The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019 .
Lack, Paul D. “Slavery and Vigilantism in Austin, Texas, 1840-1860.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 85, no. 1 (1981): 1–20.
Crafting a Land Acknowledgement: https://nativegov.org/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment
UT’s Land Acknowledgment: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/nais/land-acknowledgement/index.php