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Land Acknowledgements In Live Music Are Increasing — But Are They Enough?

Land Acknowledgements In Live Music Are Increasing — But Are They Enough?

While accepting the Amplify Award at the 2024 Billboard Power 100 event in Los Angeles in February, the members of boygenius began their speech the same way they had started most shows on their 2023 tour. Lucy Dacus, standing alongside Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, dedicated the moment to the elders and descendants of native peoples and also asked for action from the crowd — which happened to include the music industry’s most powerful executives.

“We believe in land back,” Dacus said. “Which is also water back and air back. I encourage you to look into this if it’s a new concept for you. It’s not only a cause that centers Indigenous sovereignty, but the general well-­being of the earth and all of its inhabitants.”

Welcome to Territory, also known as a land acknowledgment, is a formalized statement recognizing and respecting the relationship of Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories. Dacus noted that the band worked closely with the Pass the Mic (PTM) Foundation — which was founded by Portugal. The Man — on its tour to help organize such acknowledgments at each show. And while land acknowledgments have become standard practice for Portugal. The Man, with bands including NOFX also opting in, the foundation’s ultimate goal is to prevent invisibility and erasure of Indigenous peoples. Live music has offered an ideal setting to do so, and this past year, more artists — and fans — were eager to participate.

“Concerts or festivals can be challenging to engage, but people attend them because they want to feel good,” says Múkaro Borrero, kasike (chief) of the Guainía Taíno tribe and president of the United Confederation of Taíno People. Borrero met Portugal. The Man in 2018 after participating in a group land acknowledgment at the band’s show, leading him to become a partner of the foundation. “Music can be a great equalizer, so attendees can be open to hearing some of these messages and learn more than they perhaps knew when they came to the venue.”

The PTM Foundation soft-launched in 2019 with help from executive director Logan Lynn, an artist and advocate who met Portugal. The Man through the Portland, Ore., music scene. After Lynn interviewed the band for his mental health-focused concert series, the group invited him on its 2018 summer tour, which served as a crash course in Portugal. The Man’s many philanthropic and community-focused efforts. “The only thing I can think of is a food court, where there were all these booths and it felt like a rock show,” Lynn recalls, “but it also felt like a place where all different kinds of community members were finding their people and finding a way to get involved.”

Land acknowledgments in particular are an easy, and affordable, foot in for artists and bands wanting to support community. And while Portugal. The Man was one of the first acts to make this its norm — where the group literally passes the microphone to local community members for a few minutes at the start of every set — Lynn noticed an increase in interest following the boygenius tour in particular. “It was so exciting because what [fans] were reposting was the video of the land acknowledgment and tagging the tribes and it felt like a wildfire,” he says. “Every day I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is exactly the thing we were trying to do.’”

Múkaro Borrero (center) with boygenius backstage at Outlaw Field in Boise, Idaho, in 2023.

“One of the things we heard far and wide when we were starting all this was this idea that Indigenous peoples are historic. Like it’s an ancient thing. That Indigenous peoples aren’t your friends and neighbors still,” Lynn says. “It’s this weird thing. Part of what we wanted to do was just make sure people knew that these communities exist where you live.”

But, as he and the band stress, awareness alone isn’t enough. Every partner that engages in the PTM process receives an unrestricted $500 grant from the PTM Fund. Lynn says Portugal. The Man frontman John Gourley has always been committed to moving with meaning — and following a moment with action. “Land acknowledgments have been a mechanism to get people’s attention,” says Laura John, tribal consultant for the Blackfeet and Seneca Nations and PTM partner. “Providing space for [this] should be understood as a gesture of commitment to doing more,” such as providing resources to tribal communities.

As Borrero says, “The next step for someone who experiences a land acknowledgment is to be sure there is a next step … it is the fans that need to help sustain and expand the momentum [the PTM Foundation] has initiated.”

Laura John

It comes down on venues and promoters, too. Last year, PTM partnered with AEG on its Re:SET traveling concert series, for which boygenius was a headliner. “I was prepared for it to be clunky and hard and like, ‘Who do I talk to?’ And it wasn’t,” Lynn says. “Everybody from the band to management is like, ‘This is important.’ ”

Borrero agrees, saying that despite some Indigenous peoples who “are not so impressed by land acknowledgments because they view them as performative,” he sees them as a positive beginning. “To go from [the] mainstream not seeing us at all to now normalizing acknowledgment of the original caretakers is, to me, significant,” he says. He also notes that the Taíno community in particular has been cited as extinct by some sources. “Being a partner helps us not only change that narrative but take our power back to tell our own story.”

“The goal has always been to make it commonplace, and it feels like we are moving in the right direction,” Gourley adds. “People show up and it’s expected at our shows now — we want it to become expected everywhere.”

This story originally appeared in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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