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UCO Land Acknowledgement

“When we talk about land, land is part of who we are. It’s a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future. We carry our ancestors in us, and they’re around us. As you all do.” Mary Lyons (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)

In the fall of 2020, the Committee on Diversity, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Diversity Round Table, Native American Student Association, and Native American Faculty and Staff Association in collaboration with our Indigenous community partners proposed to the university leadership team the adoption and establishment of a university-wide land acknowledgement policy. Along with a formal statement, the land acknowledgement policy proposed an active commitment to working with our Indigenous community partners to repair and advance the university's relationship with Indigenous communities.

 

What is a Land Acknowledgement?

A land acknowledgement is many things. It is a way to prevent the erasure of Indigenous history; to articulate the destructive actions of colonialism; to honor the Indigenous people on whose land we occupy; to acknowledge the deep and living relationship of the Indigenous people to their ancestral lands; to create space in which discussions regarding the decolonization of systems and institutions may occur.

Land acknowledgements are transparent and historically accurate formal statements, verbally or visually presented, to recognize the Sovereign Nations on whose land we occupy as a result of forceful settler colonization. 

“Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation.” Northwestern University

 

UCO's Land Acknowledgement

The University of Central Oklahoma recognizes that we gather on land entrusted to the care and protection of the Caddo and Wichita peoples. These lands are part of the wider state of Oklahoma which is shared by the 39 sovereign Indigenous Nations including the Kiowa, Comanche, Osage, Apache and Fort Sill Apache Nations, and is associated with the forced relocation of Nations through the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The university was built in Unassigned Land within seized portions of Indian Territory taken from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations by the federal government in 1866. Beginning in 1889, this land was distributed through several Land Runs intended to confine and erase Indigenous peoples from this territory. We acknowledge the historical events that have and continue to affect Indigenous people of this land. We pledge to honor and respect Indigenous knowledges and worldviews as we sustain a meaningful relationship with the Sovereign Nations. 

A Brief History of the Land

Oklahoma was one of the last places closed to white settlement by the mid 1860s. It was known as the Oklahoma Indian Territory - a home for displaced Tribes who were forced to relocate from their traditional homelands. In fact, the term Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw language.  As many as 40 tribes called this territory home. Eventually, the Tribes would lose their reassigned land in the territory of Oklahoma when the Dawes Severalty Act was implemented. This act allowed the government to establish smaller parcels of land for Native ownership while assuming control of the millions of acres of what was left of the original tribal land. After reservations were divided into allotments, remaining land was designated as open for white settlement, making way for the Oklahoma Land Run.

 

A Guide for Reading the Land Acknowledgement

Before the Acknowledgement

The Land Acknowledgement should not be a mindless recitation. 
  • Reflect on the Land Acknowledgement before the start of the event or meeting.
  • Understand the history that led to the forceful settler colonization of the land.
  • Learn the context that brought us to reside on this land.
  • Examine your intention in sharing this Land Acknowledgement.
  • If possible, display the Land Acknowledgement.

During the Acknowledgement

The leader of the Land Acknowledgement reading should be the event or meeting host.
  • Encourage the audience to collectively read out loud the Acknowledgement with you.
  • Clearly and correctly pronounce the names of each Tribe.
  • Read the Acknowledgement with intention and mindfulness.
  • Formally thank the Tribes, whether or not citizens or decendents are present. 

After the Acknowledgement

Finally, don't stop at reading the Land Acknowledgement. Reflect on it. Share with the audience what it compells you to do. Examine your relationships to the land, water and Indigenous peoples. 
  • What does a land acknowledgment ask of us? How will you embody or implement what it asks?
  • How will it inform my/our work moving forward?
  • Considering the many roles and relationships you have (human-being, family member, student, staff, faculty, community member, neighbor, etc.) what does honoring this relationship to place look like for you? 
  • What does it mean to be in a rightful relationship with the Land we occupy and the Water that gives us life? Think about sustainability, environmental justice, maintaining a reciprocal and healthy relationship with the Earth.
  • What resources and/or knowledge do you need to move further into implementing the Land Acknowledgement practices?
  • What relationships do you need to establish or strengthen? (University, Sovereign Nations, Indigenous Organizations, the land and water, etc.)

[Source: Northwestern University]

 

Where and When to Use the Land Acknowledgement

  • Read the Land Acknowledgement before special meetings, conferences, and events
  • Read the Land Acknowledgement before Faculty and Staff Senate and UCOSA meetings
  • Incorporate the Land Acknowledgement at the beginning of your syllabus
  • Include the Land Acknowledgement in the introduction module of online courses
  • Read the Land Acknowledgement in class at the start of each semester
  • Read the Land Acknowledgement at the start of sporting, student, and community events
  • Include the Land Acknowledgement in your campus email signature
"If you are not indigenous to the [Caddo and Wichita] territory, you are a settler or a guest, and are accountable to the land and [Caddo and Wichita] people as beneficiaries of the violence that make it possible for you to be here. Allyship is a continuous process; it is also not a label one can give one’s self, but one you earn from your actions and commitment to standing in solidarity by respecting American Indian nations." [California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center]

 

Moving Beyond Words

It is not enough to acknowledge the land we inhabit was violently stolen. It is important that we seek to understand the true longstanding history that brought us to reside on this land and take action to stand in solidarity with the Sovereign Nations. This is part of decolonizing systems and institutions. Following are some resources to get you started.

What is Colonization?

"Colonization occurs when an external power forcefully asserts their governing authority over a people — their lives, lands, and resources. The form of colonization that we should perhaps be most concerned about in the U.S. context is settler colonization. Although the particulars of settler colonialism differ from place to place (Kelley, 2017), according to Glen Coulthard (2014) 'a settler colonial relationship is one characterized by domination; that is a relationship where power — in this case, interrelated, discursive and non-discursive facets of economic, gendered, racial, and state power — has been structured into a relatively secure or sedimented set of hierarchical social relations that continue to facilitate the dispossession of Indigenous peoples of their lands and self determining authority.'" [Source: Stein, S. (2017, December 5). So you want to decolonize higher education. Medium.  Source Link.] 

What is Decolonization?

"Decolonization is the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. On the one hand, decolonization involves dismantling structures that perpetuate the status quo and addressing unbalanced power dynamics. On the other hand, decolonization involves valuing and revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and approaches and weeding out settler biases or assumptions that have impacted Indigenous ways of being. For non-Indigenous people, decolonization is the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact." [Source: Pulling Together: A Guide for Front-Line Staff, Student Services, and Advisors by Ian Cull; Robert L. A. Hancock; Stephanie McKeown; Michelle Pidgeon; and Adrienne Vedan]

Institutions and systems today continue to maintain the status quo of colonial processes and perpetuate exclusion because they started from a foundational belief that Euro-American ideals and ways of doing were superior. Think about how student service functions rely heavily on forms and procedures at the neglect of first initiating relationships with current and potential students. Examine how libraries catalogue knowledge. Reflect on how Western culture values written text over oral traditions. These are colonial practices that exclude rather than include.

Decolonization is dynamic and ongoing. It asks us to take collective and personal responsiblility for removing exclusionary practices, and advancing inclusive excellence.