The University of Indianapolis released its official land acknowledgment statement, according to an email sent by the Office of the President. The email said a land acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.
Professor of Anthropology Christopher Moore said it is important for UIndy to have an official land acknowledgment statement to give everyone the opportunity to educate themselves on the importance of the land to different tribal nations. He said the statement serves as a constant reminder for faculty, staff and students of the people who came before us on the land where UIndy was built.
“As an educational institution, we should not only be educating our students, but educating ourselves,” Moore said. “Part of the importance of land acknowledgment is to not lose sight of where the institution is and the broader history of our nation.”
According to Moore, there is also a social justice aspect to the university’s statement. He said it is important for people to not only recognize and understand the removal and other injustices done to Native Americans but also to make an effort to repair the relationship with these tribal nations.
“The other part of it is more focused on the social justice aspect of it, that different indigenous groups were removed from this territory in different ways,” Moore said. “There’s a complex history for how that removal process took place, but all of that took place after a long drawn out period of warfare and legal practices on the part of the United States government, and treaties, many of them that were, which were broken, that kind of cloud our broader history. So there’s a social justice aspect of it of acknowledging those injustices of the past so that we do our best not to repeat them, but also we want to do what we can on this campus to try to repair the relationships that were damaged by them.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology Colleen Wynn said the Land Acknowledgment Task Force wants UIndy’s land acknowledgment statement to be an ongoing process of collaboration and learning. She said she hopes that as new ideas and initiatives are incorporated into UIndy’s land acknowledgment, the university will be able to strengthen relationships with tribal nations.
“They are a way that we can recognize those people and recognize their contributions and then hopefully, they also come with some action that allows us to kind of embody the spirit of the land acknowledgment and so that was really important for us in drafting the acknowledgment in putting that together,” Wynn said.
Wynn said the land acknowledgment statement has been in the works since last year when the Land Acknowledgment Task Force was brainstorming and drafting it. She said the task force contains faculty, staff and students who worked together to build the statement. Associate Professor of English Leah Milne said while the focus of the task force last year was to write UIndy’s land acknowledgment statement, this year there is more attention to implementing and gaining awareness for the statement.
“The land acknowledgment statement itself was just the first step and so now that that’s been done, really the plan from here is to just gain more awareness,” Milne said. “I think the first thing that we actually did to do that is the statement was read by Dr. Singh at the Celebration of the Flags. But from there, we’re hoping to do more things, like bring Indigenous speakers to campus, partnering with organizations like the Eiteljorg Museum and so on, as well as continue our involvement with tribal nations in the area.”
Milne said students and faculty can begin reflecting on the importance of the land to Indigenous people through small steps. She said bringing diverse representation into coursework can help build the foundation for students to learn more about indigenous cultures.
“So there’s a lot of small things that we can do in the classroom, you can kind of incorporate Indigenous scholars and they exist in all fields,” Milne said. “… You don’t have to transform a course in order to make it serve a purpose of bringing awareness to an issue … I always tell people to start with the small things.”
According to Moore, it is important for people to adopt this land acknowledgment statement so that it becomes part of the everyday language at UIndy. He said that eventually, it would be ideal if the statement was read at every major event on campus so that it becomes a staple of what it means to be UIndy. “I think it’s important for us to do the work of making it clear to our Indigenous students, faculty and staff that they are welcome here, that we acknowledge the history that brought us here,” Moore said.