Senate's Land Acknowledgment

02/15/2021
Topic

A typical meeting of the University Senate begins with the following land acknowledgment:

The University of Oregon is located within the traditional homelands of the Southern Kalapuya. Following the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855, Kalapuya people were forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, descendants are citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.

I have been asked why we start our Senate meetings with this Land Acknowledgment, which sometimes feels perfunctory. I have asked myself that same question, and devoted my Senate Remarks to that topic at the February 2nd meeting. This blog post recapitulates those remarks, which are only a first response to that honest question. I thank my colleague and friend, Kirby Brown, for sharing with me his thoughts and some important resources, which I will in turn share at the end of this blog post.

I begin with some personal history that frames this question. As a child growing up in Oregon, I used to enjoy playing the “whose family has been here longer?” game. I am a “fifth-generation Oregonian”, and it was rare to find another kid whose grandfather’s grandfather had already been here. Growing up, I had no contact with Native Americans and the only story I heard —reinforced in my reading, in movies, and in westerns on TV — was that Native Americans used to be a source of danger to the brave pioneers. However, like the rest of the Wild West, they were presumably all gone now. As an undergraduate at this very university, I learned that there were other (less comfortable) perspectives on that story, also that there were still Indian Reservations in Oregon, but most of my preconceptions lived on.

In 1988 I began working with native peoples in the Amazon and in 2000 I came back to Oregon as a professor. Soon after, I attended my first meeting of the Northwest Indian Language Institute, where the first speaker opened the meeting with an acknowledgment that we were meeting on Kalapuya land, that the Kalapuya had been here for thousands of years, and even though they had been dispossessed of their land and forced to leave, that they were still here and still contributing to shaping our modern world. I learned that it is an important native tradition whenever one meets on someone else’s land, to acknowledge and signal respect for the hosts, whether or not they are physically present.[1] The speaker then offered a prayer in a language I did not understand, during which I processed the realization that two of my powerful presuppositions had just been obliterated: first, the five generations my family has been here (now six counting my own children) is almost nothing beside the countless generations of Kalapuya people who have lived their lives here; second, the Kalapuya people, like the people of many other First Nations, are not gone, they have just been “erased” from the national awareness.

I have since heard land acknowledgments in many different settings, including at the beginning of our Senate meetings. Such acknowledgments can be delivered with varying degrees of emotion, from personally-felt testimony that invites the listeners to share a moment of reflection to a quick pro-forma recitation, a check-the-box moment that must be gotten through so one can get on with the main event. I have asked several people what they think of these land acknowledgments, and have read some interesting thoughts, ranging from thoughtful critiques by Native American writers to harumphing by writers who think the main thing being acknowledged is “woke” liberal guilt. In this process, I have developed my individual response to the question, which I share here in the hope that others will find it useful.

For me, the first reason to do a land acknowledgment is to recognize publicly that, no matter where you might be in the US, you are on what was once indigenous land, that this land was almost certainly taken from its traditional inhabitants by force, and that at least some of their descendants are still here. Recognition alone does not necessarily lead to anything more, but it is a necessary first step, the reminder of a true and uncomfortable thought that contains within it the possibility of future uncomfortable conversations grounded in that truth.

The possibility of those future conversations is the second reason to do land acknowledgments. This idea comes from the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, active from 2008-2015. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created as a part of settling class action lawsuits against the government for the atrocities committed within Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children. As part of their investigation, that commission interviewed more than 6000 witnesses and wrote multiple reports detailing a truth that had been missing entirely from the national discourse. While comparable investigations have not been done here, these Canadian schools have a direct US parallel in the Indian Boarding Schools. The commission concluded that the true purpose of residential schools was not education per se, but rather “separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture...”[2] The purpose of these reports was not to generate shame or guilt on the part of majority Canadians, but rather to publicize the truth as a necessary first step to the goal of building reconciliation between majority Canadians and the native peoples who had been traumatized in the residential school system. The Commission made 94 calls to action,[3] and prominent among them is the call to open every government-sponsored public meeting, including school classes, with a land acknowledgment. This is seen as a crucial (though clearly not sufficient) means of making the native peoples visible to the majority population.

Of course, the residential school system is just one of many atrocities visited on the native peoples during the colonist expansion in Canada and the US, as well as in Central and South America, where I have more direct personal and academic experience. But the point is not that we should all be able to recite the litany of evils in the history of our country, beat our breasts and declare our collective guilt. The point is that now *we* are here, too, and we have the opportunity to do and be better than our history.

The Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest are still here, integrated to various degrees within the national society, still making contributions to our understanding of what it is to be human. Land acknowledgments “flow from the work of Indigenous peoples themselves, who are resisting invisibilization.”[4] In this vein, representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Indians and of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon have collaborated to craft three versions of our UO land acknowledgment, a complete version, a short version, and the almost telegraphic website-friendly version, the one we typically read to open our meetings. We read that collaboratively-crafted acknowledgment not as an end in itself, but as a first step to future engagement, an acknowledgment that we continue to have before us the opportunity to do more.

In this spirit, I invite you to take a long minute to read aloud the complete version of our land acknowledgment, to let these names pass through your mouth and be carried outward on your breath. When you finish, consider adding “We see you.”

Complete version: 

The University of Oregon is located on Kalapuya Ilihi, the traditional indigenous homeland of the Kalapuya people. Following treaties between 1851 and 1855, Kalapuya people were dispossessed of their indigenous homeland by the United States government and forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, descendants are citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, and continue to make important contributions in their communities, at UO, across the land we now refer to as Oregon, and around the world.

We express our respect for all federally recognized Tribal Nations of Oregon. This includes the Burns Paiute Tribe; the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon; the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs; the Coquille Indian Tribe; the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians; and the Klamath Tribes. We also express our respect for all other displaced Indigenous peoples who call Oregon home.

Short(er) version: 

The University of Oregon is located on Kalapuya Ilihi, the traditional indigenous homeland of the Kalapuya people. Following treaties between 1851 and 1855, Kalapuya people were dispossessed of their indigenous homeland by the United States government and forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, descendants are citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, and continue to make important contributions in their communities, at UO, across the land we now refer to as Oregon, and around the world.

Website-friendly: 

The University of Oregon is located within the traditional homelands of the Southern Kalapuya. Following the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855, Kalapuya people were forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, descendants are citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.

Some useful and interesting places to learn more:

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website

https://nctr.ca/map.php

For a list of the Reports of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, cf.

https://nctr.ca/reports2.php

âpihtawikosisân: Law. Language. Culture Blog site

https://apihtawikosisan.com

The Narwhal, Indigenous newsletter

https://thenarwhal.ca

The Sapsikwałá Teacher Education Program, University of Oregon

https://education.uoregon.edu/sapsikwala

Native American Studies, University of Oregon

https://nativestudies.uoregon.edu

The Northwest Indian Language Institute, University of Oregon

https://nili.uoregon.edu


[1] For a thoughtful story about a current court case involving a people who were forced to move, cf. https://thenarwhal.ca/sinixt-people-fight-extinction-supreme-court-canada/?fbclid=IwAR2PnayQqaIfHvPWiXCEHoCRJQKodWMdSfb4t-pWJRq_GheEqmbvfowU-CY

[2] http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Final%20Reports/Executive_Summary_English…

[3] http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

[4] âpihtawikosisân. “Beyond territorial acknowledgments.” Law. Language. Culture. https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/

 


[1] For a thoughtful story about a current court case involving a people who were forced to move, cf. https://thenarwhal.ca/sinixt-people-fight-extinction-supreme-court-canada/?fbclid=IwAR2PnayQqaIfHvPWiXCEHoCRJQKodWMdSfb4t-pWJRq_GheEqmbvfowU-CY

[2] http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Final%20Reports/Executive_Summary_English…

[3] http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

[4] âpihtawikosisân. “Beyond territorial acknowledgments.” Law. Language. Culture. https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/

Comments

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Please note that the proper full name for Siletz is "The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon."
This article misnames us multiple times by inserting an additional "the" prior to "Siletz." We are misnamed in each of the land acknowledgement templates you encourage readers to read aloud and likely use themselves.
This mistake is made elsewhere in UO land acknowledgements, and it should be corrected to properly name the peoples the UO claims to acknowledge.

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We have corrected the text both here and in the version that is read at the beginnings of Senate meetings. We really appreciate the guidance, so that we can properly name the peoples that we intend to acknowledge.