Section: News

College proposes Native American land acknowledgements

College officials are in the process of putting together a formal statement of indigenous land acknowledgement at Kenyon. The creation of this statement follows a trend of colleges and universities incorporating such statements into their institutionional values.

“It’s become common practice in the field of student affairs to acknowledge the land’s connection to the indigenous people who occupied it before others claimed it,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 said. “Much like how it’s common practice to introduce yourself with pronouns, [indigenous land acknowledgements] would be a practice we’d ease into Kenyon.”

A land acknowledgement would formally recognize that the land upon which Kenyon rests was taken from indigenous tribal nations and colonized by white settlers. Such a statement serves to raise awareness of and form solidarity with indigenous nations and communities.

“We are upon land that was taken from indigenous tribal nations,” Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) Timothy Bussey said. “Their history, in many instances, has largely been erased to varying capacities. A land acknowledgement would bring awareness to this.”

According to research conducted by Associate Professor of History Patrick Bottiger’s American Indian Activism and Red Power (HIST 375) course, indigenous nations have occupied Ohio for nearly 12,000 years, namely the Munsee Delaware Indian Nation, the Shawnee Nation, the United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation and a branch of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

“Ohio was and remains an indigenous space,” Bottiger said. “Indigenous peoples have never left Ohio completely, even if there aren’t any federally recognized tribes.”

ODEI Associate Director Jacky Neri Arias ’13 is forming a group of College officials, including faculty, senior staff and members of ODEI, who will craft a land acknowledgement from Kenyon.

“We don’t necessarily know the groups that were here before us,” Neri Arias said. “I need folks together to recognize who actually lived here before us.”

She is seeking out individuals who can best define the statement’s language and tone, as well as institutionalize it. She refuses to let the College’s land acknowledgement exist solely as a diversity initiative.

“It’s not just about diversity,” Neri Arias said. “It’s really about the College as a whole institutionally recognizing that this is important. This needs to be done not just on the ODEI website, but at major college events.”

Students who wish to know which indigenous nation occupied the land surrounding Kenyon College can use a geographic mapping site operated by Native Land Digital, a Canadian-based nonprofit organization which is overseen by an indigenous board of directors. The online map uses anthropological and historical research to identify the geographic boundaries of tribal nations across North and South America.

The map places Kenyon College on land originally belonging to the Hopewell people. According to online encyclopedia Ohio History Central, Hopewell does not refer to any specific indigenous nation; rather, the designation identifies common aspects of the indigenous culture that developed in Ohio and other regions of Eastern North America, dating as far back as 100 B.C. According to the research compiled by Bottiger’s American Indian Activism class, the Hopewell created extensive trade networks and urban structures.

“There is growing recognition that discussion of inclusion leaves out the historical legacies and broad context of indigenous peoples,” President Sean Decatur said. “That’s a larger conversation not just around higher education, but more broadly.”

College officials plan to hold their first meeting before winter break. Neri Arias hopes to have an official land acknowledgement put together soon.

“My goal now is by the end of the year,” Neri Arias said. “If it doesn’t happen, we’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep fighting for this.”

“When we recognize who was here, we have to be careful that we are not essentializing indigenous identities by rooting them only in the past,” Bottiger said. “They are absolutely in our present.”

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