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Iowa State introduces official land acknowledgment

Published onSep 25, 2020
Iowa State introduces official land acknowledgment

Sebastian Braun, director of American Indian Studies, helped Iowa State develop the newly approved land acknowledgement statement. Ryan Bretoi/ Iowa State Daily

Iowa State now officially has a land acknowledgment, which recognizes ownership of the land before it became the university.

In collaboration with Sebastian Braun, director of American Indian Studies, Iowa State developed this land acknowledgment statement, which was approved and posted Feb. 18.

“A land acknowledgement 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,” according to the Northwestern University website.

This official Iowa State land acknowledgment statement is as follows.

"Iowa State University aspires to be the best land‐grant university at creating a welcoming and inclusive environment where diverse individuals can succeed and thrive,” according to the land acknowledgment statement. “As a land‐grant institution, we are committed to the caretaking of this land and would like to begin this event by acknowledging those who have previously taken care of the land on which we gather. Before this site became Iowa State University, it was the ancestral lands and territory of the Baxoje (bah-kho-dzhe), or Ioway Nation. The United States obtained the land from the Meskwaki and Sauk nations in the Treaty of 1842. We wish to recognize our obligations to this land and to the people who took care of it, as well as to the 17,000 Native people who live in Iowa today."

Braun said he wanted to create an official land acknowledgment statement for Iowa State after seeing many different attempts by different groups, but the attempts were not always correct.

“I have seen land acknowledgments done here that were just absolutely wrong,” Braun said, “I think that is where this was born to, the need that the university has to have one came out pf the realization that if the university doesn’t have one, then people will say all kinds of things that range from all this land was stolen to all this land was won in the war.”

Braun said his interest in creating the statement really began at a meeting between administration and students.

“Honestly, where this process started for me was that event in the fall, at the meeting between the administration and Students Against Racism,” Braun said. “Some students stood up and tried to give a land acknowledgment statement and then got that response, which was, ‘We won this land in a war, and we are not going to give it up.’ That is where the obligation for me for the university to have a land acknowledgment became clear.”

Braun also said he wanted to clarify both parties were wrong when it came to the land acknowledgment.

“To make things clear: one, this land was not all stolen,” Braun said. “Two, no, you didn’t win this land in a war; there was no war over this land. There was a treaty signing and, therefore, treaty obligations.”

Along with the land acknowledgement statement, the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost also approved a “land history” document to be published alongside it.

“Indigenous peoples have lived in Iowa for over 10,000 years. Since about 3,000 years ago, Native people, in what is today Iowa, have been farmers,” according to the document. “They built villages and towns, burial and effigy mounds, ridged fields and large earthworks. They were involved in a network of trade that spanned the continent. Native people have been shaping this land just like they have been shaping its history and its current society and culture from time immemorial. Today, the state of Iowa is home to around 17,000 Native people from all over North America.”

The document stated Iowa acknowledges the histories of the land it is built on and that it's where students, faculty and staff gather to learn, educate and live.

“This land carries the histories within it, and the people on it establish relations to the land through the ways in which they remember and acknowledge those histories,” according to the document. “Those histories are complex. If we listen to them, we learn how to relate. If we ignore them, we run the danger of tapping into some of the darkest stereotypes and untruths.”

Like Braun said, the document stated all of Iowa was ceded to the United States through treaties with sovereign Native nations between 1824 and 1851. This means everybody living in Iowa is bound by the treaty obligations specific to where they live. Those obligations are, according to the U.S. Constitution, "the law of the land."

Those treaties, in accordance with the policy of removal, aimed at resettling tribes in "Indian Territory," according to the document. Most tribes from Iowa were first removed to Nebraska and Kansas, and most were then again removed to Oklahoma.

“The treaties came out of a strategy aimed at making Native nations dependent on American trade goods,” according to the document. “President [Thomas] Jefferson outlined this strategy of economic dependency leading to political submission in 1803. In many cases, tribes ceded lands so they could pay their debts. For these tribes, treaties were offers they could not refuse.”

These treaties also acknowledge Native nations to be sovereign nations. Native nations are inherently sovereign. They were sovereign before the United States was established, and their sovereignty was never extinguished, according to the document.

Braun said there are two different types of land acknowledgements, political and stewardship.

He said the political type of acknowledgment focus on the ownership of the land and what rights the people currently on the land have to it.

"I think the other form is an acknowledgment that people have taken care of this land, and so there is a continuity of the people who take care of it now, and they have to acknowledge the people who have taken care of it before them," Braun said. "It is less about property and more about stewardship and care-taking."

Braun said the second type of acknowledgement is the type Iowa State is aiming for, due to being a land grant university and the university caring for the land.

Even though land acknowledgements can be made with good intentions, Braun said they may not always be the best.

"Indigenous peoples today find that land acknowledgments are actually not only unnecessary but actually detrimental because they see it oftentimes as a rhetorical dismissal of actual obligations," Braun said. "You make the statement to basically absolve yourself of any guilt. [...] If land acknowledgment statements are made by themselves without any interactions, then they become a reinforcement of colonial relations, not a solution to them."

Braun said land acknowledgements can be good things if they are done right.

"I think when land acknowledgment statements are used in a good way and when they lead to critical thinking and engagement, then I think they make a ton of sense and are helpful," Braun said. "However, if they are just a statement that somebody reads at any one event that may not have to do with anything, then it becomes a meaningless rhetorical statement."

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