NAIPA land acknowledgment in the works

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* Article Correction- At the time of publication, NAIPA had heard back from five of the tribes included. They had yet to make contact with two of the tribes mentioned. The process of creating and institutionalizing the land acknowledgement can not move forward without contact from each tribe. *

DePauw’s Native American and Indigenous People’s Association (NAIPA) is in the process of creating a land acknowledgment. Juniors Hannah and Holly Buchanan, members of the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana, currently serve as NAIPA’s executive board and have been heading the development of the land acknowledgment. 

Land acknowledgments are all unique and take many different forms, but they are all statements which acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of a region. According to Holly Buchanan, “the main purpose is it recognizes who has been here and how the communities have a connection to the land and are still here—and we really want to emphasize that—practicing their cultures despite dispossession and ongoing colonialism.” 

Holly Buchanan said, “It’s important, I think, for people to understand that history and the present-day issues they’re facing.” She noted a current lack of this understanding, saying, “Some people don’t even know that Indigenous communities existed in Indiana, let alone which ones and that they’re still here.”

The university does not consistently give land acknowledgments; however, some faculty members and event leaders do have their own. Holly Buchanan said that land acknowledgments can be given at the beginning of a course or incorporated in a syllabus and referenced DePauw professor Dana Duddle, who gives land acknowledgments in each of her courses. 

At a recent event for DePauw faculty members entitled “Responsible Teaching in a Violent Culture,” the host, Ohio State professor Koritha Mitchell gave a land acknowledgment at the start. “For me, it’s about trying to live in integrity around what I believe is making spaces less hostile for more people. Because to me, the erasure and the ignoring of the violent dispossession of Indigenous lands — that erasure is violent, and it happens all the time,” Mitchells said. “Simply to acknowledge it is to give a little space for breathing to my mind, right? I mean, as a Black woman in the academy, so often your experiences are completely ignored, and when they actually are acknowledged, you feel a little more breath.” 

According to Holly Buchanan, Duddle brought the idea of a land acknowledgment to NAIPA’s attention at one of their early meetings in the fall of 2019. Since then, she said, faculty members aware of what NAIPA’s doing have been supportive of their work. “They are doing a really good job of supporting us and getting the word out, telling educators from other colleges, and connecting us with people we can reach out to to get approval from the different tribes,” Hannah Buchanan said. 

“We also are aware and understand that a land acknowledgment can’t do everything itself,” Holly Buchanan said. “But we at least hope it will make the DePauw and Greencastle community aware of the presence of Native people in the area, throughout history and today.”

She also said they hope the acknowledgment allows people to think about their own position and actions on the land.

In order to develop their acknowledgment, NAIPA members researched both the histories and current presence of Indigenous tribes in what is now Putnam County. Holly Buchanan noted that “there was a lot of movement over time and some [tribes’] governments aren’t based in Indiana anymore.” 

One resource was the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission, which was able to help them find the contact information for the tribal governments of the tribes they planned to include, some of which are still in Indiana, and some of which are in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Michigan because of forced removals by the United States. 

NAIPA’s land acknowledgment includes seven tribes: the Miami, Wea, Piankashaw, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Delaware (Lenape). NAIPA is still in the process of reaching out to the tribes involved to get their approvals. Holly Buchanan said, “That’s meant that the process has lasted a little bit longer, but I think it’s very worth it … to receive approval from the Indigenous communities that are being named in it because I think they deserve to have their voice heard, and if they have feedback, we greatly appreciate it and we really take that to heart.”

Some of the tribes, such as the Miami and the Kickapoo, were divided by forced displacements and have different federal governments for the different groups. Speaking about the Miami, which includes the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Holly Buchanan said, “we’re relatives, but at the same time, there’s a 200 year split,” because the U.S. government forced part of the tribe into Oklahoma. In order to fully recognize the Indigenous peoples of the region, NAIPA is seeking approval from both Miami governments and the three Kickapoo governments. 

“There’s a lot of research that went into it and approval from the different tribes, so they know they’re a part of this… they gave suggestions on what other information we should include and improved our research,” Hannah Buchanan said. “They’re very much a part of this acknowledgment and making it as well, ‘cause we wouldn’t have moved forward without them and without their input.”

According to the Buchanans, part of their research was to examine critiques of land acknowledgments and potential issues with them. “We wanted to be thoughtful and respectful to everybody involved and we didn’t want it to be a surface level or performative statement,” Holly Buchanan said. “‘Cause that’s one of the critiques — it’s just performative, and how is it holding us accountable to Indigenous communities living here?” To that end, they wanted to include a focus on what could be done to support Indigenous communities.

Another potential issue with land acknowledgments is that they sometimes “felt like a eulogy and kind of enforced the idea that there are no Native Americans here anymore,” Holly Buchanan said. She felt that looking into critiques was an important part of the process of developing a land acknowledgment. “It led us to emphasize how Indigenous communities are still living here today and how they’re still active.”

Ultimately, NAIPA hopes to have their land acknowledgment “institutionalized,” formally accepted and used by DePauw University; however, that is not a step they’re ready to take yet, as they are still finalizing the acknowledgment itself. Once finalized and institutionalized, the acknowledgment could be used at events or in classes. They are also looking into a physical location for the acknowledgment on campus. According to Holly Buchanan, one possibility is Ullen, the campus farm, which is working on “a Three Sisters plot with Indigenous planting methods.”

The current draft of the land acknowledgment includes a section which encourages students to support Indigenous communities beyond just the land acknowledgment itself. It reads, “For more information on how to take action and learn more, reach out to your local Native communities (if you aren’t sure, start at the native land website), build authentic relationships with Indigenous people where you live, and support Indigenous organizations, movements, and campaigns by donating time and/or money. Please honor their past and contemporary work, including their commitment to preserving and protecting their traditions, heritage, language, and the land.”

Holly Buchanan said that it’s important that students know they can take action and affirmed the importance of “building authentic relationships with Indigenous communities, either from Putnam County or wherever your home town is.” She also shared the website Native-Land.ca, as a resource for students to learn which tribes live and lived in their areas. 

Currently, NAIPA has reached out to and heard back from five of the tribes included. There are two remaining tribes that they need to make contact with, and hope to have the land acknowledgment fully approved by the summer so they can start the process of institutionalization for next year. “We want to be open to it evolving, too … it could be ever-changing, in a good way,” Holly Buchanan said.