Bemidji State University Land Acknowledgement: Process

Bemidji State University’s Land Acknowledgement Statement

Process Summary

The Bemidji State University Niizhoo-gwayakochigewin Collaborative started working towards a land acknowledgement statement during the spring of 2019. Dr. Cornelia Santos, Dr. Vivian Delgado, Bill Blackwell Jr., and Erika Bailey-Johnson were inspired by the land acknowledgement statement presented at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) conference in Boston in March 2019. The land acknowledgement their organization had approved was used before every keynote, breakout session and event for the duration of the conference. There were more than 2,000 people in attendance from all over the nation. The group returned from the conference and approached the Niizhoo-gwayakochigewin Collaborative with the idea of proposing a land acknowledgement for BSU. All collaborative members were supportive, so a draft land acknowledgement was crafted using language similar to the ACPA land acknowledgement and brought forward to Dr. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at BSU.  A few modifications were made with the intent to present a draft to the President’s Cabinet.

During the Fall of 2019, academic administrators encouraged the creation of a proposal that would be sent to BSU President Faith C. Hensrud. The proposal included example land acknowledgement statements and an emphasis on an inclusive process moving forward. In February 2020, a working group was established to begin the process of creating a formal, properly vetted Bemidji State University land acknowledgement statement. This initial working group included:

  • Allen Bedford, then associate vice president of academic affairs
  • Travis Greene, associate vice president for student life & success
  • Dr. Vivian Delgado, assistant professor of Indigenous studies
  • Dr. Cornelia Santos, assistant professor of environmental studies
  • Chrissy Koch, executive director of BSU’s American Indian Resource Center
  • Erika Bailey-Johnson, Niizhoo-gwayakochigewin director and sustainability director
  • Alicia Bowstring, Council of Indian Students

This working group met during late spring semester of 2020 and over the course of the summer to create a draft land acknowledgement statement.  Several mindful conversations were had about the history and culture of Bemidji, the intent and meaning behind specific concepts and phrases and whether or not to connect to spiritual concepts of the land and land loss. The working group felt that crafting a statement that would be flexible and adaptable to any context was a key component of this effort. They also stated that the statement should be a call to action and consciousness. It was also determined that a document should accompany the statement (possibly on a website) that would include more detail about the statement.

In August 2020, the working group sent a draft land acknowledgement statement to President Hensrud. The statement read:

Today we gather here and acknowledge that this land, which is nestled among the pines and along the shores, is known as Bemijigamaag igo gaye Makoce and is the current and ancestral homeland of the Ojibwe, Dakota, and Lakota. Anishinaabe people live side by side with non-Natives who occupy Indigenous land. The Anishinaabe are the spiritual and physical caretakers of this land to which we belong. We are committed to uplifting the names of these sacred lands as well as the community members from these Nations.

BSU administration recommended that the next step in the process was to bring the draft statement to the Presidents’ Indigenous Advisory Council. The council met in September 2020 and concluded that a separate gathering of interested individuals should occur to provide specific feedback on the draft statement. This meeting was held in October 2020and included the following individuals:

  • Dr. Mary Fairbanks, professor of nursing
  • Dr. Cornelia Santos, assistant professor of environmental studies
  • Veronica Veaux, assistant professor of business administration
  • Dr. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe
  • Erika Bailey-Johnson, Niizhoo-gwayakochigewin director and sustainability director
  • Dr. John Gonzalez, professor of psychology (also contributed thoughts via email)

The following is the statement that was drafted at this meeting using some of the first draft with reworked sections and an added statement that some of the meeting participants felt strongly should be included.

We acknowledge that Bemidji State University is located on land and water that is the current and ancestral homeland of the Ojibwe and Dakota. We acknowledge the painful history of genocide, forced assimilation, and efforts to alienate the Indigenous inhabitants from their territory here, and we honor and respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land on which we gather, their retained sovereignty and treaty rights, and unbroken linguistic and cultural thriving. Indigenous people are the spiritual and physical caretakers of this land to which we all belong. We are committed to uplifting the names of these sacred lands as well as the community members from these Nations.

The Indigenous Advisory Council met again in late October 2020, and the changes were approved by this larger group. In November 2020, President Hensrud, Provost Allen Bedford, Dr. Anton Treuer, Erika Bailey-Johnson and newly appointed Campus Diversity Officer, Juan Rojas, met to discuss next steps. Current plans moving forward are to vet the statement with the Council of Indian Students, Student Senate, and all the bargaining units through the Meet and Confer process.

A panel discussion is planned for Spring 2021 startup, and a survey will be created for campus-wide distribution and feedback. The following is a detailed plan moving forward:

  • Dec. 16, 2020: Draft statement, process document and FAQ distributed to BSU employees via email, with a link to a Qualtrics survey;
  • Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, 1–2 p.m.: Panel discussion, open to campus community, Q & A;
  • Friday, Jan. 15, 2021: Working group convenes to analyze survey responses;
  • January 27–28, 2021: land acknowledgement statement presented at bargaining unit Meet and Confers;
  • Afterward: analyze feedback from bargaining units; establish timeline for final adoption.