A land acknowledgment is a statement that is often read at public gatherings to recognize the Indigenous inhabitants of the land. It is a way to acknowledge the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism and the culpability of the American government in violating land treaties made with Indigenous peoples. Adopting and reading land acknowledgment statements is just one way (among many) to celebrate and support Indigenous communities.
At this week’s school board meeting, Superintendent Unowsky presented a draft of our new land acknowledgment statement, along with the steps we took in creating the statement and what steps we have yet to take.
To develop the statement, our team researched the history of the land and the related treaties. We learned that we are located on the ancestral land of the Dakota people and that the Cessation 289 Treaty of 1851 specifically identified the Wahpeton and Sisseton Bands of the Dakota People. The United States government used this treaty to steal land from these Indigenous groups.
Once we completed our research, we drafted the land acknowledgment statement (below) and worked with our American Indian Parent Advisory Committee (AIPAC) members to ensure that the statement supported our local Indigenous communities. We then presented the statement to the school board for affirmation.
At the board meeting, board members and student representatives spoke out in favor of the statement. Allegra Smisek stated: “When I was a Social Studies teacher, we used to have a unit on the stages of genocide and the final stage is denial—and silence is a form of denial. When we think about the history of this country and the history of colonialism, our country, our state and our schools have been silent and have been in denial for a long time. So that's why a land acknowledgment, even though it may seem like a small step, is a really, really important one. Because in order to heal and to have reconciliation, we need to recognize that truth and acknowledge that truth.”
Helen, one of our four student representatives, added that this is something that the University of Minnesota has added to many of its classes (which she attends through PSEO). Tyler, another student representative, expressed his support as well and said he feels we are heading in the right direction.
The next steps include creating a plan to begin using the land acknowledgment statement across the district and at public events, collaborating with one or more Indigenous artists to create artwork with the land acknowledgment to be displayed at each building, and planning a ceremonial event to unveil the land acknowledgment artwork.
Adopting a land acknowledgment statement and planning the related art installations is the latest step we have taken to deliver on our equity promise of providing all students with a safe, supportive school environment to thrive academically and developmentally.
Draft Land Acknowledgment Statement
Richfield Public Schools acknowledges that we are located on the ancestral land of the Dakota people, who have lived on and cared for the land since time immemorial. Indigenous nations have a long history of stewardship and preservation of the local area. We are grateful for the guardianship of these lands which hold historical, spiritual, and personal significance to the Dakota people.
The Cessation 289 Treaty of 1851 names the Wahpeton and Sisseton Bands of the Dakota People. The United States government used this treaty to steal land from its Indigenous groups. The Richfield Public School District continues to benefit from this unjust treaty.
We honor the history, sacrifices, and continued contributions of the Dakota People and all members of the Richfield community who belong to Indigenous groups. Richfield Public Schools acknowledges the reality and history of these lands and affirms our appreciation of and support for Indigenous peoples.
The American Indian Parent Advisory Committee (AIPAC) is a group of parents and guardians of Native students who attend Richfield Public Schools. The committee works closely with American Indian Education Coordinator Sarah Jesperson to plan both the state and federal Indian Education budgets, Native family and cultural events, and to offer guidance to the district as a whole in relation to American Indian Education. In schools, Sarah provides support for Native students and their families, gives classroom presentations and manages MDE Office of American Indian Education funding as well as the Federal Office of Indian Education (Title VI) funding.
We are especially grateful to AIPAC members Lisa, Rebecca, Andrea, Rachel and Andrew for their guidance and support during the development of the land acknowledgment statement.