We ask that you take a moment to honor that we are on Dakota land. Macalester is situated on the ancestral homeland of the Dakota people, particularly the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands, who were forcibly exiled from the land because of aggressive and persistent settler colonialism. We make this acknowledgement to honor the Dakota people, ancestors and descendants, as well as the land itself.
Land acknowledgements are often read before meetings or assemblies and recognize Indigenous peoples who were displaced from their homeland by settler colonialism. They are a method of honoring Indigenous history and the current struggles that Indigenous people face.
Macalester is built on land where the Dakota peoples, specifically the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands, lived. When Jason Jackson, the director of the Department of Multicultural Life (DML), had the idea of bringing a land acknowledgement to Macalester’s allies trainings he intended to honor the Dakota people and recognize the loss of their land.
“I am of the belief that I cannot do my work without students in the room, I can’t do it without faculty and I can’t do it without staff in the room. We all come together,” Jackson said. He formed the education working group, a collection of students, faculty and staff to represent the variety of views from the Macalester community as the DML develops curriculum and trainings for students.
Jackson approached this group to collaborate on the writing of a Macalester-specific land acknowledgment. But to do so, they also needed the unique perspective of those familiar with Indigenous history and tradition. In partnership with Proud Indigenous People for Education (PIPE), Macalester’s Indigenous student group, the DML constructed the land acknowledgement in a way that accurately and respectfully acknowledged that Macalester is built on the homeland of the Dakota people. Samantha Manz ’19 and the other co-chairs, Makaya Resner ’19, Claire Menard ’21 and Jennings Mergenthal ’21, of PIPE, and Indigenous faculty and staff worked closely with the DML to develop the wording and statements that they believed held true to this message of respectful recognition.
The land acknowledgement was originally going to be read before the DML’s allies workshops but it has been expanded into some classes and assemblies. Jackson stressed the significance of understanding the words as they are spoken. “We need to make sure that the land acknowledgement has meaning for the communities, I don’t want it to become optics, I don’t do my work in optics, it’s got to be meaningful.”
Manz agreed, “We always have to be mindful of how it gets used and it doesn’t become something that we just use and we don’t really actively think about.” This raises the question, what does a land acknowledgement even mean? What is Macalester College really saying through these statements?
To Manz, the land acknowledgement is an important form of tribute, “It allows people to recognize that there were first inhabitants here on the land, while land ownership did not necessarily mean the same thing it does now, it still did belong to them and it has cultural significance,” she said. While Macalester currently has property rights over the ground it is built on, the land acknowledgement recognizes that there were once communities who served as stewards of the land, who built their livelihoods, their traditions and their culture from it.
Yet Macalester’s land acknowledgement is more than just a statement of fact. It attempts to recognize the past atrocities against Indigenous people and seeks to see the Dakota people’s loss of their land as what it is. As Jackson explained, Indigenous people were, “literally yanked from their land, yanked from their traditions… and had their land and communities stolen, illegally, stolen. We are on land illegally… I have a responsibility to name it.”
Both Jackson and Manz hope that Macalester’s land acknowledgment will be part of a broader movement. “It’s not enough to just acknowledge it.” Manz said. She hopes this takes the form of greater discussions on the significance of colonialism, more courses about the history of Indigenous peoples, and/or an increase in the number of Indigenous staff and faculty.
Jackson sees a possible next step as working to ensure that the Macalester student body better represents Indigenous students. “We can’t go back in history and undo what was done, hopefully all of us would want to – but we can’t. How can we act in the affirmative?” Jackson said. He suggested that improved outreach to Indigenous students and more Indigenous student admission might be a good place to start.
It may be all too easy to forget that the ground on which Macalester stands today was once lived on by Dakota peoples who faced the painful loss of community, culture and livelihood that is shared by Indigenous nations across the continent. The DML’s land acknowledgement seeks to recognize the Dakota people’s ownership, to call out the acts of colonization that displaced them and stole the land, and to join a movement towards greater discussion with and inclusion of Indigenous peoples. As Jackson puts it, “Truth telling is crucial, and essential. If it allows someone to feel free and seen and heard and acknowledged. Putting a statement up and allowing people to wrestle with it for a second—that is the work. I can’t undo colonialism, and racism, and sexism in the United States but I sure as hell can include you in the conversation. Build a seat for you if there isn’t one–that’s our responsibility.”
Finally, Manz emphasized the importance of continuing this conversation here at Macalester, “We have to constantly be thinking about this history and how are we complacent in it at Macalester […] How do we disrupt this settler colonialism?”