Student Government Association (SGA) President Devon Nielsen ’20 delivered a presentation on a proposed St. Olaf Land Acknowledgement resolution during the Nov. 5 SGA Senate meeting.
The resolution aims to address the unethical usurpation of the College’s land from its original indigenous inhabitants.
“By definition, it 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,” Nielsen said.
The push to promote awareness of the history of the College’s land recently gained traction after The Collective for Change on the Hill, the group integral to organizing the spring 2017 protests against institutional racism, addressed the issue in their list of demands.
“We demand that the administration acknowledge in a public manner that this institution is built on occupied Dakota land and the original occupants were victims of genocide and forced removal,” demand E in section I of the document reads.
Since their election, Nielsen and SGA Vice President Ariel Mota Alves ’20 have collaborated with the Mayor of Northfield, Northfield Historical Society and the Northfield Human Rights Commission, among others, to discuss appropriate next steps to resume the land acknowledgement effort.
After completion, the Land Acknowledgement will be displayed on the College’s website and is to be read aloud at opening convocations and commencements. Nielsen discussed other potential avenues of implementation.
“We are looking at exploring different ways that St. Olaf can have a more concrete engagement with indigenous communities,” Nielsen said. “Can we institute an aspect of indigenous history into curriculum at St. Olaf?”
During the discussion panel after the presentation, Multicultural Student Senator Jacqueline Guadalupe Guerrero ’21 raised the concern that a land acknowledgement could easily be abused by functioning as a “ploy”. Similarly, Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) Senator Melie Ekunno ’21 said such an acknowledgement with no tangible action is the equivalent of an acknowledgement of privilege.
“I do not think that this statement in itself has any grounds or any weight if it isn’t followed by immediate thought about structures and systems that have wreaked havoc,” Ekunno said. “If this is to absolve St. Olaf of responsibility, that’s absolutely useless.”
Although in its infancy, the Land Acknowledgement aims to pay homage to the land’s original inhabitants. For this to happen, however, student representatives agree that action will have to take precedence over empty words.