Illustration by Lana Grove
Land acknowledgments are statements that recognize the history and presence of Indigenous peoples and their enduring relationships to their traditional homelands. Land acknowledgments create awareness of the cultural erasure of Indigenous peoples and the processes of colonization and subjugation that have contributed to that erasure.
The state of Kansas is known to have many Indigenous nations residing here. A great way to educate people about Kansas tribes is for cities to admit that their land was originally inhabited by tribal nations, says Dr. Eric Anderson (Bodéwadmi/Citizen Band Potawatomi), who teaches the history of American Indians in Kansas at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction. There are so many people, non-Natives, who don’t have any real understanding or appreciation of the depths of that history and about the people who were here before and are still here, and that’s kind of the orientation of the class I teach. A lot of students take the class, some who are Kansas Native Americans and some who are not, and just want to know more about the history of the area. With that lens, with Native people, I do think it’s important to raise awareness in the same way that it is being done with [Native American] boarding schools. I know obviously, it doesn’t have a lot of force behind it and it tends to be university settings or institutions like museums, but I do think it’s important to recognize that history, that depth of cultural influence. But yes, on the other hand you know it doesn’t give that land back.”
The Native American Student Services (NASS) is working with the Lawrence school district on posting a land acknowledgment on their website. The acknowledgment would bring visibility to Indigenous presence, both historically and now, to the land the schools occupy. A push came from school board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood (Kiikaapoi/Kickapoo), who, in 2019, was one of the first Native American women elected to the USD 497 board. She has been at the forefront of making sure Native American students are being served in her community.
“We have to re-educate [the communities we live in]... I want our kids to be proud of who they are and have better self-esteem.”
Two years ago, Kansas State University issued a land acknowledgment recognizing the university’s occupation of the traditional lands of the Kaánze (Kaw/Kanza), 𐓷𐓘𐓻𐓘𐓻𐓟 (Osage), and Pâri (Pawnee), recognizing the forced removal of tribes that served as a foundation to the university’s history and recognizing the four sovereign immigrant tribes that remain in Kansas. The land acknowledgment is significant since the university was founded in 1863 as the first land-grant institution in the nation. The last part of their statement reads:
“We remember these truths because K-State’s status as a land-grant institution is a story that exists within ongoing settler-colonialism, and rests on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and nations from their lands. These truths are often invisible to many. The recognition that K-State’s history begins and continues through Indigenous contexts is essential.”
For too long, many Kansans have bought into the “vanishing Indian” stereotype that Native Americans no longer exist. The Salina Indian Burial Pit, for example, perpetuated that myth. As a 20th-century tourist attraction in Salina, it displayed 146 Native bodies for over 50 years until the Pawnee Nation (Pâri) pushed to close it and inter the remains of their ancestors according to tribal customs. It was finally accomplished, in part, by a push from Haskell Indian Nations University holding a forum to address the issue. It was shut down in 1989 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding called the Treaty of Smoky Hill. The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990, signed the following year, helped return Native American remains to their own people instead of being displayed in museums.
“We are still here,” says Cadue-Blackwood; “as Natives we honor our people while we are still here. We were here long before Kansas was a state, and why are we begging for our history to be taught? This is the cornerstone and will trickle down to the community to know.”
With land acknowledgments, more Kansans will know their state’s rich history and recognize that Indigenous people are still here and contributing to their communities.