I am proud to live in a city that officially recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday that celebrates the history and contributions of indigenous peoples of North America. I am a bit saddened, however, that we still recognize Columbus Day as a federal holiday, given what we know about his “discovery” of America—the start of a colonial effort that eventually killed, enslaved, and displaced millions of Native Americans who had vibrant cultures stretching back centuries.
From a professional perspective as an educational developer, the significance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was reinforced by my recent attendance at the conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) in Atlanta. During the conference, I was pleased to hear colleagues from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand open their sessions with land acknowledgement statements, recognizing native peoples as traditional stewards of the land. These speakers both noted the indigenous histories of the lands where their universities were located, and recognized the caretakers of the lands where we held our conference.
I was most touched and impressed by the sincerity of these statements—not pro forma comments, but truly personal recognitions, reflections, and commitments to social justice surrounding indigenous rights. My Canadian colleagues, most notably those from Mount Royal University in Calgary, not only shared their families’ connections to the colonial/settler history of Canada, but also spoke of their personal and institutional efforts to repair the damage done to indigenous peoples through the breaking of past treaties. Those efforts ranged from creating opportunities to ensure the inclusion and success of native students in their university to exploring indigenous epistemologies and theories alongside the western ones that dominate academic discourse.
I am particularly grateful to Blackfoot scholar Gabrielle Lindstrom for teaching us about the importance of seeking out intersections of indigenous and western epistemologies, and how efforts to decolonize the academy can help us not only build more inclusive spaces for learning, but to work at decentering our disciplinary ways of knowing, allowing indigenous peoples to bring their cultures and ways of knowing to our fields, rather than setting up “inclusion” in ways that are synonymous with assimilation (akin to the Canadian Indian residential schools of the past).
I am grateful also to Michelle Eady from the University of Wollongong for intentionally personalizing her land acknowledgement. She shared a photo of the beach near her home in southeastern Australia, noting how being in the ocean fills her with a sense of place. She pointed out that being in a hotel surrounded by concrete and carpet made that difficult, so she encouraged us to roam over to a nearby park to enjoy the green space, look at the sky, and experience a sense of place that could help us be grateful to the traditional caretakers of the land where we were meeting.
And I am truly appreciative of Piki Diamond from Auckland University of Technology for sharing with us her Maori heritage and how her culture’s concept of manaaki (kindness and the measurement of hospitality) has reshaped their institution’s views of higher education and professional development of faculty colleagues. I was in awe of the way she brought her Maori culture and perspectives to a conversation that generously lifted us all up to be better academics and educational development professionals. She truly demonstrated manaaki in sharing that with us, and I was both humbled and empowered by her talk.
As I return to my work at Indiana University, I feel moved to acknowledge and honor the indigenous peoples native to this region, and recognize that our university was built on the indigenous homelands of the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people. They are truly the past, present, and future caretakers of this land.*
As we celebrate the bicentennial of our university, and particularly as we work to celebrate the unheard voices from IU’s history, let us remember that we should acknowledge the history of this place dating back past our founding in 1820. That the lands donated by the Dunn family upon which our campus was built once belonged to other peoples (although I am not sure if their concepts of ownership were the same as the settlers’). And that Indiana sadly shares our nation’s history of colonization and the displacement of native peoples.
More importantly, in recognition of this past, I hope we can all commit ourselves to working towards a deeper inclusion of all IU students, whether they are from indigenous groups or other marginalized populations. That means honoring their voices, their cultures, their epistemologies, and their perspectives—not patronizingly “including” them into the dominant academic culture of our university, but honestly making room for all their views as we build a truly more inclusive Indiana University.
* Many thanks to IU’s First Nation’s Center for providing this statement.