Opinion | UI needs to increase presence of land acknowledgments

The University of Iowa can do a much better job at making sure everyone is aware of their land acknowledgement statement.


Katie Goodale

The Old Capitol building is seen on March, 6, 2021.

Elise Cagnard, Opinions Contributor

As you’re strolling along Gilbert Street or making your way back to Catlett Residence Hall, you probably are not thinking of the rich history of the land you stand on.

Long before the University of Iowa was founded in 1847, there were 15 different Native American homelands on this land. Among these were the Chippewa and the Kickapoo tribes.

This may be shocking to many UI students because land acknowledgments are not discussed as much as they should be.

It is imperative that the UI takes the necessary steps to honor and respect these lands that are important to so many cultures.

Allie Schumacher, a second-year UI student, was unaware of the land’s history. While Schumacher takes an active part in campus life and is a member of many clubs and organizations, she said she didn’t know that the UI resides on Native American land.

This can be partially attributed to a lack of land acknowledgments at the university.

While the UI has created a Native American Council with its own website affiliated with the university, this alone is not enough to recognize the overwhelming, often violent history that removed the original occupants of this land. Some student organizations and some professors talk about land acknowledgements, but it is not a requirement.

There needs to be an official UI policy that a land acknowledgment statement be included in every syllabus, and every professor should make a statement during syllabus week. This will guarantee that every student is completely aware of whose land they are sitting on.

These acknowledgements are important because they are a way to honor the Indigenous people who resided in Iowa City and to recognize that the land would not be the way it is without them. It also forces people to remember the treaties that kicked Indigenous people off their own land.

Megan Red-Shirt Shaw, a researcher and educator on Indigenous rights and issues, has written multiple essays on the topic of land acknowledgments. She has much to say on the role universities should take when they are settled on ancestral land.

“The truth is —if it were not for the loss of land by Indigenous peoples, American colleges and universities would not exist,” Red-Shirt Shaw wrote in her report, “Beyond the Land Acknowledgement.”

Other universities have set admirable examples of what should be done in terms of land acknowledgments. Annie Decoteau Vogelsang, a first-year student at McGill University in Quebec, said McGill has set the bar high.

At McGill, there are land acknowledgments in every syllabus for the students to read as well as a verbal acknowledgment at any campus-sanctioned activity. Along with this, the university has a website chock full of resources and additional information with the full story behind the land. There is also access to professors who are experts in Indigenous culture for any additional questions.

The bottom line is, there is much the UI can and should be doing to fully respect the Indigenous land we reside on. These steps would be quite simple to implement and are practically free. It is time to make a change now.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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