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KC Spotlight: Acknowledging Indigenous Peoples and Land Appropriately

April 7, 2019 Dr. Tiffany Smith Oklahoma City University

Siyo! Ostu iga! Hello and good day! My name is Tiffany Smith and I am a citizen of Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a descendent Muscogee Creek, and was born and raised in Midwest City, Oklahoma. I am the daughter of Diane Nelson (Cherokee and Creek) and Charles Nelson (English, German). As the new Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge Community (IPKC) Region IV-W Rep, I want to introduce myself to you all in a way that honors who I am, my family, and my tribal nation. As one of the very few Native staff members on my campus and a current Ph.D. candidate, I am fully committed to increasing the visibility and understanding of our Native students and their experiences on our campuses.

What I wanted to write about today are the current conversations around land acknowledgements at conferences and on our college campuses, while additionally offering some wonderful resources for those wishing to advocate and create change for Native students on your respective college campuses. A recent blog post was shared on this very topic of putting together a culturally responsible land acknowledgement and beyond. I really appreciated Debbie Reese’s comments and resources offered, as she discussed the mindfulness involved in articulating these statements. And I might also add that while these statements can be very meaningful to us as Indigenous folx, they can also be harmful if not done in the right way. Putting together a land acknowledgement is to me, a first step in recognizing us as the first peoples of the land, and to continue to promote healing for Indigenous communities. Additionally, it begins to dismantle oppressive colonial structures. However, it should NOT be the only step institutions take in recognizing the Native community. It can be a first step in many cases, but more efforts to truly engage local tribal communities should be made. However, I would caution you to not put the labor on tribal elders or members to write the statement for you – YOU need to do the work. Be respectful and reach out to local tribal nations, but seek to build a relationship. One of the key points Debbie makes in this blog post is to do your research on the history of forced removal and the settler colonial context that continues to manifest and affect how non-Native folx understand Native communities. Debbie concludes with: “Make it meaningful. Give your audience a task.” The “task” could be to read some relevant literature written by Native folx, or supporting local tribal communities and other Native efforts in the local areas. Read up on the many resources she has listed there. I am huge fan of the new podcast “All My Relations” with Matika Wilbur and Dr. Adrienne Keene as another avenue to have space to discuss challenges facing Indigenous people today.

Additionally, I want to give a shout-out to my Indigenous sister scholars Dr. Amanda Tachine and Dr. Christine Nelson on their contributions and collaborative efforts in creating the recently released report from the American Indian College Fund entitled “Creating Visibility and Health Learning Environments for Native Americans in Higher Education.” They discuss invisibility as the modern form of racism against Natives, as much research and reports often exclude us or deem us as statistically insignificant (Shotton et al., 2013). This is a reminder to make sure and include us in reports or literature about students of color. While I hope you will take time to read this report chalk full of best practices for Native students, one of my main takeaways is to provide a space on campus dedicated to Native students, staffed by Native staff “who understand the historical and contemporary challenges facing Native students” (p. 9). This also must be an administrative priority to serve Native students to truly affect Indigenous student degree attainment.  Many institutions have or have recently formed diversity and inclusion offices at the President cabinet level that includes a Native person serving as a tribal liaison position. This can be a powerful role in having access to institutional change in policy and practice.

Lastly, if you haven’t read any recent research from Indigenous scholars about Indigenous students and their experiences, I would highly recommend doing so to educate yourselves on modern issues beyond what we hear in the media. An article I just love that was recently published was “Colonized and Racist Indigenous Campus Tour” by Dr. Robin Minthorn and Dr. Christine Nelson. This article takes the reader on creative ride through a campus tour to discuss how physical structures on mainstream college campuses epitomize colonialist and imperialistic values that continue to create hostile environments that cause harm to Indigenous peoples who are a part of those campuses.

Thank you for reading! I look forward to serving IPKC and hope many of you will join the IPKC Region IV-W group and the National IPKC group for more resources and educational opportunities in the near future! Wado (thank you)!