The University of Minnesota Duluth has adopted a formal statement to recognize its location on traditional and ancestral American Indian land.

UMD is the first University of Minnesota campus to adopt the land acknowledgment, though individual departments and schools on other campuses have similar statements.

The acknowledgment was crafted in cooperation with UMD’s Department of American Indian Studies, Campus Climate Leadership Team, Campus Climate Change Team and participants from the school’s 2019 Summit on Equity, Race and Ethnicity.

In June, the statement was endorsed by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, which acts as a liaison between state government and Minnesota’s 11 sovereign tribal nations.

A campus event to highlight the land acknowledgment is planned for Oct. 14, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Minnesota.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The land on which UMD sits, as with most of Northeastern Minnesota, was ceded to the United States in an 1854 treaty with the Anishinaabe people.

“We collectively acknowledge that the University of Minnesota Duluth is located on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of Indigenous people,” the acknowledgment reads. “The University resides on land that was cared for and called home by the Anishinaabe people, and the Dakota people before them, from time immemorial.

“Ceded by the Anishinaabe in an 1854 treaty, this land holds great historical, spiritual, and personal significance for its original stewards, the Native nations and peoples of this region. We recognize and continually support and advocate for the sovereignty of the Native nations in this territory and beyond.

“By offering this land acknowledgment, we affirm tribal sovereignty and will work to hold the University of Minnesota Duluth accountable to American Indian peoples and nations.”

The land acknowledgment is part of a recent trend on university and college campuses.

Jill Doerfler, a professor and head of the American Indian Studies department at UMD, said the trend began in Canada with the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, part of an effort to make amends following more than a century of enrolling indigenous youth at boarding schools in an attempt to assimilate them into white Canadian culture.

Doerfler said it’s important for people to understand what the 1854 treaty really means for Americans.

“The 1854 treaty is, in fact, the treaty that gives the rights for Americans to be here, so it's super important for everyone to understand their rights,” Doerfler said. “(These treaties) often are seen in dominant society as something that is about rights for American Indians. The treaties are, in fact American Indian nations giving rights to the U.S. It's sort of the opposite of what most people have, a kind of false understanding of how treaties work.”

The 1854 treaty remains in effect today, and the university’s land acknowledgment is part of an effort to view that treaty as part of the contemporary landscape.

“Land acknowledgments do not exist in a past tense or historical context: Colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build the mindfulness of our present participation,” reads a page on UMD’s website about the acknowledgment.

Doerfler sees the effort as an initial overture.

“I think it’s really important that UMD is taking this step,” she said. “I think these land acknowledgments as a trend are a first step in a process that includes more engagement with indigenous people. I don’t see it as an endpoint, like the university has now sort of checked a box off. Instead, this is part of a longer, ongoing process.

“By and large, the university has served the dominant (non-indigenous) population really well. Has it served the American Indian populations really well? The university is working on that; American Indian Studies is working to contribute toward that, and this land acknowledgment is another piece of that.”