OU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted a town hall Thursday inviting students to share their input on the creation of an official university land acknowledgement statement.
OU tribal liaison Warren Queton said the office is in the process of drafting a land acknowledgement statement to be read before various university events and gatherings. The purpose of the statement is to recognize indigenous people as the original inhabitants of the land the university sits on, Queton said.
“The University of Oklahoma is behind,” Queton said. “There are things other universities are doing, and we’re trying to catch up.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University have established formal land acknowledgement statements, as well as the City of Toronto and several Canadian universities. Interim OU President Joseph Harroz prioritized establishing a statement for OU, Queton said.
“Our current government has still not acknowledged our lands,” Queton said, and it was unlikely that “current leadership in the White House” would establish any land acknowledgement initiative.
Students who attended the event were asked three questions: what the land acknowledgement statement meant to them, who should be included in the statement and to whom the statement should be addressed.
One student attendee said land acknowledgement was important because it helps preserve Native American culture and history. The student said they first encountered land acknowledgement when a professor began a class with a statement honoring Oklahoma’s indigenous lands.
Other students said they were encouraged by the inclusion of a land acknowledgement statement before the Black Emergency Response Team’s press conference Sept. 24, held in response to a blackface incident involving an OU freshman Sept. 22.
Oklahoma’s history — as the location for tribes that were forcibly removed from their original land — complicated the issue of which tribes should be acknowledged in the statement, some students said.
One proposed solution would include a shorter, spoken land acknowledgement at university events and a more detailed online acknowledgement providing insight into the history of the many tribes that now inhabit Oklahoma, Queton said.
“I think we should acknowledge those who were here originally, those who migrated here on their own and those who were forcefully removed here,” Queton said.
Many students at the event said the statement should be shared with incoming freshmen, especially during campus tours.
“I know when we did my tour,” one student said, “we heard the story of (first OU president) David Ross Boyd and how he stepped off the train and saw nothing.”
Another student agreed, adding that the story of OU’s founding should be changed to “acknowledge the history that has been erased.”
At the end of the discussion, Queton said a second event would be scheduled in the future where students could provide feedback on a number of potential drafts of the official statement. He also said there are plans to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 14, including speakers from Oklahoma’s native communities and a larger celebration on the South Oval.