Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Background

August 1, 2018
Across the globe over the past quarter of a century, institutions of higher education have begun to acknowledge that they rest on lands that were the traditional territories of indigenous nations, peoples and communities. These forms of acknowledgement vary -- from vernacular greetings on websites to official university statements to the adoption of an indigenous name to recognize the bi-cultural character of the institution. These acknowledgements have equally diverse origins. Some are the result of broader indigenous political struggles. Some grow out of decolonizing efforts in one part of campus that spread to the university as a whole. Still others stem from long histories of indigenization projects dedicated to knowing “the land beneath our feet.” Whatever their origins, these efforts share the conviction that knowing what ground we stand on as a university is as important as knowing what we stand for. Indeed, these two forms of knowledge are deeply intertwined. And they speak to directly to the educational values and mission of institutions of higher learning, no matter where in the world they have taken root.

During this bicentennial year in Illinois, it behooves us to reckon with the fact that the University of Illinois System -- with its campuses in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield -- rests on the land of multiple native nations. These lands were the traditional birthright of indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed and who have faced two centuries of struggle for survival and identity in the wake of dispossession. Since its origins in the Morrill Act of 1862, the University of Illinois has embraced the future by thinking both globally and locally. Grounded in the soil of the Midwest tallgrass prairie, it is also rooted in spaces and places brimming with meaning and memory that predate its arrival and that deserve acknowledgement. Indigenous land is part and parcel of the identity of the University of Illinois, in its parts and as a whole. It is time, in 2018, to officially acknowledge the ground we stand so that all who come here know that we recognize our responsibilities to the peoples of that land and address that history so that it guides our work in the present and the future.

--Antoinette Burton, Presidential Fellow, 2016-18