UArizona Land Acknowledgement Illustrates Commitment to Indigenous Students, Communities

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Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona has crafted a new statement that acknowledges the university's home on the land and territories of Indigenous people. The statement lays a foundation, university leaders say, for meaningful partnerships and continued support for Native American students and communities.

The following three-sentence statement will become much more prevalent on University of Arizona websites, in email signatures, presentation slide decks and more.

"We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O'odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service."

The new land acknowledgement, announced to the university community on Tuesday, might seem like a simple 61-word statement. But the university leaders who helped craft it in consultation with leaders from local Indigenous communities say it carries significant meaning for how the university recognizes the people whose homeland the campus occupies.

It also provides a foundation, they say, for partnerships that can more meaningfully serve tribal students and Indigenous communities around the state.

"This is about us truly recognizing the sovereign nations and the people who were here before us and are still here today," said Nathan Levi Esquerra, UArizona senior vice president for Native American advancement and tribal engagement. "It's about us acknowledging and recognizing their culture and knowledge so we can understand our past as we move toward the future."

Though some individual units across the university have used their own land acknowledgement statements, the new one marks the first official university-wide statement.

"This land acknowledgement is a milestone in our important ongoing discussions with the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the 20 other federally recognized tribes in the state," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "It indicates our commitment to collaborating with the Native Nations and Indigenous communities."

The concept for the university-wide statement came about four or five years ago, when university leaders traveling abroad saw similar statements, said Karen Francis-Begay, UArizona assistant vice provost for Native American initiatives. Institutions in countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have long recognized the homelands of Indigenous people, she added.

About two years ago, the university reached out to leaders of the Tohono O'odham Nation and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to discuss the idea of a land acknowledgement. Both tribes were working on other priorities at the time, Francis-Begay said, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The discussion recently resumed.

"The tribes really appreciated our consultation and that we were patient and heard them out about their connection to the land and their history," Francis-Begay said, adding that input from Native American researchers and scholars at the university was also considered.

Flags in the bookstore

An exhibit at the Arizona BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center features the flags of Arizona's 22 tribal nations.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The collaboratively developed land acknowledgement is the latest in a series of recent partnerships between the university and Native Nations in Arizona. In October, the Tohono O'odham Nation committed $1 million to the university to support researchers' work on COVID-19. And in November, the university unveiled a new permanent installation of flags representing all 22 Arizona tribes. On display in the Arizona BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center, the exhibit was the culmination of a yearslong initiative to recognize the heritage and culture of the university's Native American students, faculty and staff.

University guidelines for where the land acknowledgement will appear or be recited are still in development, Francis-Begay said. She said she hopes it can be displayed on university websites, in presentations, email signatures and more.

The statement is versatile enough, Francis-Begay added, that it can be used by units beyond the main campus – such as the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension offices around the state and the university's microcampuses around the world – to honor the lands that those offices occupy.

Finalizing the land acknowledgement is more of a beginning than an end, Esquerra and Francis-Begay said.

"Now, we've got to affirm our own commitment to Indigenous communities and to our land-grant mission," Francis-Begay said.