University Senate Issues Land Acknowledgment Statement
The Montclair State University Senate released a document detailing recommendations for land recognition on January 26.
The three-page draft, publicly available on the Montclair State website under “Recommendations, declarations and resolutions” contains information relating to the native tribes that occupied the land prior to the state of Montclair.
The land, originally known as Lenapehoking, is the traditional and expropriated territory of the Lenape Tribe of New Jersey.
This is the first step towards official recognition and is presented to the university’s president, Jonathan Koppell, for consideration.
This effort began in 2019 under President Susan Cole, where tribal leaders and activists lobbied for the university to recognize the sacred lands the school occupied.
Montclair State joins other institutions such as Michigan State University, Northwestern University and the University of British Columbia in recognizing the lands they occupy.
Senate President Erik Jacobson explained why he thinks land recognition has gained support in the Senate.
“I think the reason he found support in the Senate is because people wanted to both recognize the history of expropriation and recognize the current realities of Indigenous communities, in all their complexity,” Jacobson said. “I believe the statement can play an educational role and invites reflection which hopefully leads to action.”
Jacobson added that the statement will be read at select meetings and events to raise awareness.
“That includes at the start of a semester or course, before public meetings and performances,” Jacobson said. “We also recommend that copies of the statement be placed in a few public spaces around campus, indoors and outdoors. We believe this will increase its visibility and impact.
Andrew Mees, the university’s spokesman, said the university supports the Senate’s efforts.
“The university supports a recognition of the lands, and we will work with the university senate to craft a statement sensitive to the issues rightly raised by the tribes,” Mees said.
Dr. Elspeth Martini, a history professor specializing in Native American history and chair of the Land Acknowledgment Committee, helped the university make these changes.
“The process took so long because rather than having a token statement to read at campus events etc., we wanted it to be a commitment from our institution to work with and for [New Jersey] Indigenous communities,” Martini said.
Martini explained what steps will be taken once the statement is approved.
“Once the statement is finalized and approved, various plans are underway to have it appear on campus screens and perhaps have a garden of reflection, [too]as well as a more general publicity blitz,” Martini said.
Daine Ocampo Martinez, a linguistics major and moderator of a land recognition meeting in November 2021, believes there is more to do in the linguistics department related to Indigenous heritage.
“I think the next step should be to add more courses in Indigenous history and culture that are written and told by Indigenous people,” Ocampo Martinez said. “Even working on native language courses [would be great]. We have to learn European languages. Why not a native language of this country?
The university has had issues with Indigenous sensitivities in the past. In January 2021, artist Emily Johnson wrote on Medium about an abusive work environment involving the general manager of Peak Performances tied to Indigenous heritage.
In 1989, the university changed its mascot to Red Hawk after controversy over the use of an Aboriginal cartoon for a mascot. The school briefly mentions the athletic department’s adoption of a new mascot in a timeline available on the school website but does not explain why this change was made.
Some believe the decision to create territorial recognition came too late, including Mari Zuniga, a communications and media arts major.
“It’s way too late, but at least they are trying to change things,” Zuniga said.
The acknowledgment of receipt, as well as the minutes of the meetings, are available on the University Senate website.