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Features | FLC Voices Winter 21/22 | Fort Lewis College

Fort Lewis College News/News/FLC Voices/Features
Featured stories from FLC Voices Magazine Winter 21/22 issue.
 
 

For FLC, our land acknowledgement is just the beginning

By LeManuel Lee Bitsóí (Diné), Associate Vice President for Diversity Affairs & Special Advisor to the President for Indigenous Affairs

LeManuel Lee Bitsóí (Diné) shares FLC's land acknowledgement and other active reparations.

FLC Land Acknowledgement:
“We acknowledge the land that Fort Lewis College is situated upon is the ancestral land and territory of the Nuuchiu (Ute) people who were forcibly removed by the United States Government. We also acknowledge that this land is connected to the communal and ceremonial spaces of the Jicarilla Abache (Apache), Pueblos of New Mexico, Hopi Sinom (Hopi), and Diné (Navajo) Nations. It is important to acknowledge this setting because the narratives of the lands in this region have long been told from dominant perspectives, without full recognition of the original land stewards who continue to inhabit and connect with this land. Thank you for your attention and respect in acknowledging this important legacy.”

As Diné people, like other Native Americans, we acknowledge the earth and the sky, as well as the cosmos, to give thanks for being who we are–people of the earth–which is what Diné means. When I joined the Fort Lewis College community in January 2020, I was elated to learn that FLC had a land acknowledgement to recognize and respect Indigenous peoples and their places of origin.

A land acknowledgement is a formal statement that is read at the beginning of a public event to acknowledge the land that was originally inhabited by or still belonging to Indigenous peoples. The Americas were once completely Indigenous, so it is apropos to have a land acknowledgement. Beginning in Canada, the reading of land acknowledgements grew into a regular practice at sporting events, parliament meetings, and other public gatherings. After Canada’s 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released, this practice caught on in states that bordered Canada and has since spread throughout the U.S.

However, there are critics of the practice from both Native and non-Native perspectives. Some say land acknowledgements are exaggerations of political correctness, hollow gestures that do not bring value, or are merely words without any action. The action Native Americans expect is reparation.

At FLC, a Native American-serving institution, the expectations for reparations are even higher, and our reconciliation efforts take on various forms and shapes. Some might believe that the Native American Tuition Waiver is a form of reparation, but it is not. The tuition waiver is a federal and state obligation that acknowledges that Indigenous peoples lived here and were forcibly removed to establish a military fort that became a federal Indian boarding school and eventually Fort Lewis College.

Thanks to the NATW, 59% of our current student body identify as students of color while more than 45% are Indigenous students, who come from over 185 Native American tribal nations and Alaska Native villages. We should take pride in the fact that we, as a College and the State of Colorado, still uphold this ‘treaty’ obligation when so many others have been broken or violated.

59%

of our current student body identify as students of color

45%

of our current student body are Indigenous students

185

Native American tribal nations and Alaska Native villages represented

To inform our non-obligatory but paramount reconciliation work, we formed the FLC History Committee, which consists of Native and non-Native students, faculty, and staff. One of their first recommendations was the removal of three panels from FLC’s Clocktower that depicted an inaccurate and disrespectful portrayal of the boarding school era. On September 6, 2021, the panels came down and were transferred to the Center of Southwest Studies, and the remaining nine panels were removed in November 2021.

In the coming years, the College will not only address how to accurately and respectfully depict our history as a boarding school, but will also face the complexities of additional surveying of the former boarding school site at the Old Fort location twenty miles west of campus in Hesperus, Colorado. For this endeavor, we will be guided by the counsel of tribal nations (with respect to tribal sovereignty) whose students attended the boarding school.

With the support of the Mellon Foundation, FLC is also expanding our Native American & Indigenous Studies Department by increasing faculty, Native American history curricular offerings, Native languages, and other Indigenous scholarship. We are also creating programming to support Native American and Alaska Native students, and training modules for our land acknowledgement, boarding school history, and tuition waiver that will allow for a greater understanding of who we are as an institution.

While we take pride in what we have accomplished in these past few years, we understand that there is more work to be done. Onward and upward, Skyhawks!

For additional information about these complex issues and to view an animated map of Indigenous ancestral lands and territories overlapping FLC's history and sites, please visit fortlewis.edu/land.

Cover Artist
Garrett Etsitty (Diné)

Born and raised in Chinle, Arizona, Garrett Etsitty (Diné) graduated from Fort Lewis College in 2011 with a degree in Arts. Etsitty grew up with a deep love of painting and culture. From the petroglyphs on the canyon walls to the stories passed down from his elders, his work draws upon the inspiration of what it means to be a Diné person. Etsitty uses complex unions of vivid colors and layers to articulate an Indigenous understanding of thought, creation, and ideology that moves beyond time and space. Etsitty’s paintings express a oneness with creation, an unbroken loop from the creation story of his people to the modern day, interweaving the parallels of the unconscious with the struggles of the natural environment. Etsitty hopes his art will capture young, urban, Indigenous minds to preserve culture.

“My target audience has always been the youth. The youth are the ones who will carry our stories forward, I paint for the love of painting but also for the love of my culture. I want to make our stories come alive. I want the viewer to feel like they can reach out and touch the stories that have been handed down.”

Garrett Etsitty has a widespread collection of works in the Southwest. He has worked collaboratively and individually on a variety of socially engaged interdisciplinary projects for over a decade.

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