As the LMU community initiates Indigenous Peoples Heritage month, we ask what it means for LMU to center on Native peoples and the land upon which our campus has grown.
By Ernesto Colín (Masewalli)
and Brenda Nicolás (Zapoteco)
I am thankful for the breath of life
The four sacred elements
And another day to walk the Red Road
All my relations
The earth and the sun
The two- and four-legged
Those who crawl and swim
I call in the guardians of the four directions
All that is above and below
All that is near and close
I am a visitor to this land
I bring gifts
I ask permission
I honor the original caretakers of this land
The fire keepers
The knowledge keepers
And their descendants
Elders advise, “Don’t go unless you have an invitation, and when you go, bring an offering.” This axiom stems from an ethos of humility and reciprocity. Indigenous protocols of respect and reciprocity have endured for millennia in our ceremonies and events. In contrast, settlers have arrived on aboriginal lands without an invitation, with a motivating force of exploitation and domination.
Recent reckonings about institutionalized privilege and movements of sociohistorical consciousness have given rise to land acknowledgements in mainstream spaces, like those which have proliferated at LMU events. In this article we briefly reflect on the importance of land acknowledgements, what they require and implore, and how we might go beyond them.
First off, we remember we are guests/visitors on these lands. LMU was established on the ancestral home of Tongva/Gabrielino people of Tovangaar (the greater L.A. basin) who were dispossessed of their lands by colonial settlers and the Catholic church. Specifically, LMU’s Westchester campus sits on the Waachnga village site (also spelled Guacha) and is just north of the village of Sa’Angna (now known as Playa Vista and the Ballona wetlands). We turn toward the fact we built a university over sanctified burial sites, and live and work over sacred ceremonial sites. Colonization continues. These are still occupied lands.
We are invited to encounter the story of the place and its people. In establishing land acknowledgments, particularly at a place of higher learning, we educate ourselves. and more important, endeavor to reciprocally engage with Native communities. Land acknowledgements are important because they signal a recognition, spark conversation, raise consciousness, and enable healing acts. If we allow, land acknowledgements may be occasions for productive introspection and moves to solidarity. While there is no specific script for a land acknowledgement, sincerity and commitment are key.
What additional layers of recognition might land acknowledgements elicit? Through them we appreciate the original caretakers of this land are not relics or buried history, but present and emerging peoples. While LMU has been here for 100 years, we put into perspective a people who have been on these ancestral lands for thousands of years, and are still here despite all efforts of erasure. Through land acknowledgements we help make first nations more visible and resist further acts of erasure.
Next, we face a history of colonial violence. We explore and account for the legacy of Manifest Destiny, evangelization, renaming, exploitation, removal, ethnocide, genocide and spiritual, ecological, sexual, and cultural violence. In this mirror, we reflect on how we have benefited, personally, academically, professionally, and financially, from this legacy. Furthermore, land acknowledgements compel us to shift our relationship to land from one of ownership to one of stewardship. The hacendados, Harry Culver, Howard Hughes, the Jesuits and other religious orders, the billionaire investors of Playa Vista, have too often proceeded with a different impulse at different times. Our earth needs more caretakers, less profiteers. Again, we are invited to shift our relationship to people and to land.
Native communities have persevered in the face of devastating forces. They are water protectors, knowledge bearers, language revitalizers, ceremony keepers, healers, educators, and the front line in many struggles for justice. They are us, our peers, our students, our alumni. This month and every month, we take inspiration, contemplate our alliance with them, and honor their contributions. Land acknowledgements call these things forth. We then move beyond words to align ourselves with native causes, carve out space and time in our campus and curriculum, make reparations, request prior and informed consent, and support indigenous movements. We go beyond words in every unit of our university.
Elders teach us that our lands are essential to our identity and survivance as places to remember, to stand, to grow, to heal. Let the emergence of land acknowledgements on campus be seeds for transformed relationships with the land, its history, and its people. Going beyond words will be difficult. Holding space for reflection beyond superficial celebrations and gestures will be difficult. This history month is a good step. The resources and task forces being marshalled on campus are vital. If these gestures are nurtured with sincerity and solidarity, they can change lived realities of indigenous kin on campus and beyond.
We cannot conclude without reaffirming that if we are serious about centering indigenous perspectives and voices, we must be in communication and consultation with Tongva-Gabrielino elders and leaders. As Dr. Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), UCLA’s special advisor to the chancellor on Native American and Indigenous Affairs, states, “Inclusion should never just be tokenism – it should have meaningful impact” (Acknowledging Indigenous Peoples is only First Step, Meaningful Action Required).
Ernesto Colín is an associate professor of Teaching and Learning at LMU School of Education and a dissertation chair for the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership for Social Justice; Brenda Nicolás is an assistant professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies and an advisor with First To Go.
- More resources:
- View the new Indigenous Heritage Month and Community Hub for the LMU land acknowledgment, resources, programs, and events related to LMU’s Native American and Indigenous community. New virtual backgrounds to honor November’s Indigenous Heritage Month are also available on the website.
- Register here: “Who was Junípero Serra?” event, Nov. 4, 4:30-6 p.m. This event will inform university decisions related to the Serra statue. Guest panelists will include members of Indigenous communities from Los Angeles and beyond.
- Remember to complete the faculty and staff Climate Survey, Oct. 25-Nov. 19.
Please note that your campus email address is used to validate your participation in the survey but is not connected to your responses.
- DEI (inclusive Excellence} Grants Call for Proposals (due Nov. 15)
- Systemic Analysis Year 2 initiatives are in place.
- Register for a Report Out Session, where units who are in-progress will share their work and receive feedback from the community.
- Today’s report out session at 4 p.m. features Study Abroad and National and International Fellowships (ONIF).