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Students raise money for Indigenous land recovery

Later this month, the Student Senate will vote on a donation that would go towards a Dakota Nation-founded organization that buys and maintains land that was stolen from the Dakota people.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Student Government Association (SGA) will decide if 2,500 dollars will be allocated to the Makoce Ikikcupi organization. Julia Moss ’23 and Jacqui Mendoza Perez ’24 presented the initiative to the Senate at their meeting on Nov. 29 and received great support from most of the senators. 

Makoce Ikikcupi, meaning “land recovery,” is a Dakota Nation-founded reparative justice project. It aims to reconnect Dakota people to their homeland, Minisota Makoce (Minnesota) through land recovery. 

“Land Recovery,” or “Land Back,” is a movement that has existed in this continent for several generations. Its goal is to address the harm done to Indigenous peoples through colonization by increasing their control over their ancestral homelands, which have frequently been stolen from them in a violent process of ethnic cleansing. 

Makoce Ikikcupi’s form of land recovery involves buying land and establishing Dakota villages on it with the goal of building community, preserving language and culture, restoring ecosystems, and resisting anti-Indigenous discrimination.

The organization just bought a piece of land in Granite Falls and are looking for financial support to help build their second village. If the senate initiative is passed, St. Olaf’s money would go to detoxifying the land, buying supplies for an earth lodge, restoring native vegetation, and providing transportation for St. Olaf students to physically help Makoce Ikikcupi’s land recovery efforts.  

Through a class final project for RACE 252, Moss and Mendoza Perez learned about the Maloce Ikikcupi and decided to take on their mission. Mendoza Perez, with the help of other RACE 252 students and student Senator  Ethan Quinones ’24, formed the senate initiative with the intention of utilizing the power that SGA holds over the student body. 

“SGA gives a reflection to what St. Olaf is. It shows that if SGA is caring about it and willing to do something about it then the rest of the St. Olaf community also needs to listen and do something about it. It’s holding everyone accountable,” Mendoza Perez said. Mendoza Perez and Moss originally applied for the Donate-A-Meal fund to support Makoce Ikikcupi. 

On Nov. 1, they presented their initiative for the Donate-A-Meal fundraiser at the senate meeting. The MaKoce Ikikcupi initiative made it to the semi-finals but were told by the senate that their cause was not as immediate as allocating funds to Pakistani flood victims. 

The following Friday, Quinones reached out to Mendoza Perez and Moss about SGA funding possibilities beyond Donate-A-Meal. “I really resonated with their presentation and with the work that they’re trying to achieve. It’s important because we do live on stolen land,” Quinones said. Specifically, the land that St. Olaf is built on was stolen from the Dakota Nation, making the Makoce Ikikcupi’s project especially relevant.

Leading up to the Senate meeting proposal on Nov. 29, Mendoza Perez and Junior Stefany Amaro ’24, another RACE 252 classmate working on the senate initiative, have been fundraising on their own for Makoce Ikikcupi by tabling in Buntrock Commons to interact with the student body members. 

Mendoza Perez said she thinks this is important for the education aspect of Makoce Ikikcupi initiative. If the initiative is passed, SGA would allocate 2,500 dollars from the buffer fund to Makoce Ikikcupi in the fall of 2023. 

Moss and Quinones said they both feel confident that the initiative will get passed on Dec. 13. “A lot of people took the mic literally just to say ‘I love this idea, I think it is important that the senate get involved in this, and thank you guys for bringing this back to the senate floor.’  Except for the one senator who vehemently disagrees with the idea of land back said we were virtue signaling and he believed it was a political issue,” Moss said. 

After Moss proposed the senate initiative, Class of 2026 student senator Logan Samuelson questioned the importance of land back. “I disagree with the land back proposal. I don’t think that it is the right way to go forward on this issue…I would encourage this to be a student club rather than a senate initiative,” Samuelson said. The full senate meeting live stream is available on the Oleville website.

In response to Samuelson, Mendoza Perez said, “to me, what I was getting from it, he doesn’t want SGA’s money going toward this.” 

Quinones and Mendoza Perez said Samuelson is misunderstanding the importance of land. “We need to hold people like Samuelson accountable. We need to show them that land is much more than land, it’s beyond owning land and planting things there,” Mendoza Perez said. 

“A couple weeks ago I had given a presentation on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement and I learned more about how intersectional how all of these movements are. When we do land recovery and give land back, it means we are giving Indigenous people a home to start actually living with the issues that you’re bringing up,” she said. If we don’t hold St. Olaf accountable, then these cycles keep getting perpetuated…of just giving a land acknowledgement and making decolonization a metaphor.

“I’m Puerto Rican, and Puerto Rico is colonized. It’s resulted in loss of culture, and so, if Indigenous people are saying in order to help preserve our culture and community we would appreciate some help buying back some and then that’s what you should do,” Quinones said. 

Amaro said the initiative is integral for holding the college accountable on following through on their promises stated in the land acknowledgement. “It’s going to make them stand on what they’re saying. If they’re saying they want to do it by ‘honest storytelling’… on the land acknowledgement then they should at least provide more information than in our one race class that talks about Indigenous studies. There should be more being done,” she said. 

“What is honest storytelling? This one Indigenous studies class? Where else? I have never heard of another Indigenous studies class here. They should also be working on honest story telling. What is really the story of how this land was acquired?” Amaro said.

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