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Northfield Land Acknowledgement garners discussion in the St. Olaf community


Oct. 9 marked Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States. In a conscious effort for recognition of the importance of this day, St. Olaf students have voiced their thoughts regarding the impact of the Northfield Land Acknowledgement statement.

The statement was adopted by the city of Northfield on Nov. 17, 2020. It reads, “We stand on the homelands of the Wahpekute Band of the Dakota Nation. We honor with gratitude the people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and their ongoing contributions to this region. We acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.”

The goal of the land acknowledgement statement was to develop and acknowledge the relationship Indigenous peoples have to the land on which Northfield was created. However, the Indigenous community and its allies have not seen a difference since the city adopted the land acknowledgement statement. 

One common critique of land acknowledgement statements is that they are forms of performative activism rather than genuine allyship. Enforcing action is crucial in the future of the Northfield land. There is an ongoing discussion among the St. Olaf Wellness Center staff regarding the reception of the land acknowledgement statement. “Just reading it off the slide is very performative and doesn’t do much to actually change the culture of injustice that indigenous groups constantly face in the United States,” Wellness Center Team Lead Sophie Abernethy ’25 said in a written interview with The Olaf Messenger. “In my presentations, I am intentional about recognizing and respecting the land acknowledgement statement, but also offering up some actions that the audience can take to hopefully create some change.”

Changing the wording of the statement regarding people residing “on” the land to residing on “stolen” land is another idea of honest storytelling action from Emily Weaver ’26, a Wellness Center peer educator. “[However,] saying that we’re on stolen land does not change the fact that we are on stolen land,” Weaver said. This means that further action, such as advocacy for policy changes and directly asking Indigenous people what they need from Northfield land, is crucial for the future.

Student Government Association Multicultural Senator Karen Henriquez ’26 said in a written interview with The Olaf Messenger that there should be further involvement with land recovery at St. Olaf. New Student Orientation (NSO) could be a way for incoming students to become educated on land acknowledgement and the importance behind it. “I would love to see an NSO event specifically about the Indigenous land we’re on [as] most NSO activities include the land acknowledgement statement,” Henriquez said in a written interview with The Olaf Messenger. “It feels as if [the land acknowledgement]’s impact is now stagnant.”

Chair of Makoce Ikikcupi Senate Initiative Jacqui Mendoza Perez ’24 said that Northfield needs to rebuild connections with the land and the Indigenous peoples that have been displaced. The Makoce Ikikcupi project is working to repair Dakota connection to the land by reestablishing relationships. Mendoza Perez works with the Makoce Ikikcupi project to give land back to Dakota people, as well as other resources, such as home and food. She wants to make space for Indigenous students on campus, more ritualistic patterns of respect for the land, and overall give land back to displaced peoples. 

Prior to the implementation of the acknowledgement statement, Carleton Professor of American Studies and History Meredith McCoy gave a presentation on the Northfield Land Acknowledgement for the International Day of Peace in 2020. McCoy gave a brief history of the displacement of Dakota people in Minnesota for context. 

Northfield was founded in 1855, with Minnesota passing a bill in 1863 for the removal of Dakota people from their ancestral lands. Carleton College was founded in 1866, which was three years after the removal of Dakota people. St. Olaf was founded in 1874, which was 11 years after the Dakota displacement in Minnesota. The displacement of the Dakota people was often done through deceitful treaties that did not articulate true intentions.

In the closing of her presentation, McCoy encourages the Northfield community to think about the weight of what it means to be on Dakota land, and about the active responsibility to repair the immense damage that has been done to the displaced individuals. McCoy’s presentation is freely available for streaming on the City of Northfield’s government website.

Ashlyn Wuench
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