Indigenous People’s Day is on Oct. 9 and unfortunately, it is not a widely recognized holiday in the United States. While President Joe Biden formally recognized Indigenous People’s Day back in 2021 and declared it a federal holiday, many states across the U.S. still don’t recognize Indigenous People’s Day. But it is important that Oct. 9 be recognized and that the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities are celebrated and honored. There are many ways that Native American communities can be supported, whether that’s supporting local businesses or taking the time to read about the issues these communities face.
Historically, Native American communities have faced many adversities, from negative stereotypes in pop culture to loss of cultural identity through forced assimilation. In 1862, the Morrill Land Grant College Act was signed into law. The bill allowed for the creation of land-grant universities to be built on federally seized territories that once belonged to American Indian tribes. While the Morrill Land Grant College Act aimed at enhancing higher education, the land acquired to build these universities was taken through expropriation — and the universities that sit on these lands are still profiting.
So, what is the Morrill Land Grant College Act?
The Morrill Land Grant College Act set aside 30,000 acres of land for sale and the funds were to be used to found colleges that specialized in agriculture, sciences, technology, and the expansion of traditional liberal arts studies, hence the name “land-grant” universities.
In the 1890s, the Act required states to remove race as an admissions criteria into land grant colleges and in 1994, the Act was expanded to include tribal colleges within the system. Today, there are 112 land-grant colleges, of which 19 are historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and 33 are tribal colleges.
- Auburn University, Auburn
Auburn University is a public land-grant research university in Auburn, Alabama. In 2021, as part of the University’s mission as a land-grant university, they began the Native Land Acknowledge Project Report. The project aims to honor the history of 178 tribal nations that were displaced when the city of Auburn acquired their land.
- University of Delaware
The University of Delaware is a privately governed, state-assisted land-grant university in Newark, Delaware. The university sits on ancestral land for the Lenni Lenape and Nanticoke Nations. In 2021, the university’s faculty senate voted to formalize an American Indian and Indigenous Relations Committee that works with tribal leaders of the Delaware watersheds including the Lenape Indian Tribe, Nanticoke Indian Tribe, and the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe. The committee is focused on building stronger and mutually respectful relationships with the surrounding tribal nations.
- Colorado State University
Similar to Auburn University, Colorado State University (CSU) is a public land-grant research university. Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, the university sits on the land that was acquired through the dispossession of the traditional homelands of the Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho Nations.
- University of Georgia, Athens
In a 2021 press release by the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, the University of Georgia, Athens recognized that the land on which their university sits was taken from Mvskoke Creek (Muscogee and Creek) and possibly Cherokee Nations.
- University of Idaho
The University of Idaho is a public land-grant research university in Moscow, Idaho. The surrounding land of the university belonged to the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce peoples, while the campus sits on land that was guaranteed to the Nez Perce people in the 1855 treaty. The University’s College of Law offers an annual Tribal Homelands Scholarship to each enrolled tribal member.
- Iowa State University
Located in Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University’s land first belonged to the Baxoje or Ioway Nation. The U.S. obtained the land from the Meskwaki and Sauk Nations back in 1842. In 2020, Iowa State University shared that the university had developed its own formal land acknowledgment statement. The document also included a written history of the land the university acquired.
- The University of Maine
The University of Maine was established as a land-grant university in 1865. Its Marsh Land location is in the homeland of the Penobscot Nation, and is connected to other Wabanaki Tribal Nations. In 2018, the University released a memorandum detailing its understanding and acknowledgment of the Penobscot and Wabanaki Nations as sovereign lands. Across campus, the University of Maine has also incorporated Penobscot language within its college campus signage.
- University of Maryland
Founded in 1856, the University of Maryland sits on the ancestral land of Piscataway People. Through its Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory, the University seeks to educate, honor, and provide engagement opportunities for underserved populations across campus.
- Cornell University
Ivy League and land-grant university, Cornell University sits on the traditional homeland of the Cayuga Nation. In response to an investigative report on “Land Grab Universities,” Cornell founded a website in partnership with their American Indian and Indigenous Studies program.
- Tennessee State University
Located in Nashville Tennessee, Tennessee State University is a public, historically Black land-grant university. The university resides on land that belonged to the Cherokee people.
- Virginia State University
Virginia State University, founded in 1882, is a four-year public, historically Black land-grant university. The university sits on land, the Morven Farm, that was owned by the Monacan People. Its on-campus newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, released an opinion piece in 2022 that shared a student’s perspective on the acquisition of the land their university sits on, arguing that the school’s land acknowledgment does not go far enough.
- Washington State University
The Washington State University established its Office of Tribal Relations and Native American Programs to promote a better relationship with surrounding Native American tribes and to continue to recognize and honor its students of tribal heritage. The university sits on land that once belonged to the Nez Perce Tribe and Palus people.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture offers a complete list of other land-grant universities. While the doors opened by the Morrill Land Grant College Act allowed for the growth of higher education across the United States and these universities have publicly acknowledged their history, there is still more to be done. The histories of these universities represent a dark history of colonialism and when transparency and recognition are avoided, communities are hurt and their histories and stories remain buried and uncelebrated.
This is why an effort to educate oneself on all aspects of Native American heritage and land should be encouraged this Indigenous People’s Day, and every day. Taking steps to recognize complex histories is one step closer to becoming more aware and better equipped to honor marginalized voices.