November is Native American Heritage Month, and in preparation, Millersville University released a Land Acknowledgment statement.
A Land Acknowledgment is a statement with the purpose of recognizing the indigenous people who lived on or near land currently owned by an institution, and in some cases were divested of their homelands. These statements are then shared in a variety of ways, whether they be spoken aloud before events, embedded on a plaque or added to an institution’s website.
“It is particularly important for Millersville University, having an educational function, to create a Land Acknowledgment which is about respecting and recognizing indigenous peoples and their relationships to land,” explains Dr. Marlene Arnold, professor of anthropology at the University.
Dr. Arnold and Dr. Tanya Kevorkian, professor of history at MU, have researched the history of the area surrounding what is now Millersville University to ensure the land acknowledgment includes all people who resided here in the past to the best of our historical knowledge, based on history and archaeology.
“Along with recognizing people who have been dispossessed, land acknowledgments can recognize local groups whose life cycle predates colonization, including the Shenks Ferry people (from about 1250-1575) and the Susquehannocks (from about 1575-1680),” adds Kevorkian.
With help from the research conducted by Arnold and Kevorkian, the University’s statement does recognize these pre-colonization groups, who lived in the area before William Penn arrived in what is now known as Pennsylvania.
Recognizing the people of the lower Susquehanna River Basin, the statement specifically acknowledges the Shenks Ferry culture, the Susquehannock and the Conestoga. Other major groups who lived or were moved through the area include the Shawnee and Lenape groups.
“The Susquehannocks were settled in our county by 1575,” says Arnold. “They later were displaced and moved to other areas, where they merged with other Native groups. Then, they came back to a settlement in Lancaster County at which time they were called the Conestoga.”
Arnold adds it is important to note that most Native cultures called themselves something other than the names European colonists gave them and we know them as now.
“Most Native groups called themselves, in their own language, a word that translated as ‘the people.’ Many are known today by names given to them by others,” she explains. “Some have changed those labels applied to them by outsiders and taken back their original name.” She adds, “of course archaeologists, not knowing what people in prehistoric societies called themselves, have also given various names to Native American groups.”
“Our knowledge is based on archaeology and history, neither of which is infallible nor can ever know the full reality of times past,” she continues. “And for that reason, one of the phrases in our acknowledgment notes that we are recognizing the Native peoples of the lower Susquehanna River basin—those known and those unknown to us. Native Americans lived here—hunting, gathering, growing food, and moving all through the region that today we call Lancaster County.”
The Land Acknowledgement Statement was released at an unveiling on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
The planning committee for the statement and the event included Drs. Arnold and Kevorkian, along with Dr. Karen Rice and Carlos Wiley, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University. The committee also included MaryAnn Robins, President of the Circle Legacy Center in Lancaster and A’lice Myers Hall, President of the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. Hall was the keynote speaker at the event.
The Land Acknowledgment website can be found here.