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SOU recognizes land’s brutal history for tribes with new acknowledgment

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneA student returns to SOU after picking up lunch in between Shasta Hall and McLoughlin Hall.

In the 1850s, years before Southern Oregon University was built, Euro-Americans forced Native Americans living on the land from their homes using warfare tactics.

This horrific truth is stated in a new land acknowledgment crafted by SOU and two Indian tribes, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.

The land acknowledgment is something SOU President Linda Schott wanted to accomplish before departing office at the end of this year. Schott had met with the tribes to think of ways the school could serve their members “better than we have in the past.” Then, SOU’s Native American Studies Program brought forth the idea of a land acknowledgment.

“I made the trips to the tribes personally because I wanted to show them my personal commitment as the president,” Schott said. “This [land acknowledgment] is really following up on that. I was delighted we could get it done.”

According to the land acknowledgment, Ashland was home to the Shasta, Takelma and Latgawa peoples well before 1853, when gold was discovered and brought thousands of Euro-Americans there. Their arrival led to “warfare, epidemics, starvation, and villages being burned,” the land acknowledgment stated.

Treaties were signed, consolidating the tribes into one — the Rogue River Tribe — and ceding most of their land to the U.S. But in return, the tribes were guaranteed land. When the Rogue River Wars concluded in 1856, the Rogue River Tribe and others were moved to the Siletz Reservation and the Grand Ronde Reservation.

The land acknowledgment ends by encouraging community members to “learn about the land you reside on, and to join us in advocating for the inherent sovereignty of Indigenous people.”

According to Robert Kentta, cultural resources director for Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the tribe gets many requests to write land acknowledgments, but oftentimes officials turn them down. One reason is because of short staffing among the tribe due to COVID-19.

“Part of the issue, too, is being sure the requester is mindful of why they’re requesting it,” Kentta said. “That it’s not just checking a box of political correctness; that it’s an actual, intentional, and well thought-out request. That it has meaning, that it’s not just pro-forma.”

With educational institutions like SOU that request land acknowledgments, Kentta said his tribe tries to act “quickly and appropriately.”

“We have a standing relationship with SOU that is continuing to develop that led us to prioritize this request for a land acknowledgment,” Kentta said.

The land acknowledgment took several months to write, providing time for all entities involved to craft language to make a purposeful and respectful message.

“That’s why it takes more time to develop these. You have to be in that editing mode and pare it down to the bare essentials that need to be conveyed,” Kentta said.

SOU would like the campus community to continue support for the land acknowledgment by reading it at university events or ceremonies. Schott has spoken with groups on campus about how they can use the land acknowledgment in “a respectful and honoring” manner.

“We don’t want them to use it at every football game, for example,” she said, but it could be read at the homecoming football game Oct. 30.

Kentta said he hopes the land acknowledgment will be distributed for other purposes, including freshman orientation hand-outs.

“It might be a first touch point for them to start developing more of an interest,” Kentta said. “The intent is really to remind people of history — and some of it’s pretty tough history.”

With various social justice movements going on throughout the nation, people are “now getting to the point where it feels safer to have those more honest conversations about the toughness of that history and not have people’s guard immediately spring up,” he added.