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University marks Indigenous legacy

University of Utah leaders first launched the institution’s Indigenous Land Acknowledgement statement in September 2020. Since then, it has become a mainstay—read at campus seminars and student gatherings, public events, and at the General Commencement each spring. 

Now the written acknowledgement of Utah’s eight Native tribal nations and their connection to the land the 1,500 campus encompasses will be posted on several permanent plaques installed in buildings across campus. 

The land acknowledgment is a valuable first step in recognizing Indigenous people’s history and connection to the land, said Samantha Eldridge, director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC).  

“It also initiates a pathway towards reconciliation, to address historical injustices, and moves us towards healing and well-being,” Eldridge added. 

The plaques were first unveiled at AIRC’s Native American Heritage Month kickoff event Nov. 1 with the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. November is designated as National Native American Heritage month—a time to recognize and honor the rich history, culture and enumerable contributions of the scores of Tribal nations that have inhabited these lands for centuries, long before the country was colonized. 

In the fall of 2020, the University of Utah launched an Indigenous Land Acknowledgment campaign. The initiative is an important recognition of Native land history in the Beehive State leading up to present day. Currently, the land acknowledgment serves as an encouraged, but not mandatory practice as a reminder of the university’s history and the land it occupies. 

Last year, the vision of the graduating class of 2022 was to incorporate a physical remembrance that emphasizes solidarity, inclusion and respect. To that end, the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) holds an annual tradition of presenting the student body with a gift that is a project or program that improves the university campus experience for present and future students. 

Nationally, there is a precedent for colleges and universities implementing land acknowledgment plaques on their campuses. Examples include Salt Lake Community College installing land acknowledgment plaques in 2020. The University of North Carolina, Charlotte unveiled a land and people acknowledgment plaque in 2021. Wake Forest University installed a land acknowledgment plaque in 2019. Arizona State University’s land acknowledgment plaques are placed in various locations around its main campus in Tempe. 

Like other institutions, the 2022 class gift of land acknowledgment plaques serve as a physical reminder to the campus community of the university’s commitment to recognizing and serving Native students, faculty, staff, and community members, Eldridge said. The plaques are also a sustainable and physical representation of respect and an example of how to give back the land to Indigenous tribes. 

“The American Indian Resource Center shares their deep appreciation and gratitude to the Class of 2022 for the beautiful land acknowledgment plaques,” Eldridge said. “This is a visible reminder of Indigenous peoples’ enduring connection to the lands where our ancestors have lived for time immemorial and an important step in broader efforts to recognize and respect indigeneity.” 

The AIRC was thoughtful and intentional about including student voices in finding the plaques a home, she added. holding listening sessions with students to identify locations for display. 

Plaques will be installed in six locations across campus, including: 

  • A. Ray Olpin Student Union  
  • American Indian Resource Center  
  • Campus Recreation Services – George S. Eccles Student Life Center  
  • Housing & Residential Education – Kahlert Village  
  • Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine/University of Utah Health – Eccles Health Sciences Education Building  
  • University of Utah Athletics.