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Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648


STATEWIDE LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Employees of the State of Maryland serve residents of Maryland who live across many different tribal lands. This statement acknowledges all tribes who maintain relationships with lands claimed by the State of Maryland. This statement is based on one drafted by an elder of the Choptico Band of Indians, Piscataway-Conoy Tribe for the MSAC Land Acknowledgement Project.

We acknowledge the lands and waters now known as Maryland are the home of its first peoples: the Accohannock Indian Tribe, Assateague People’s Tribe, Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians, Choptico Band of Indians, Lenape Tribe, Nanticoke Tribe, Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians, Piscataway Conoy Tribe, Piscataway Indian Nation, Pocomoke Indian Nation, Susquehannock Indians, Youghiogheny River Band of Shawnee, and tribes in the Chesapeake watershed who have seemingly vanished since the coming of colonialism. We acknowledge that this land is now home to other tribal peoples living here in diaspora. We acknowledge the forced removal of many from the lands and waterways that nurtured them as kin. We acknowledge the degradation that continues to be wrought on the land and waters in pursuit of resources. We acknowledge the right of the land and waterways to heal so that they can continue to provide food and medicine for all. We acknowledge that it is our collective obligation to pursue policies and practices that respect the land and waters so that our reciprocal relationship with them can be fully restored.

SOURCE:  Maryland State Arts Council 

Every community owes its existence and strength to the generations before them, around the world, who contributed their hopes, dreams, and energy into making the history that led to this moment. Truth and acknowledgement are critical in building mutual respect and connections across all barriers of heritage and difference.

So, we acknowledge the truth that is often buried: We are on the ancestral lands of the Piscataway People, who are the ancestral stewards of this sacred land.  It is their historical responsibility to advocate for the four-legged, the winged, those that crawl and those that swim. They remind us that clean air and pristine waterways are essential to all life.

This Land Acknowledgement is a vocal reminder for each of us as two-leggeds to ensure our physical environment is in better condition than what we inherited, for the health and prosperity of future generations.  We also acknowledge that throughout our history, our university has not always lived up to our ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion. Today we reaffirm our commitment to building and celebrating a multicultural community. Please take a moment to consider these many legacies of bias, prejudice, violence, and settlement that bring us here today.

The "Decolonizing Education to Meet the Demands of Climate Change: reACT Testbed" program of courses is our real-world action to support our land acknowledgment.

SOURCE: UMD Vice President for Student Affairs


To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial as well as the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgments do not exist in a past tense, or historical context.  We need to build mindfulness of our present participation in the ongoing process of colonialism.  Acknowledging the land is Indigenous protocol. 

SOURCE: Know the Land

Land acknowledgments are statements that recognize Indigenous peoples dispossessed of their relationships with land by settler colonists. These statements bring attention to the Indigenous peoples who are (and/or were once) local to the lands that settler colonists and settler colonial institutions currently occupy. Indigenous erasure, the set of processes that remove Indigenous people from places and narratives, has been exceedingly prevalent in the mid-Atlantic region for much of the past 500 years. Despite still living in the region, most tribal peoples are “disappeared” into the history books and are associated only with their colonial histories. Land acknowledgment statements are a minor way to acknowledge Indigenous sovereignty and correct the inaccurate impression that Native peoples no longer exist in Maryland. 

The Maryland State Arts Commission's Land Acknowledgement Project Webpage provides a number of Maryland-specific resources on Land Acknowledgments including the MSAC Land Acknowledgement Project Overview and Resource Guide. This guide features best practices, tribal histories and maps, and land acknowledgment statements. It also includes a “Key Concepts” section containing culturally-specific information to help constituents more easily create land acknowledgments. Tribal consultants have reviewed the document for cultural accuracy and approved it.


  • Land acknowledgment alone is not enough. It’s merely a starting point. Ask yourself: how do I plan to take action to support Indigenous communities? Some examples of ways to take action:
  • Support Indigenous organizations by donating your time and/or money.
  • Support Indigenous-led grassroots change movements and campaigns. Encourage others to do so.
  • Commit to returning land. Local, state, and federal governments around the world are currently returning land to Indigenous people. Individuals are returning their land, too. Research your options to return your land.
  • Stewarding the lands you own or control
    • by learning about invasive and native plant and animal species and increasing biodiversity
    • Taking a course (s) in the Decolonizing Education to Meet the Demands of Climate Change

SOURCE: A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment


“Unquestionably, the history of land-grant universities intersects with that of Native Americans and the taking of their lands.”—The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in a written statement.

Chances are you have heard land acknowledgements recited at many universities, formal statements that recognize the Indigenous peoples who formerly possessed the lands those colleges now stand on. What many of these statements miss is that land-grant universities were built not just on Indigenous land, but with Indigenous land.

It’s a common misconception that the Morrill Act grants were used only for campuses. In fact, the grants were as big or bigger than major cities, and were often located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their beneficiaries.  The Morrill Act worked by turning land expropriated from tribal nations into seed money for higher education. In all, the act redistributed nearly 11 million acres — an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. But with a footprint broken up into almost 80,000 parcels of land, scattered mostly across 24 Western states, its place in the violent history of North America’s colonization has remained comfortably inaccessible.  

Nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous land. Approximately 250 tribes, bands and communities. Over 160 violence-backed treaties and land seizures. Fifty-two universities. From the University of Florida to Washington State University, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the University of Arizona, the grants of land raised endowment principal for 52 institutions across the United States.  According to the Morrill Act, all money made from land sales must be used in perpetuity, meaning those funds still remain on university ledgers to this day.

LAND GRAB UNIVERSITIES PROJECT. Robert Lee, a lecturer in American history at the University of Cambridge and a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, spent years reconstructing the parcels that gave land-grant universities their start. He and other researchers developed a public database of the lengthy, data-rich investigation.  The chief source of data came from the land patents in the Bureau of Land Management database.  When reconstructed and mapped, approximately 10.7 million acres were taken from nearly 250 tribes, bands, and communities through over 160 violence-backed land cessions, a legal term for the giving up of territory.  The data located more than 99% of all the Morrill Act acres, identified their original, Indigenous inhabitants and caretakers, and researched the principal raised from their sale in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

LAND-GRAB UMD: How the United States funded land-grant universities with expropriated indigenous land.  Mr. Tristan Ahton and Dr. Robert Lee, authors of the Land Grab Universities research and database, provided a UMD webinar on September 28, 2022. Co-sponsored by the Office of MICA, The 1856 Project, Student Affairs, CMNS, SACNAS at UMD, City of College Park, and the Department of Entomology. The Data set and files are publicly available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license at: GitHub

Lee, Robert and Tristan Ahtone (2020) Land-grab universities. High Country News, March 30, 2020. Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system.

Ahtone, Tristan and Robert Lee. (2020) Ask who paid for America’s universities. New York Times (Online), New York: New York Times Company. May 7, 2020.

Baldwin, Davarian L. (2021) Higher education’s racial reckoning reaches far beyond slavery. Washington Post, April 1, 2021.
Davarian L. Baldwin is the Paul E. Raether distinguished professor of American studies and founding director of the Smart Cities Research Lab at Trinity College. His most recent book is "In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities."

Leckrone, Bennet. (2020) Why New Research Calls Some Flagships ‘Land-Grab Universities.’ Chronicle of Higher Education. April 8, 2020. A new project reveals an uncomfortable truth about the origins of land-grant universities.

Carney, Lisa. (2023) Morrill Reckoning: Acknowledging Indigenous Lands that Funded the University of Maryland.  University of Maryland Libraries.  The University of Maryland is one of 52 land grant universities funded by the seizure and sale of Indigenous lands. In 1862, U.S. Congress enacted the Morrill Act, which granted "public domain" land to states to fund institutions of higher education. Using the open-access dataset of the Land-Grab Universities project, Carney found that Maryland received over 202,000 acres of land from land cessions by 37 Indigenous nations. This online ArcGIS StoryMaps exhibit has four sections: Land Grant or Land Grab?; Creating "Public" Lands; Mapping UMD's Impact; Sovereign Nations (a directory of the tribes whose land was stolen).