Land Acknowledgment

Bdote by Sandra Mitchell

Bdote is a Dakota word that generally means “where two waters come together.” The bdote where Ȟaȟáwakpa (Mississippi River) and the Mnísota Wakpá (Minnesota River) come together is central to Dakota spirituality and history. This image shared by Sandra Mitchell, Ed.S. Director of Equity and Inclusion at St. Catherine University.

St. Catherine University and CSJ St. Paul Community Land Acknowledgement Statement

We begin with honor and respect for the land and for the first people of this land.

We are on the ancestral homelands of the Dakȟóta People.  We desire to honor and respect the first people and recognize their caring for our common home.  Other sovereign American Indian nations including the Anishinaabe also have a long history with these sacred lands: past, present, and future.   We, both personally and institutionally, continue to have a deepening awareness of our complicity, of the complex history of colonialism, genocide and broken treaties.  We seek to understand the troubled acquisition of this land by unjust U.S. Government practices including the stealing of these lands and the forced removal from the birth place of the Dakȟóta people without any compensation to the American Indian communities.  We acknowledge the past, current, and future impacts of this history on our relationship with our American Indian sisters and brothers.  

In our commitment to social justice and the “love of dear neighbor without distinction,” we are called to acknowledge and to deepen our understanding of our participation in interlocking systems of oppression. We seek to journey farther together to respond boldly in working toward dismantling these systems.  

We, St. Catherine University and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates, know that these words are inadequate, imperfect and must extend beyond this verbal acknowledgement.  This is only our beginning of a much larger journey of listening, learning, building relationships and advocating for and with American Indian nations for a more just world for all. 


A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples the land that the event is on is (or was) the homeland of a specific Native Nation (in our case, the Dakota) as the original stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. The statement is meant to create awareness and recognition that the land we stand on belongs to those who lived here before colonization—those who made their homes along the shores and waterways of what we now call Minnesota.  The land acknowledgement is a reminder that we do not ignore the injustices committed against the Dakota people and other Indigenous tribes, but that we will also not remain complicit in our work to achieve social justice along side them.

The goals of a Land Acknowledgement are:

  • Offer recognition and respect.
  • Counter the “doctrine of discovery” with the true story of the people who were already here.
  • Create a broader public awareness of the history that has led to this moment.
  • Begin to repair relationships with Native communities and with the land.
  • Support larger truth-telling and reconciliation efforts.
  • Remind people that colonization is an ongoing process, with Native lands still occupied due to deceptive and broken treaties.
  • Inspire ongoing action and relationship.

Dakota people are comprised of four groups:

The Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton), Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton), Wahpekute, and Sissitunwan (Sisseton) people form what is known as the Isanti (Santee), or eastern Dakota (a word that means ally).

To the west, in present day South Dakota, are the Yanktonai and Yankton (who identify as both Dakota and Nakota) and the Teton (Lakota).

Collectively today, these groups have tribal lands that cover areas from present day Minnesota, to South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and into Canada. They form the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ (the Seven Council Fires, sometimes referred to erroneously as the Sioux)[1].

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. It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought our university to reside on the land, and to seek to understand our place within that history so we may resist the erasure of Indigenous histories and work toward inviting truth.

Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation. It is also worth noting that acknowledging the land is Indigenous protocol. (ACPA, 2019)

Acknowledgement alone is a small gesture.  It is meaningful when it is paired with authentic relationship and informed action.  St. Catherine University along with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondolet are working to raise a greater consciousness of Native history, sovereignty and move toward equitable relationship and reconciliation with the people whose land we honor.

  • Start with your own personal reflection:
    • Why am I doing this land acknowledgment? (If you’re hoping to inspire others to take action to support Indigenous communities, you’re on the right track. If you’re delivering a land acknowledgment out of guilt or because everyone else is doing it, more self-reflection is in order.)
    • What is my end goal? (What do you hope listeners will do after hearing the acknowledgment?)
    • When will I have the largest impact? (Think about your timing and audience, specifically.)
  • The land acknowledgement should be part of a larger work rather than simply something that is politically correct to do.  If presenting on behalf of work in a certain field, highlight Indigenous people who currently work in that field. For example, at an event honoring Women’s History Month, the acknowledgement might focus on the important role that women play in past, present and future of that nation and highlight scholars in Women’s Studies or other related fields.
  • Find out the history of the nation(s) being named in the acknowledgement.  Tell the audience about it and how they may support that nation’s work.
  • Do your research on the following topics:
    • The Indigenous people to whom the land belongs.
    • The history of the land and any related treaties.
    • Indigenous place names and language.
    • Correct pronunciation for the names of the Tribes, places, and individuals that you’re including.
    • How might you incorporate this history for your discipline or the type of gathering?
  • Do not sugarcoat.  Use terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing, stolen land, and forced removal to reflect the actions taken by the colonizers.
  • Do not tokenize. Be mindful of what you are doing and the consequences of empty gestures to honor (i.e. mascots).
  • Land Acknowledgements should not be delivered in a sad or somber tone.

  • Compensate Indigenous people for their emotional labor. If you do plan to reach out to an Indigenous person or community for help, compensate them fairly. Too often, Indigenous people are asked to perform emotional labor for free.
  • Don’t ask an Indigenous person to deliver a “welcome” statement for your organization.
  • Build real, authentic relationships with Indigenous people. In addition to normal employment and family obligations, Indigenous people are working to heal their traumas, learn their languages, and support their nations. If you reach out for help, lead the conversation by asking an Indigenous person what you can do for them. Chances are, they’re likely overworked and could use your help.
  • Understand displacement and how that plays into land acknowledgment. Land acknowledgment is complicated. Remember that the United States government displaced many Tribes from land before treaties were signed.
  • There are many types of land acknowledgments. Don’t expect to find a specific formula or template. Land acknowledgments that come from Indigenous people vs. non-Indigenous people look different, too.
  • Avoid thinking of the university as a guest on the land. Doing so implies that you were invited. Were you, in fact, invited to be there by someone of that nation?