This blessed land was not made for you and me

Sacajawea and Jean Baptiste, sculpture by Glenna Goodacre, lies on the path behind the Templeton Student Center. Photo by Aidan D’Anna

The statue of Sacagawea, one of the most important historical figures from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, stands in between Templeton Student Center and the Frank Manor House. She is somewhat out of the way of most of the foot traffic on campus, especially compared to York, who is hard to miss on the walk to the library. For a person who played such a large role in the expedition that is Lewis & Clark’s namesake, and for a school seemingly so dedicated to respecting the indigenous lands our campus is on, I am surprised that her statue is placed along the path that it is.

Most of us have had the Land Acknowledgement read to us, perhaps even more than once. It lists numerous indigenous groups that originally lived in the Portland area, serving to honor and respect the legacies, lives and descendants of those groups. Acknowledging native lands has become more commonplace in recent years, in order to recognize the history behind them. It is a necessary reminder designed to make us more aware of the land on which we are living and studying. 

As a native Oregonian, LC is the first school I have ever attended where a land acknowledgment existed. However, reading it aloud cannot undo the past. Is an acknowledgment, read to students who likely have little background knowledge of the area they have moved to, really doing enough to honor the people who came before us?

The Land Acknowledgement lists the following groups of indigenous people: “the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya and many other indigenous nations of the Columbia River.” Why are the “many other” nations not honored too? In Oregon, there are seven Native American reservations, the largest being the Warm Springs reservation just south of Mount Hood. The others are on tiny areas of land that are abysmal in comparison to the lands they once occupied. This is true of most reservations across the country; the government has put feeble effort into restoring the lands they took away.

It is exciting to live in Portland since it is often hailed as a liberal paradise. However, it is important to keep in mind some of Portland’s history that many students are likely unaware of. When Oregon was founded, the state’s constitution outlawed black people from coming to the state, despite having banned slavery. Many of the suburbs surrounding the Portland area have such high white populations because realtors were forbidden from selling houses to minorities. Gentrification that displaces minority communities in Portland has been a problem for decades, yet this controversial history is consistently overshadowed by the idea that it is so liberal here.

How can we honor and remember the indigenous communities and marginalized groups that came before us when many students know so little about who these people were? We are all here for an education, so why not include a little more? Exploration & Discovery, which every first-year student is required to take, already includes a wide breadth of literature written by authors of all backgrounds. Including topics and discussions regarding the origins of the land in the Portland area would be simple and easy to incorporate into an already diverse curriculum, hopefully bringing to light much of the history behind the land LC calls home.

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