The Native American Student Council (NASC) called on Georgetown University to issue a land acknowledgment and officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.
On Oct. 11, NASC — a student group that advocates for Indigenous community members on campus — hosted an event in Red Square featuring three speakers from the organization. At the event, students demanded that university leadership officially acknowledge the Indigenous land Georgetown sits on, as well as officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as a campus holiday, which Georgetown currently calls a mid-semester holiday.
Georgetown’s main campus sits on land that belongs to the Piscataway and Nacotchtank tribes. NASC member Carson Ramírez (COL ’23) said during a speech that the colonial occupation of Indigenous land, both in the Washington, D.C. area and across North America, has led to a loss of Indigenous customs.
“Many customs with using nature and sharing with nature have been lost because of these breaches of land and overtaking of land,” Ramírez said.
The university is neglecting its responsibility to properly acknowledge the Indigenous land campus sits on and pushes a burden onto Native American students and faculty, according to professor of philosophy Shelbi Meissner, one of two Native American faculty members at Georgetown.
“The emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical labor that goes into crafting a meaningful land acknowledgment should not fall solely on the shoulders of Indigenous students or Indigenous faculty,” Meissner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Not only does Georgetown have an abysmally small number of American Indian students (~10) and faculty (2) that would make shouldering this burden impossible, it’s also the ethical responsibility of those with institutional power and representation to invest in a land acknowledgment.”
The university is exploring programming with local Indigenous tribes, according to a university spokesperson.
“We deeply respect and are open to engaging with the Piscataway tribe, whose ancestral lands include the District of Columbia. The university is extremely supportive of exploring programming, and course options that share our diversity, equity and inclusion values, and reflect the broad interests of our students,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In addition to the land acknowledgment, NASC demands the university change the name of the Oct. 11 holiday on Georgetown’s calendar from mid-semester holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day to recognize the Indigenous students on campus, according to NASC President Tristin Sam (SFS ’23).
On Oct. 11, President Joe Biden proclaimed a federal observance of Indigenous Peoples Day, marking the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized the holiday. Sam said the news evoked a flood of emotions.
“It’s a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a lot of strong feelings,” Sam said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s both a celebration. It’s both mourning. It’s reverence. It’s a reflection. Overall it’s also an affirmation that we’re here, we survived, and I am a beneficiary of that survival, and all my friends and family have survived, and we are here, and we will be here.”
NASC has also called on the university to put more effort into recruiting Native American students. Native American students only make up approximately 0.1% of the student body, and the Indigenous community on campus lacks academic and cultural resources, according to NASC Vice President Alanna Cronk (COL ’23).
“Georgetown is very uniquely located in a very political place, and this is a school that people go to to become influential political figures, and so we want to make sure that that potential power is also being invested in the hands of Indigenous people,” Cronk said in an interview with The Hoya.
The Georgetown Office of Undergraduate Admissions says it is recruiting students from all backgrounds, according to a university spokesperson.
“Georgetown is committed to multicultural recruitment and supports prospective students from diverse backgrounds and geographic regions, including Native American students, throughout the recruitment and application process,” the spokesperson wrote.
Regardless of the university’s response, the NASC’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day marks a celebration of Indigenous land, culture and activism, according to Cronk.
“I think symbolically it’s important to do something just on Indigenous Peoples Day, even if not a single person came,” Cronk said. “To be on this land, and say the words that we did, I think is significant in itself.”