LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — A growing number of places around the United States celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of or in addition to Columbus Day, which this year falls on Monday, Oct. 11. A recently formed committee at Franklin & Marshall College aims to honor Native peoples and cultures both on the holiday and year-round.
The committee began with a student’s suggestion in 2019 that F&M craft a land acknowledgment and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the group’s actions temporarily, but students, staff, and faculty convened in the spring of 2021 to begin work on the acknowledgment.
One goal of the committee is “to recognize the Indigenous peoples who were, in fact, dispossessed from the land upon which Franklin & Marshall was built,” Mary Ann Levine, F&M professor of anthropology and chair of the Land Acknowledgment Committee, said.
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Levine noted that the Susquehannock people, who had cultural ties to the Haudenosaunee and are perhaps the most well-known Native culture among people in Southcentral Pennsylvania, lived in the area until around the 17th century.
In the 18th century, the land near the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania became home to numerous Native peoples as they were forced out of other areas, Levine said. These peoples included the Lenape, the Shawnee, the Piscataway, the Nanticoke, and the Seneca.
“Undertaking that history is important, but it is one small step,” Levine said.
Land Acknowledgment Committee members are “trying to bring greater visibility to Native peoples and their history, but also forge a path forward in terms of partnering and collaborating with local Native peoples,” Levine said.
For example, F&M celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day on campus this year with a talk by Barry Lee, executive director of Lancaster’s Circle Legacy Center, and Munsee American Indian. The group has also been working with MaryAnn Robins, who is Onondaga and the president of the Circle Legacy Center, to plan ways to elevate and amplify the voices of Native people in the community.
Nick Kroll is an associate professor of philosophy and the chair of the philosophy program at F&M, and he is a member of the Land Acknowledgment Committee. He is Métis, or mixed; his father is Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and his mother is Scandanavian.
Kroll has found the work of the Land Acknowledgment Committee personally meaningful. “For me…it felt really good just to hear an external sort of validation that not only there were these people, but there are these people. And just to hear that, from a personal perspective, coming from the institution I’m a part of, it was a big deal,” he said.
Kroll grew up in North Dakota, where there was a sizeable Indigenous population. He said his grandmother gave his family members their “Indian names” (his translated to “Little Norwegian” because he was the only person on that side of the family who had blond hair), and he felt connected to his Native heritage there.
“It was just part of my being, and part of my being not only in how I thought of myself but also how others thought of me,” Kroll said, “which was always very interesting because, to use language that’s now more colloquial, I definitely passed for white.”
After moving to the Eastern U.S. for graduate school and work, Kroll felt some of that shift.
According to lists from the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are no federally recognized or state-recognized tribes in Pennsylvania.
“There’s not reservations, so to speak, at least not to the extent that I grew up with,” Kroll said, and he felt like in general, the external recognition of, “Hey, there’s actually a population of Natives or Indigenous people, and we recognize you as one of them,” was less present here, in his new home. Kroll called this experience the “external erasure of [his] identity.”
“I didn’t grow up with that. That was weird. I didn’t grow up with that at all, and to sort of be confronted with that here, especially in dialogues involving identity, it’s been really hard for me,” Kroll said.
Kroll said that his children do not identify with their native heritage, partly because they do not have that same kind of community that Kroll had growing up. They think of their grandfather as Native, Kroll said, but they do not see themselves that same way, which is upsetting to him.
“In one generation, it’s gone,” Kroll said. “The land acknowledgment, for me, was a very first step so that I could feel like” — Kroll sighed — “look at that, people are at least recognizing a history and a tradition and recognizing that it’s still here.”
Kroll pointed to President Joe Biden’s recent recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day or the growing number of Indigenous producers, directors, and actors in popular media as reasons to be optimistic about the future and improved general understanding of Native people, lifestyles, and cultures — not just historically, but today and moving forward.
“The land acknowledgment at F&M, I think, is coming at a time in which in general, it seems like there’s somewhat of a movement [of] thinking about Native people as here today,” Kroll said.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and more particularly…F&M’s land acknowledgment, is one way of explicitly resisting the erasure of Indigenous history but also Indigenous people,” Levine added.
The college’s land acknowledgment is one step toward this mission, but it also needs to be coupled with action and relationships, Levine said. For example, Levine and a student are working to develop an educational website with information on the past, present, and future of Native peoples in Pennsylvania, and the college has committed to creating a fund dedicated to recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Kroll appreciates that F&M’s Land Acknowledgment Committee members are making a genuine effort to build relationships and understand Native perspectives while creating a more welcoming culture at the college.
“There seems [to be] a real serious intention of understanding contemporary people who are here and educating, but also sort of thinking about how we can help maybe change F&M’s culture a little bit so that you can feel a Native presence or an Indigenous presence on campus, too,” Kroll said.