Phillipian Commentary: Indigenous People’s Land Acknowledgement

To the Editor,

To the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees: We are on Indiegnous land. We must honor this land and all of the Indigenous peoples who were here at the time before colonization and are here now.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors the legacy of the work of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders across the world, as well as calls us to focus on all of the people who still do not receive justice. In Dr. King’s book, ‘Why We Can’t Wait,’ he writes:

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”

Dr. King understood the importance of acknowledging the history of what is currently known as The United States, and of supporting Indigenous justice today. Acknowledging the historical, current, and future presence of Indigenous people directly connects to honoring the legacy of Dr. King. Phillips Academy, along with all of what is currently known as the United States of America, rests on Indigenous land. There were Native people on this land before colonization, there are Native people here now, and there will be Native people on this land in the future. Since first contact, settler colonialist structures have attempted to replace indigenous populations and identities with invasive white settler ideas of civilization. We must acknowledge how we continue to benefit from the legacies of settler colonialism on our campus. Refusing to do so is both hostile towards Indigenous peoples, and perpetuates settler colonialist goals of Native erasure. We must acknowledge Indigenous presence on this land so that we can continue the work of uprooting settler colonialism.

Although it may be challenging to confront the role that Andover plays, it is unacceptable to remain silent. Our campus is located on the traditional lands of the Naumkeag and Wabanaki peoples. I also want to acknowledge the presence of Narragansett people all along the New England coast, and of Wampanoag people in the Boston area among countless other Indigenous tribes. One of the legacies of settler colonialism is the erasure and removal of Indigenous peoples, so when we acknowledge the land we are on we also have to understand how the history of forced removal, genocide, and settler colonialist ideas of land boundaries complicate that acknowledgement. Land acknowledgements are not empty, they are powerful actions in and of themselves. They are one step towards building community, supporting Indiegnous peoples and tribes, and dismantling settler colonialism. Chelsea Vowel, a Métis woman, states in Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements:

“If we think of territorial acknowledgments as sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure. I believe this is true as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words. The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands.”

It is time for Andover to confront their place on these lands: We are on Indigenous land. We acknowledge our presence on the traditional land of the Naumkeag and Wabanaki Peoples. We honor this land and all of the Indigenous peoples who were here at the time before colonization and are here now. With this acknowledgement, we are committing to continuously be mindful of the land we are on and work to dismantle the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism.


Emma Slibeck