In an email to the Swarthmore community on Feb. 15, President Smith announced the college’s newly established land acknowledgement statement. Land acknowledgements are formal statements that recognize Indigenous people’s ownership and traditional stewardship of land, and issuing them has become a more prevalent practice for colleges and universities in recent years.
The acknowledgement was written by the Land Acknowledgement Task Force assembled by President Smith in the spring of 2021. The task force consisted of faculty, staff, and representatives from the Lang Center and Center for Innovation and Leadership.
“As good stewards, we must examine the complex history of our physical location: formally recognize that the College sits in Lenapehoking, or the Land of the Lenape, and honor the Indigenous Americans who cared for this land for generations,” Smith wrote in the email.
According to the Swarthmore College website, a land acknowledgment is a statement that recognizes and honors the history of the land on which the college sits and the Indigenous people who stewarded throughout the generations.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Isaiah V. Williamson, professor of civil and mechanical engineering, and task force co-chair Carr Everbach explained the importance of having an institutionally-recognized land acknowledgement.
“Swarthmore must manage its resources, including its land, in a sustainable way or else it will degrade. It has already degraded in many ways, and the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee, as well as Grounds and Arboretum, are working to restore the natural balance,” Everbach said.
The Land Acknowledgement Task Force was specifically commissioned to create a land acknowledgement, but the task force also created a list of additional recommendations for the Swarthmore administration to undertake in further supporting Indigenous communities.
After the task force provided the completed land acknowledgement to President Smith in May 2022, the task force was disbanded. It recommended that the president create a permanent standing committee guided by an Indigenous leader to create a collaborative relationship with the Lenape tribes.
In the Land Acknowledgement section of the college’s website, there is a list of future actions that the college hopes to implement. These include strengthening recruitment efforts of Indigenous students, faculty, and staff members through education and training.
“I hope to develop ongoing relationships with the Federally-recognized Lenape tribes in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario,” Everbach said. “I would love to see a regular presence of Lenape people on our campus in leadership roles to partner with us in stewarding the land through the critical upcoming decades.”
Everbach also emphasized the importance of education and rebuilding for the future, which includes acknowledging the past.
“We are an educational institution, which means we must face the truth of the past, educate our community about best practices, and work toward a better future, not only for Swarthmore College but also for Pennsylvania, the US, and the world. I would like to send our students out into the world with an accurate understanding of reality, and that includes an acknowledgement of the contributions past, present, and future, of the Lenape people to our ongoing wellbeing.”
Swarthmore College’s land acknowledgment reads:
“As a community of learners at Swarthmore College, we acknowledge that our campus is situated in Lenapehoking — also known as the Land of the Lenape — past and present. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the Indigenous people who stewarded it throughout the generations and who were driven from it by European and American colonizers. We commit to serve as responsible stewards of the land and to our shared, ongoing responsibility for community care. Consistent with Swarthmore’s commitment to social responsibility, we seek to build a more inclusive and equitable learning space for present and future generations through deliberate actions and collaborations.”