Furman presents land acknowledgment to Cherokee Nation
Furman University formally acknowledged that the campus occupies land that once belonged to the Cherokee and other Indigenous people when a contingent from the university presented a framed land acknowledgment to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022.
The in-person presentation, at the Tribal Council House in Cherokee, North Carolina, was a long time coming. The land acknowledgment was adopted by Furman in November 2019; presenting it to the council was delayed multiple times due to COVID-19 precautions.
Ken Peterson, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, told the council the land acknowledgment would be read on campus at several major event throughout the year. “This will be on the mind of our people on campus – students, faculty and staff – on a regular basis,” he said.
“We hope that, as all land acknowledgments should, this will be the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the Cherokee people that involves the education of our students and the community about Cherokee history and values, as well as the horrific history of colonialism,” Peterson said.
Shelby Parker ’15, Furman’s first known Cherokee student, grew up in Cherokee and lives there now. She attended the presentation and told the council how proud she was of her alma mater for making the acknowledgment.
Several of the council members thanked Furman. One fondly remembered an old football rivalry between Western Carolina University and Furman. The moment was emotional for councilwoman Teresa McCoy. It’s been a long time since anyone came here to recognize the tribes she said. “I’m about to cry.”
Joining Peterson were Helen Lee Turner, the Reuben B. Pitts Professor of Religion; Danielle Vinson, professor of politics and international affairs; and Ahna DeCosty ’25, a member of the Caddo Nation who represented Furman’s Native American and Indigenous Student Association. They brought gifts of Furman mugs for the council members and a Furman cookbook for the Cherokee library.
After the presentation the Furman group milled about in front of the council house in Cherokee, a town nestled in the Smoky Mountains. Snow dotted mountainsides that rose all around.
The acknowledgment will open more doors to Furman for Native American students, Parker said. “I hope it encourages more Cherokee students or Native American students to attend,” she said.
So will an increased offering of classes covering Native American subjects. Vinson is teaching a special topics class in the fall on Native American politics. If it goes well, the class could become a fixture.
Turner, who teaches a MayX in Arizona on Hopi and Navajo, is developing a course focused on Cherokee. Other classes are in the works, she said, that might lead to a minor in Native American studies.
Turner said it’s very important that Furman made the trip to Cherokee. “Tribal representatives were very gracious to have come to Furman in 2019, but a land acknowledgement is about what we need to do to address the real concerns of this statement,” she said.
“As educators who work on traditional Cherokee lands it is especially important for us to use the opportunity we have to inform our students and community about both the atrocities of colonialism and the wisdom of the Cherokee people, a people who have focused on the importance of community over individuality and insisted that future generations be considered in every situation,” Turner said.
The land acknowledgment reads:
We acknowledge that Furman University occupies traditional land of the Cherokee People, a land where the Catawba and other Indigenous people might also have found food. Long before our Alma Mater sang of the mountain river that laves “our mother’s” feet, the Cherokee honored that water, the land through which it flowed, and all the creatures living on the land with them. From the natural world, they also learned to live and form communities of respect. It is with gratitude that we, too, honor the land and the people who have stewarded it through many generations. We also must acknowledge that we benefit from the Cherokee’s loss of land and commit to remembering the human cost of colonialism. This Land Acknowledgment challenges us to learn from the Cherokee people and to draw from their wisdom about community, resilience, and the meaning of life which this land nurtured.