Sikowis Nobiss was initially opposed to the idea of ââIowa City creating recognition for Indigenous lands, in large part because it viewed these things as “empty words.”
Nobiss, who is Plains Cree and a member of the city’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, helped push for any official statement to be made. “more bite,” not just empty words with little to no action behind them.
The TRC and City of Iowa Human Rights Commission unanimously approved land recognition last month, declaring that Iowa City lies within the homeland limits of Iowa, de Meskwaki and Sauk, and has ancient ties to other indigenous peoples who may have inhabited the area. . But he also calls on Iowa City to commit to understanding and addressing injustices as the two commissions work for “fairness, restoration and redress.”
Nobiss and his fellow commissioners are now waiting to see if Iowa City, and its community at large, will take these words to heart and enact reforms and changes that not only recognize what was done to the original stewards of the land, but make amends. the wounds left by colonization and genocide inflicted on indigenous peoples by white settlers over the centuries.
âA land recognition can be somewhat insulting when people proclaim them and happily use them, but there is no action behind it,â Nobiss said. “So this is my advice to all TRC members and the entire Iowa City community – you can use this land recognition, but what do you want to do about it? We’d rather get the land back than a land recognition. “
The one-page statement will be read at the start of every TRC and HRC meeting and may soon be adopted by other government councils in Iowa City, including city council.
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Make land recognition more than “empty sentences”
TRC commissioner Kevo Rivera said the board started discussing land recognition at the end of its very first meeting. He said that at the time, the commissioners didn’t know much about land reconnaissance, but learned a lot over the following months when they met with the Native Council at the University of Iowa.
Rivera said that having Nobiss on TRC has helped make them more than “empty sentences without any safeguarding action or commitment from the organizations that use them.”
Nobiss said offering equity, restoration and reparations through land recognition means a lot to her, but it starts with enhancing and creating inclusive cultural spaces in Iowa City for for the people of BIPOC to flourish and free themselves from predominantly white spaces – something she said the city has struggled at times.
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HRC Commissioner Ashley Lindley said one of the main considerations the two committees had to take into account was to ensure that the statement was not made “through a lens of whiteness”.
“We needed to have native and native comments on this statement, because otherwise how would we know what kinds of meaningful change and language should be included in a statement in order for it to really do what it was supposed to do.” , she said.
Nobiss would also like to see remedies by strengthening fairness and abolishing white supremacy. She said repairs mean providing resources and giving access to places of privilege.
âIt means funding projects from people doing a good job. It really means coming back. It also means being a great ally and helping us fight the ban on critical race theory, which is really just anti-racist work, âshe said. “It means being an accomplice and being an ally.”
Land Back is an activist campaign that seeks to restore control of Indigenous peoples over the lands that belonged to them before the colonization and territorial expansion of the United States.
In reclaiming land, Nobiss said she meant land largely owned by corporations, the rich and powerful. She said more needs to be done with the “huge tracts of land” they own, such as adding community gardens, restoring grassland lands to sequester carbon emissions and returning buffaloes to a natural life. there rather than in nature reserves.
“No one is attacking personal property,” she said.
University of Iowa Land Reconnaissance Takes a Different Approach
The Native American Council at the University of Iowa also recognizes land and sovereignty, but with far fewer terms calling for fairness, reparations, justice and restoration.
NAC President Kelly Clougher said the NAC Land Reconnaissance has been integrated into the UIowa website and is used by groups for different programs, events and meetings.
âAbsolutely, it is important to make our land known and why we need to honor it so that we are not forgotten and recognize the violence that our indigenous communities have suffered,â said Clougher.
Clougher said the ASB recognizes that using this statement is not sufficient and that it is only a step that must be taken. She said there was a need to improve the recruitment and retention of Indigenous students, staff and faculty.
She said beyond just getting more people to come to UI from local indigenous tribes, like the Meskwaki, the university needs to create an inclusive and equitable environment.
Clougher said the university has made progress in removing the application fee for Meskwaki Nation students starting this academic year and offering an Iowa First Nation scholarship, among other specifically awarded financial aid. to indigenous peoples.
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What comes next for land recognition?
Nobiss and the other commissioners want the land recognition to start the conversations in Iowa City while other groups in the city government decide whether or not to adopt the declaration. Lindley and Rivera said non-Indigenous people like them need to do more to listen to and learn from Indigenous people.
“This land recognition aims to remind (those in power) that they must work on the dissemination of resources so that we can move towards equity, which is the objective of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Nobiss said. .
Nobiss, who founded the Great Plains Action Society in 2014 and is the TRC’s only Indigenous commissioner, said she is organizing on behalf of issues she considers important and vital to Indigenous peoples over the past 25 years. last years.
Nobiss said land recognition is a âtrendy thingâ that people have started to do over the past five years. When they were first adopted, they quickly became “symbolized” and no action was taken, she said.
“When I asked to work on land reconnaissance as my first job on the TRC, I rolled my eyes a bit because of course they would look to the natives to help create that,” she declared.
“They were already working on this when I arrived in the community and I had to fight to be part of the commission. If I hadn’t been there I wonder how much recognition of the land could have been. symbolic.”
The TRC will meet on Thursday evening and vote on a joint recommendation with the Human Rights Commission to city council on the use of land recognition.
Rivera and Lindley said they hope city council and even other commissions will adopt the land recognition as well.
âA recognition of the land is literally the least we can do as a community,â said Lindley
Nobiss said she was unsure whether city council would adopt the recognition of the land or if the city would then act on what it requests. She fears that the city wants to “water down” what she says and change the language to make it less forceful.
âWhat we hope is to truly honor the people who live here, especially those who are marginalized like indigenous peoples,â Rivera said. âTo me, that serves as the framework for starting a meeting from there. It sets the tone and a paradigm for how we approach our work.â
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