Cornell University Announces It's on Stolen Land During Commencement, Doesn't Commence to Giving It Back

(Dean Heiser/Cornell University Press via AP)

Sometimes, it seems like the whole world is a high school and we’re all just trying to stay in style.

I mean that, not regarding fashion, but activities and ideas.


One item rising in popularity: the socially-aware “land acknowledgement.”

Last month, Cornell University joined the current craze.

As stated by The Cornell Daily Sun, at CU’s Spring 2021 commencement ceremony, announcers read a statement recognizing “the university’s place on the traditional homeland of the Gayogo̱ hó꞉nǫ’ (pronounced Guy-yo-KO-no), or Cayuga Nation.”

Here’s the official acknowledgement, as laid out on the institution’s website:

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation). The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

And just to be clear:

This land acknowledgment has been reviewed and approved by the traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ leadership.

What’s such a statement’s aim?

If the land was stolen, all those who were robbed are no longer here.

A mea culpa would be nice; but just as the victims aren’t here now, Cornell wasn’t there then.


It’s not as if the school can legitimately apologize for others.

If — had the land remained the Cayuga’s — the acreage or proceeds from its sale would’ve become the property of now-living tribe members, it appears the college is only rubbing it in: “We’re not supposed to have this; you are. But we’re gonna keep it.”

On the other hand, maybe all the above is ill-thought, and I’ll awake tomorrow understanding it all.

Either way, Cornell’s following many others’ lead.

As I covered in December, San Diego Unified School District served up racial awareness training to its teachers.

From Christoper Rufo’s reporting:

The training begins with a “land acknowledgement,” in which the teachers are asked to accept that they are colonizers living on stolen Native American land. Then they are told they will experience “guilt, anger, apathy, [and] closed-mindedness” because of their “white fragility.”

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System trained educators in March on incorporating Critical Race Theory. City-Journal relayed, “The February 2020 conference, attended by more than 200 North Carolina public school teachers, began with a ‘land acknowledgement,’ a ritual recognition suggesting that white North Carolinians are colonizers on stolen Native American land.”


And in Washington last year, the state’s largest public school system schooled teachers:

We would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral lands and traditional territories of the Puget Sound Coast Salish People.

Back to Cornell, the university’s been making waves via its multifaceted pursuit of justice:

As for the land acknowledgement, its purpose was pegged by an alum:

Corey Ryan Earle ’07, American studies, expressed that the gesture is an important step in the right direction for the University. “The story of Indigenous communities is part of the story of Cornell University, even though it’s often been left out of official histories in the past,” he wrote in a statement to the Sun.

The acknowledgement being read at graduation was a first in the school’s 156-year history.

Former American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) Director Prof. Jolene Rickard praised the new normal:

“I thought it was an important gesture by institutions to signal their awareness about several ongoing conditions of settler complacency, or settler innocence, to how the spaces that we work in and live in, in countries like the United States, actually came into existence.”


She’s crossing her fingers:

“I hope it inspires the recognition that almost every place you go in the world, there are Indigenous peoples that need to be taken into consideration in terms of how you’re working in development, and how you’re planning.”

They’re not planning on relinquishing the land, but they may be planning to make the statement more:

According to current director of the [AIISP] Kurt Jordan ’88, anthropology, the acknowledgment should be featured at all major University events, on department websites and in official Cornell communications.

Meanwhile, a song not likely to be sung at future on-campus events:



See more pieces from me:

Professor: Most Parents Should ‘Lose Veto Power’ Over Their Minor Children’s Gender Transition

Elite College Announces It Will Help Rid White Churches of Their Systemic Racism

Woke in the Water: Shark Advocates Call for an End to the Word ‘Attacks’ in Favor of ‘Interactions’

Find all my RedState work here.

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