Princeton seeks to build relationships with Native American and Indigenous communities and nations through academic pursuits, partnerships, historical recognitions, community service and enrollment efforts. These communities and nations include the Lenni-Lenape people, who consider the land on which the University stands part of their ancient homeland.
The last several years have seen many North American higher education institutions (among other organizations) make efforts to honor historical links between Indigenous Peoples/Nations and the territories on which the institutions now sit. The practice of land acknowledgements originated in Canada. Through land acknowledgements, institutions use a carefully crafted public statement to express a commitment to the past history, current reality and future relationship between the institution, Indigenous Peoples/Nations and the land. Effective land acknowledgments, which are usually read at the opening of a meeting or gathering, result from a process of engaging with all relevant stakeholders. The process of land acknowledgement is one approach of many through which institutions and groups can show respect and recognition for the abiding connection between Indigenous Peoples/Nations and their historical lands.
Princeton University does not have a policy requiring land acknowledgements. This page is designed to provide resources for offices and event planners who wish to employ this practice in a respectful, appropriate manner.
Lenape Peoples & Princeton University History
An estimated 10 million Native Americans lived in North America before the arrival of European colonizers. Many thousands lived in Lenapehoking, the vast homeland of the Lenni-Lenape, who were the first inhabitants of eastern Pennsylvania and parts of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. The recorded history of the Princeton area began in the late 17th century when European travelers crossed New Jersey between the Delaware and Raritan rivers along paths created by the Lenni-Lenape peoples. One former path became the King's Highway, New Jersey's main road for well over a hundred years. Wealthy settlers established public houses along this road in a location which first became known as "Princeton" in 1724. In 1756 the College of New Jersey moved from Newark and erected Nassau Hall on this land with no recorded consultation with the Lenni-Lenape peoples and now Princeton University sits on land considered part of the ancient homelands of the Lenni-Lenape peoples.
Acknowledging this history and consistent with the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, in 2018 the Princeton Histories Working Group recommended that Princeton recognize the historical links between the land on which the University sits and the Lenni-Lenape peoples.
Providing resources to support individuals and offices who wish to employ land acknowledgements at campus events is only one way in which Princeton seeks to strengthen its support for and relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Other ongoing activities include recruitment of Native American students, faculty and staff; curricular offerings; and student programming related to Native American Heritage month and Indigenous Peoples Day.
General Guidelines for Land Acknowledgements
The following guidelines are designed to assist with preparation and delivery of land acknowledgements. For consultative advice, consult Shawn Maxam, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Office of the Provost at 609-258-9687 or [email protected].
Land acknowledgements should be read at the beginning of a gathering or meeting.
- A land acknowledgement text should be concise and clear (the details informing the statement can be explained at length in a publicly-available companion document, as appropriate).
- Be specific about the exact names of relevant indigenous groups and sub-groups and be sure to confirm correct pronunciations and spellings.
- Make efforts to be aware of any competing indigenous claims to specific areas and/or indigenous groups in other locations who may be stakeholders.
- The text should accurately reflect present-day and historical political/governance structures and avoid patronizing Indigenous Peoples (i.e. clearly indicate that the land was occupied; do not express gratitude, as it implies the land was willingly given, etc.).
- Ideally, Land Acknowledgements result from a larger process bringing together all relevant stakeholders, including institutional members as well as Indigenous Peoples/Nations. Relevant topics for shared consideration could include:
- What is the history of this territory? What are the impacts of colonialism here?
- What is the institutional relationship to this territory? How did it come to be here?
How does the institution intend to address colonialism beyond acknowledgement?
Best Practice Examples
The following are examples developed and used by Princeton departments and groups and by other Higher Education institutions and organizations.
The Land on which this building stands is part of the ancient homeland and traditional territory of the Lenape people. We pay respect to Lenape peoples past, present, and future and their continuing presence in the homeland and throughout the Lenape diaspora.
Excerpt from Nature’s Nation exhibit at Princeton University Art Museum, 2018-2019
The conference gathers on the land of the Lenni-Lanape. We honor the Lenape and other Indigenous caretakers of these lands and waters, the elders who lived here before, the Indigenous today, and the generations to come.
Excerpt from International Symposium on Indigenous Communities & Climate Change, 2018; sponsored by Princeton Program in Canadian Studies, Princeton Environmental Institute and the Program in Journalism
The Northwestern campus sits on the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa as well as the Menominee, Miami and Ho-Chunk nations. It was also a site of trade, travel, gathering and healing for more than a dozen other Native tribes and is still home to over 100,000 tribal members in the state of Illinois.
Excerpt from Northwestern University’s Land Acknowledgement
We collectively acknowledge that Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. In particular, the University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. We recognize, support, and advocate for the sovereignty of Michigan’s twelve federally-recognized Indian nations, for historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their Homelands. By offering this Land Acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold Michigan State University more accountable to the needs of American Indian and Indigenous peoples.
Excerpt from Michigan State University’s Land Acknowledgement
We would like to acknowledge that Wilfrid Laurier University and its campuses are located on the Haldimand tract, traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe (Anish-nah-bay) and Haudenosaunee (Hoe-den-no-show-nee) peoples…. These nations now reside on less than five per cent of this original territory after losing much of the territory to settlement of newcomers. Today, this gathering place is home to many First Nations, Métis and Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island. Acknowledging them reminds us of our important connection to this land where we live, learn and work. We recognize, honour and respect these nations as the traditional stewards of the lands and water on which Laurier is now present.
Excerpt from Wilfrid Laurier University Land Acknowledgement
Canadian Association of University Teachers. “Acknowledging Traditional Territory.” Accessed September 21, 2016.
“Historic Princeton.” Town of Princeton, NJ. Accessed on 1 November 2019.
“Honor Native Land: A Guide & Call To Acknowledgement.” U.S. Department of Arts & Culture. Accessed on 15 November 2019.
“Land Acknowledgement.” Native Land.
Smith, Jackson et al. “Indigenous Allyship: An Overview.” Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, Wilfrid Laurer University; 2016.
Vowel, Chelsea. Indigenous Writes. HighWater Press; 2016 Wilfrid Laurier University Land Acknowledgement.