WAHPETON, N.D. — The North Dakota State College of Science has become the first public higher education institution in the state to officially acknowledge it is on land that was once occupied by Native Americans.

The two-year school in Wahpeton announced last week it had finalized its land acknowledgment statement, making it the first North Dakota University System institution to do so. The proclamation that recognizes and respects Native Americans as traditional stewards of the land where NDSCS sits will be read at large gatherings, special events and printed on written materials.

“NDSCS acknowledges that we occupy the sacred ancestral lands of the First Nations cultures of North Dakota,” the statement said. “Without them, we would not have access to our gathering, dialogue, and learning spaces.”

Land acknowledgment statements have become more prevalent at universities across the U.S. as schools recognize how colonialism impacted the livelihoods of Native Americans. Staff at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University have worked toward crafting their own statements, but they have yet to be completed.

In early May, the NDSCS Diversity and Equity Team completed almost a year of work on the statement, Vice President for Student Affairs Jane Vangsness Frisch said. The proclamation was a way for students to feel welcomed, comfortable and connected to the college, President John Richman said.

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It also was a way to increase inclusivity, Frisch said.

“We want people, all people, to understand that NDSCS is a very welcoming community and that we welcome populations,” Richman said.

NDSCS collaborates on several events that help build relations with Native Americans, including the annual Woodlands and High Plains Powwow. It also partners with the Circle of Nations so the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate boarding school that hosts students in grades 4 through 8 can use NDSCS facilities.

NDSCS history shows how inclusive the college is, and this is the most recent piece to show that commitment, Richman said.