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Indigenous land acknowledgement passes Moorhead City Council

The statement will be read before each council meeting, and recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as the traditional stewards of the land.

Moorhead resident Marilyn Proulx speaks before the Moorhead City Council on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.
Moorhead resident Marilyn Proulx speaks before the City Council on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum

MOORHEAD — The Moorhead City Council will now be reading before each council meeting a land acknowledgment statement regarding historical Native influence on the city.

The resolution, which was presented by the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, passed 6-2, with council members Chuck Hendrickson and Matthew Gilbertson voting against the motion.

A land acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as the traditional stewards of the land, and the relationships that exist between Natives and the land.

Before the vote took place, council member Larry Seljevold tried to amend the resolution by asking for a moratorium on the reading.

“So what I’d like to see is that this reading sunsets and the next group of people have to approve it again. That would be my friendly amendment,” Seljevold said. The amendment was seconded, but did not pass.

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“Trying to think of an arbitrary time to say this is obsolete?” said Deb White, a council member. "There can very likely be a point in time where things will change. At this point in time I see a benefit, and this does have value. It’s a statement about our past that is welcoming and inclusive.”

Two Moorhead residents addressed the City Council, asking them to vote against the resolution.

“It may just backfire as a mockery for the city council to jump on the bandwagon,” said Marilyn Proulx, a former middle school teacher, who added that the area of Moorhead was historically a pass-through area due to flooding and malaria-ridden mosquitos.

Janine Hanson agreed with Proulx, saying that “just because these land acknowledgments are being done in other places,” Moorhead wouldn’t be showing American Indians any respect by voting in favor of the land acknowledgment.

“It may be more fitting for Moorhead to acknowledge the wisdom of neighboring tribes for not settling here because of the mosquito infestation,” Hanson said.

Council member Shelly Dahlquist said the timing of the resolution could not have been better. Earlier in the evening, council members spent more than an hour discussing the use of herbicides on public lands.

“It was a great example after one of the longest conversations we’ve had talking about land, so I think it’s very appropriate,” Dahlquist said.

Siham Amedy, vice-chair of the Human Rights Commission, said that the resolution took months to prepare and that local Indigenous leaders were consulted.

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“As awareness has grown that history has generally been taught from a Eurocentric perspective, land acknowledgments expand and give tribute to the Indigenous peoples that preceded the ‘discovery’ of America,” the Moorhead Human Rights Commission said in a press release.

Any future changes to the resolution will be presented by the Moorhead Human Rights Commission.

Included in the commission’s statement was to ask the City of Moorhead to recognize the “sacred land” the city is built upon, and to acknowledge the people who have resided in the area for generations, which include the tribes of the Dakota, Ojibwe, Metis and all other Indigenous communities.

The public acknowledgment also sought to show appreciation and to honor Indigenous people and tribes “who have been living and working the land upon which our city is built for tens of thousands of years,” the press release stated.

Other entities who have publicly made similar acknowledgments include North Dakota State University and the North Dakota State College of Science.

“This is our first step. This is about changing how we think about our history and about our community. I encourage you to not think of this as the only thing, but as one of the things we can do to make our community more inclusive,” White said.

Council member Laura Caroon said such a statement would show local Indigenous people that the city cares for them. “I would like us to say this at each council meeting,” Caroon said.

"Every ounce of the state of Minnesota was taken from Indigenous people, and this is just one way that our city council here and now can acknowledge people and create an inclusive environment,” said council member Heather Nesemeier.

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The full text of the acknowledgment reads as follows:

We, the Moorhead City Council, collectively and with gratitude, acknowledge the sacred land the City of Moorhead is built upon. We acknowledge the people who have resided here for generations and recognize that the spirit of the Dakota, Ojibwe, Metis and all Indigenous Communities permeates this land. The contribution of the Indigenous people shall not be forgotten nor will the success that is achieved by the People of the land. We will continue to educate, advocate, honor and unite for Indigenous people of this land.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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