Long before Silent Sam was built, the land it stood on was home to the Native American tribes that inhabited North Carolina.
Demonstrators gathered on Tuesday to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Silent Sam's toppling and protest what they perceive as the continued influence of racism on UNC's campus. At the beginning of the event, senior Jamison Lowery gave a land acknowledgment, a way of recognizing the indigenous people who once lived in the area.
Lowery is president of the Carolina Indian Circle, an organization focused on creating a community for Native American students. Lowery, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, gave the acknowledgment at the Peace and Justice Plaza.
For Lowery, a land acknowledgement is a way for Native Americans to feel seen on UNC's campus.
"There is a level of action behind land acknowledgements," Lowery said, "Because the first step is making sure you put it out there to talk about the history and give voice to Native students on campus."
This is not the first time that a land acknowledgment has been given during a UNC demonstration. Lowery explained that this practice is a way of recognizing the Native people who once inhabited the land that UNC was built on.
“We're not trying to basically say, 'Oh, this was Native land. We'd like to take it back or this and that,'” Lowery said. “It's simply an acknowledgment to the longstanding history that the land itself has had with indigenous people who were, traditionally, the people who were stewards over the land.”
Lowery said he gave his speech at the demonstration to give more context to the history of UNC and remind everybody of the school’s Native population.
“Having a land acknowledgement and presenting this other side to the story, we're trying to make sure that people understand that native people are still here, and just to acknowledge the long history that has gone on with the place that we currently reside on," Lowery said.
Lowery said before UNC was built, the area was home to three main groups: the Eno, Shakori and Occaneechi tribes.
Researchers have previously unearthed multiple Native American artifacts in Orange County, according to a UNC archaeological report from 1998.
“The purpose of (the land acknowledgement) is just to make people think, 'This land was someone else's, and this University sits upon that land, upon the bones and graves of the original people of the land,'" senior Blake Hite said.
Hite is the secretary of the CIC, a member of the Lumbee tribe and a descendant of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Hite said land acknowledgments have recently become a more popular practice, especially among universities and other organizations in the United States. They serve as reminders of who the land belonged to prior to colonization, he said.
“The importance of why Jamison gave it is just to remind people: 'Whose land are you really on?'” he said. “Because before this was UNC-Chapel Hill, before this was Orange County, before this was Chapel Hill, it was another person's land, and it was their homeland.”
Lowery said the organizers of the demonstration reached out to the CIC with an invitation to speak.
Junior Makayla Richardson, a powwow co-chairperson for CIC and a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, said she was glad to see multiple marginalized communities coming together and supporting one another.
Richardson sees the opportunity to give the acknowledgment as a positive indicator of how far the UNC community has come.
“It shows that they are taking a progressive step towards respecting us and making us feel like we are appreciated and we are acknowledged,” she said.
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