Elgin Community College professor, students honor Native Americans with college’s first Land Acknowledgment Statement

Antonio Ramirez is a professor of political science at Elgin Community College.

Thanks to the hard work of professor Antonio Ramirez and the students in his Native American History course, Elgin Community College has its first-ever Land Acknowledgment Statement, which honors the native tribes that settled the land the college sits on.

Antonio Ramirez is a professor of political science at Elgin Community College.

The class presented the document to the college’s Board of Trustees, who approved and signed it at their meeting in December 2022.

The statement is meant to be read at the beginning of the college’s important meetings, Ramirez said.

Ramirez, who created the Native American History course and taught the inaugural class last fall, said he and his students spent a lot of time researching similar land acknowledgment documents that honor indigenous peoples’ land around the country.

“We researched the land and we reached out to tribal governments that are connected to the groups that are here,” he said. “I took students to an indigenous cultural center, where one of their employees provided feedback on our document. She had helped other institutions write land acknowledgements. She told us how to best honor indigenous people who lived on our land.”

Antonio Ramirez is a professor of political science at Elgin Community College.

Ramirez said the Land Acknowledgment Statement is a living document and he expects to revisit it about every two years.

“We’ll reanalyze the college’s relationships with indigenous communities and examine if we’re doing enough to acknowledge and support those communities,” he said. “One historical fact, in the 1940s and ’50s, the Chicago area was a major resettlement destination for indigenous people from around the country. There are a lot of Native American people in this region.”

Ariana Alfaro-Campos, a Streamwood resident who took the class last fall, said she enjoyed how inclusive the Land Acknowledgment Statement project was, explaining that Ramirez allowed the students to write and edit the document.

“The Land Acknowledgment is important because it is a form of acknowledging what was done to the people and the land, and it shows we have not forgotten what [Native Americans] went through,” she said. “Ramirez allowed for students to have a voice and welcomed ideas and encouraged discussions.”

Malachy Stanger, 18, also worked on the Land Acknowledgment Statement as a student in the fall semester. He said what made the project so special to him was the class was working toward “real, tangible and positive change.”

“Rather than just doing work to get a good grade, we were doing work to improve the lives of ourselves and those around us,” Stanger said. “The day we all attended the [Board of Trustees] meeting where the acknowledgment was approved was amazing. It was very validating to hear most of the adults who were voting on it not only agree with us, but seemed to acknowledge as well that this was only ever going to be the first step.”

While an important part of the course, writing a Land Acknowledgment Statement isn’t the only thing students learned throughout the semester. Ramirez designed the course because he said it’s important to understand the history of the land that we live on.

“It’s foundational to our understanding to not only of our land, but history of the U.S.,” he said. “When you look at history of our land, indigenous people lived here much longer than European people and certainly much longer than the history of the U.S. Normally when we look at history of the U.S., we often start with July 4, 1776, or the colonies in the eastern U.S. When you acknowledge the first humans to live on the land, you look at it differently.”

Ramirez begins the course with Cahokia, which he said was a large settlement of indigenous people located in southern Illinois. He said it was the largest settlement in what is now the U.S. about 1,000 years ago.

“It was a major center of human settlement in pre-European land. It was so powerful that it influenced the entire region,” he said. “So if we look at the beginning of the U.S. from a different perspective, from Cahokia or even earlier, we have a different perspective on this land. That’s an example of taking a different perspective in history. We can enrich and deepen our understanding of the places we live.”

In addition to designing the Native American History course, Ramirez designed a course on the history of Latinos in the U.S. in 2015. He said two sections of the course are offered every semester and both fill up.

“For our students, half are Latino and that is the fastest-growing population in our student body and in the region,” he said. “But similar to Native American history class, Latinos have seen the largest population increase in the U.S. in the last several decades. They’re an important part of American culture, but they’ve been understudied and often ignored.”

Ramirez said the importance of Latino, Native American and history in general cannot be understated as history is “critical” to understanding our society.

“History is not static,” he said. “People think once history is written, it’s written. But as a historian, I know that history and our understanding of it continually is revised and enriched and it changes. If we want to get a true understanding of ourselves, we need to continue debating what history is and what it should be.”