History commission talks about recognition of university lands

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Members of the University Commission on History, Race, and the Way Forward discussed UNC’s Land Recognition Project during their meeting on Monday.

The University issued a proclamation in October acknowledging that the campus was built on the lands of the Occaneechi, Shakori, Eno, and Sissipahaw peoples, but no official acknowledgment has yet been received.

The University proclamation also recognized the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

The commission spoke about the Barbee Cemetery and the Unsung Founders Memorial and provided updates on the symposium of universities studying slavery.

What’s new?

  • According to co-chair Jim Leloudis, the commission continues to work with various stakeholders on the Land Acknowledgment Project, which recognizes the land and sovereignty of Native American and Indigenous students, staff and members of the university community.
    • Leloudis said he and co-chair Patricia Parker attended a meeting hosted by Carolina Indian Circle Vice President Zianne Richardson last week.
    • “The main takeaways from this meeting were (that) we heard a strong emphasis on the points raised in the previous conversation with the (First Nations graduate circle),” he said, “and c was to remind us of the importance, in this part of our work and in the document we produce, of acknowledging that history is one that involves not only the past, but the present.”
    • Leloudis also said the students expressed the importance of the University taking responsibility for teaching local and UNC history as it relates to land recognition.
  • Parker said there is a call from students for a physical land recognition marker on campus.
    • “Maybe part of that other work is having a place to go and reflect on the history of the land and the meanings that we’re trying to dig out in terms of the meaning of that history and the layout of the land. “, Parker said.
    • Committee members discussed having the physical marker near the old pit or near the quad, but the decision would not be made until a new director of the American Indian Center was appointed.
    • Currently, Parker said the commission is focused on community conversations and drafting land recognition language. The project will be shared with the center’s new director and the director of the NC Indian Affairs Commission, she said.
    • “Recognition of the land, the way I have used it and the way I understand it as I have thought about it in my own work, is really a starting point – a recognition of historical injustice to be able to moving forward, rather than just some sort of commemoration,” said Dr Giselle Corbie, Emeritus Professor of Social Medicine at Kenan.
  • Leloudis provided an update on the ground-penetrating radar investigation at Barbee Cemetery. The cemetery project honors approximately 100 slave burial sites. Leloudis said Lorie Clark, a descendant of Barbee, and her family recently had the opportunity to see a presentation of the latest discoveries in technology.
    • “If you look at the archaeological investigation that was done, it ranked the probable burial sites on the property in degrees of certainty,” Leloudis said. “And if you back out the sites that the archaeologists were least sure of, you end up with almost exactly the same number of sites identified by the ground-penetrating radar survey.”
    • According to Parker, a presentation of the report will be discussed next Friday with the descendants of the families and representatives of the University.
  • Parker said commission members will meet with the Director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, Angela Thorpe, to further discuss the Unsung Founders Memorial and frame community conversations.
    • Parker hopes the conversation with Thorpe will focus on building an African American heritage site and engaging the community and other designers in the design process.
  • Parker also provided an update on the Universities Studying Slavery Spring 2022 symposium hosted by Guilford College and Wake Forest University from March 30-April 1.
    • The Universities Studying Slavery Consortium is dedicated to researching, acknowledging, and atoning for institutional links to slavery, the slave trade, and ongoing racism in school history and practice, according to their website.
    • According to Parker, UNC will host the spring conference in 2023.

How did the commission start?

  • The University Commission on History, Race, and the Way Forward was founded in 2019 to engage and provide education on university history with race. The commission proposes recommendations to the Chancellor on the calculation and recognition of the past.

Who is on the commission?

  • The commission is made up of 14 faculty and community members and three student commission members.

And after?

  • The next committee meeting will be held on May 23 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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