On many American college campuses, the most potent administrators are connected to the three words “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI). According to a study done by The Heritage Foundation, “The promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on college campuses has become a central concern of higher education.”
Not only are the DEI administrators powerful, but they are also numerous. The University of Michigan has 163 full-time people dedicated to this work. U of M’s historic rival, Ohio State, boasts 94. Stanford has 80, and Syracuse has 65. The average of the colleges that Heritage surveyed was 45.1. The fortunate faculty members at Baylor need only deal with seven.
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The primary task of the DEI departments is inculcating guilt. One big tool is “Stolen Land Covenants,” also known as “Land Acknowledgements” and “Stolen Land Protocols.”
“Stolen Land Covenants”
These declarations compel university officials to admit that their colleges occupy land “stolen” from Native Americans (Indians). Many universities require (or strongly advise) instructors to include this language in their syllabi and at the beginning of each class or public event.
As an example, this is the statement drafted by this author’s Alma Mater, the University of Michigan—Flint:
We would like to acknowledge that the land we are meeting on today is the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary homeland of many indigenous nations, most recently the Anishinabek (including Potawatomi, Chippewa/Ojibwe, and Odawa) tribal nations. We acknowledge the painful history of genocide, forced relocation, and removal of many from this territory, and we honor and respect the many indigenous people, including those of the Three Fires Alliance, who are still connected to this land on which we gather.
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Typical of most colleges, Stanford University fits the statement into a kind of secular liturgy. “This acknowledgment may be written or may be spoken at the beginning of an event or program. If spoken, the order should be: (1) Welcome and words about the event, (2) Land Acknowledgment, (3) Move into regularly scheduled program.
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This practice is not limited to universities. Other cultural organizations have embraced it.
UM-F’s statement is a mere blurb compared to the verbiage from the Art Institute of Chicago. Its statement begins, “The Art Institute of Chicago is located on the traditional unceded homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations. Many other tribes such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, and Fox also called this area home.” It then mentions the contributions of these groups to Chicago’s history. It concludes with a kind of promise. “We embrace our commitment to Indigenous rights, racial justice, and cultural equity not only through this statement but also in our collecting and care of Native American objects, our exhibitions and programs, and our relationships with Indigenous communities.”
Another example of such covenants was the pre-preamble in the 2020 Democratic Party Platform during its national convention in Milwaukee. It reads in part: “The Democratic National Committee wishes to acknowledge that we gather together to state our values on lands that have been stewarded through many centuries by the ancestors and descendants of Tribal Nations who have been here since time immemorial. We honor the communities native to this continent, and recognize that our country was built on Indigenous homelands.”
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Such statements are general enough to fit any situation. No one is required to provide evidence of Indian settlements on specific properties. It is enough that tribes roamed in the general area to trigger such declarations. Tribal conflicts that put boundaries in constant flux also need not be remembered.
As with many other aspects of the leftist-inspired deluge of guilt, participation is usually not optional. No one is allowed to dispute the claims. Thus, many conservatives are opposing the declarations as possible violations of the First Amendment. They argue that government has no right to compel people to speak against their convictions. Institutions cannot force professors and others to espouse a particular political worldview different from their own.
The protests are having their effects as many push back or ignore the requirements. They claimed that the declarations are unquestionably political statements. They impose an interpretation of the past and its implications for the present. Most declarations provide no context to evaluate their contents.
Nor is any context desired. In an article for Law and Liberty, George La Noue describes a professor’s experience at the University of Washington. In his statement, he mentioned John Locke’s theory of property. The school’s director found Locke “offensive” and “inappropriate.” The warning further opined that the theory “dehumanizes and demeans Indigenous people and is contrary to the longstanding relationship and respect that the UW has with… federally recognized tribes within the state of Washington.”
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As if to add a flourish to the sorry episode, the director concluded that UW “is committed to providing an inclusive and equitable learning environment.” Just make sure not to include eighteenth-century English economists.
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Interestingly, neither Michigan, Stanford nor the Art Institute of Chicago offers to return the land to its previous inhabitants. As with other leftist initiatives, this one scoops out guilt and shame without any hope of absolution.
Thus, these statements serve to undermine the legitimacy of the present system and affirm the moral superiority of those who challenge it. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Melissa Korn sees it as an exercise of “virtue signaling.” With little sacrifice, leftists can engage in a verbal flagellation of the foundations of American society without actually doing anything.
In the Daily Kos, Jason Hill of DePaul University sees a broader trend. He detects a movement to discredit Western culture “with its emancipatory moral narratives and an evolving political philosophy that discovered, recognized and protected the inalienable rights of man.” Without the protections of the rule of law, society would revert to barbarian times.
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Ms. Korn’s and Dr. Hill’s analysis point to more profound reasons behind the declarations. They need to be seen in a broader context of historical processes.
Part of a Larger Pattern
Brazilian scholar Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira wrote about the modern processes that work to discredit Western culture and civilization through the use of revolutionary leftist movements that pursue their goals with brutal efficiency. He noted that this kind of movement “violates authentic rights and penetrates all spheres of society to destroy them. It carries out this destruction by sundering family life, harming the genuine elites, subverting the social hierarchy, fomenting utopian ideas and disorderly ambitions in the multitudes, extinguishing the real life of the social groups, and subjecting everything to the State.”
Leftists create disorder and uncertainty by popularizing revolutionary ideas like stolen land covenants. All these efforts feed upon each other. Thus, Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira writes that “These disordered tendencies develop like itches and vices; the more they are satisfied, the more intense they become. The tendencies produce moral crises, erroneous doctrines, and then revolutions.”
Postmodernism, Critical Race Theory and extreme egalitarianism provide the philosophical infrastructure for practical measures like the Stolen Land Covenants. If unchallenged, these efforts will fester, spreading infection into the bloodstream of the culture and giving rise to more radical forms of protest.
The only cure is to expose these modernist frauds based on the emotional veneer of “social justice.” Like the now-discredited Critical Race Theory, Stolen Land Covenants need to be questioned and put to the test, which will fail when confronted by the truth.
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