This land has a story. Calvin should acknowledge it.

Nov. 1 is an important day because it marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month. Two hundred years ago, the land Calvin sits on was entirely Native land. For centuries, this place has been home to the people of the Council of Three Fires, the Odawa, the Ojibwe and the Potawatomi. This is an acknowledgement of an ongoing relationship between a people and this place. Land acknowledgments, when done well, are public proclamations of truth on the part of an institution. Calvin does not have one, and should consider one.

But for Christians, acknowledging a historical and ongoing relationship to the land is not enough. Any acknowledgment of the land must be accompanied by an acknowledgment of the ongoing oppression of Native people, and by action. To put this in the language of our faith: when we are confronted with the truth of sin, we confess it, we repent from it and we do whatever we can to make reparations.

The land Calvin sits on was taken from the local Native peoples on Aug. 29, 1821, in the Treaty of Chicago. The white settler colonialists who signed that document saw the Indigenous peoples who had lived, worked, worshiped and buried their ancestors on this land since before the time of Christ as inferior to them. They thought their white culture, their Christian religion, their Doctrine of Discovery, their self-evident white supremacy, made it their manifest destiny to take the land for their profit. They saw this place as something to be possessed.  

Across the nation, white settler colonists and the militias and governments they instituted brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of Native people. Genocide was called “war,” and the premeditated seizure of Native lands was legal because there were signed “treaties.” In Michigan, treaties were often signed under the barrel of the gun, aided by barrels of government whisky.     

Calvin must publicly acknowledge the history of the land our institution is built on. The university must acknowledge how we came to possess this land, an inheritance born out of genocide and white supremacy, woven together and blessed with twisted theology.

We live with this legacy every day. The majority of white culture still refuses to acknowledge the terror, trauma and destruction their ancestors inflicted on the Native people of this place. There was no Native American Heritage Month until 1990. A half-hearted apology for the treatment of Native people was buried inside a 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, but it was never announced, or even read publicly. Mark Charles, a CRC member who works with and presents at Calvin frequently, was the first to read the apology publicly in 2012.

We do not wrestle with the role that we played — the role that the Christian Reformed Church played — in the systematic oppression of Native Americans and other people of color.”

As a student, I (Isaac) have found that Calvin does little to acknowledge or engage with local Native communities. We do not wrestle with the role that we played — the role that the Christian Reformed Church played — in the systematic oppression of Native Americans and other people of color. As an involved member of the Calvin community, I would have never known about this event if I didn’t attend an UnLearn event, which was attended by a couple dozen people. As the Treaty bicentennial passed us by in August, Calvin continued on without any response. This is unconscionable.

We must do better. We need to acknowledge publicly the ways we have participated in and benefited from settler colonialism. We need to come alongside and support efforts towards Native sovereignty. The local Grand River Band of Ottawa has been seeking federal recognition with little success for 27 years. What would it look like to come alongside their efforts?

Calvin could create a committee made up of Native elders and other community leaders to explore what it might look like to repent and work towards other forms of reparations. At the root of all of this, we must reform the culture here at Calvin. Calvin has a number of Native alumni, but to the best of our current knowledge, has never enrolled a student from a Council of Three Fires nation. Why is that? We have to realize how our white identity and the culture of white supremacy impacts our community, including the very land we learn on.