Recognizing Indigenous Land: The Story behind the Poly Students’ Push for a Land Acknowledgement

For the past two years, members of the Upper School Student Community Engagement Council (US-SCEC) have encouraged Poly to adopt a land acknowledgment that recognizes Indigenous peoples as the original caretakers of the land upon which Poly's campus is built. By working with members of the Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, the US-SCEC spearheaded writing a land acknowledgment at Poly. A land acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of this land. While a land acknowledgment is certainly not a solution to Indigenous oppression, it is a necessary first step toward honoring the original occupants of any place.

"Land Acknowledgements are important for all Indigenous Peoples because it not only acknowledges the land that Creator placed on them, but it also changes the narrative of the derogatory language used towards Native people in the past," said organizer Kimberly Morales Johnson, tribal secretary of the Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.

"Land Acknowledgements are important to continue the conversation of Native people still being alive, thriving and living on their traditional homelands. They are a first step in correcting some of the wrong and harm done to Indigenous Peoples and will lead to possible Land Back initiatives that will rematriate Indigenous Peoples with the land Creator placed them on."

Poly’s campus is situated on Gabrielino-Tongva land. In fact, it was formerly the site of an Indigenous village. In view of this reality, the US-SCEC decided to take further action to support Indigenous communities. In November 2020, the US-SCEC contacted Ms. Morales Johnson for assistance in recognizing the land's original caretakers. After connecting with her and learning how Poly can best take care of the stolen land on which we reside, the US-SCEC then organized an assembly in which Ms. Morales Johnson discussed how Poly students can support local Indigenous communities. The presentation spoke to Poly’s community: the US-SCEC polled 200 Poly students and 90% of respondents believed follow-up action on a land acknowledgment was necessary. The US-SCEC continued to work with Ms. Morales Johnson and other experts to draft a land acknowledgment. The acknowledgment was first adopted at the assembly with Ms. Morales Johnson and is now read before division and school-wide assemblies. This land acknowledgment brings us one step closer to true DEI implementation at Poly.

The Land Acknowledgment is as follows: We are on Tongva land. We recognize the Tongva people's resistance against displacement, erasure, and oppression by European colonial settlers. Members of the Tongva tribe are still here, those who never left and those who have returned, and we recognize them as the past, present, and future stewards of this land. As guests on these lands, we owe our commitment to caring for the environment we now share and upholding the Indigenous legacy.

The US-SCEC hopes to encourage other schools and organizations to support the Indigenous communities around them, to acknowledge those who were here before and those who still remain. The US-SCEC thanks Ms. Morales Johnson, Rachel Will, and Renée Larios for supporting them throughout this process.