University Land Acknowledgement Statement Inspires Student’s ‘Sacred Soil Project’

For Communication Studies major Angela Gerstner, ’24, enrolling in the course Global Communication gave her the opportunity to share the history of Indigenous people and the land they used to call home.

Taught by Associate Professor Stephanie Danes Smith, the course focuses on human rights and human dignity. Throughout the semester, students worked toward completing a cultural genocide project that involved researching a specific population that was or is subjected to cultural genocide and implementing a creative awareness event to educate peers.

Cultural genocide is defined as the attempt to wipe away a group’s culture through various means. Gerstner chose to focus on Indigenous populations after reading a book for class about boarding schools in Canada that stripped away Indigenous culture, and after reading Kent State’s land acknowledgement statement.  

“I was inspired by Kent State University’s land acknowledgment statement which came out last fall,” Gerstner said. “I chose to focus on Ohio Indigenous history, focusing on the six Indigenous tribes that are mentioned in the land acknowledgment statement.”

Getting to bring a project like this to life and give a voice to their culture was a challenging yet interesting process for Gerstner. Through research, as she sought to uncover what really happened on Kent State’s land and where the tribes are located today, she had troubles finding Indigenous sources; much of the content, she said, involved non-native sources using biased language. Smith connected her to Indigenous experts and sources.

“Finding Indigenous sources was really important because it is their story, and if you’re going trust one of two narratives, why not trust the people it actually happened to?” Gerstner said.

The conversations with experts and research from Indigenous sources ultimately inspired the educational aspects and events of Gerstner’s “Sacred Soil Project.”

“I organized a tabling event at the Kent State Rec Center to involve students and community members in making a rock garden as a memorial to commemorate the tribes whose homelands we are now on,” Gerstner said. “Participants learned more about Ohio Indigenous history and the culture and history of tribes from their own perspectives. Inspired by the Instagram account and posts I created for the project, participants painted rocks after viewing more information and imagery about the particular tribe they were interested in.”

Through this course experience, Gerstner was able to apply skills she learned in the classroom such as communication ethics and carefully formulating messages. She wanted the project messages to focus on Indigenous voices and felt this project was a learning process of uncovering her own biases.

Gerstner is proud of the individual work she was able to accomplish through this project, but she knows her research has only scratched the surface of uncovering the whole truth. She wants to encourage everyone to be open to learning more and doing more research.

“This is the type of stuff that if you’re an Indigenous person to this country, you’re doing this stuff out of necessity to be close to your ancestors or learn more about your own people,” she said. “It’s something that if you’re not a part of the Indigenous community, you’re not thinking about it.”

POSTED: Monday, May 22, 2023 05:38 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 23, 2023 04:38 PM
Marisa Santillo, '23