Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' (the Cayuga Nation). The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
This land acknowledgment has been reviewed and approved by the traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' leadership.
What is a Land Acknowledgment?
A land acknowledgment is a statement that respects Indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants of the lands we occupy, as well as recognizing their long history in and their enduring connections to their traditional homelands. Land acknowledgments draw attention to these ongoing ties and bring listeners’ thoughts both to histories of dispossession and violence and the resilience and continuing vitality of Indigenous communities who persist against great odds.
Land acknowledgements are locally-specific: they should be tailored to reflect where the speaker is physically located. Cornell University also has campuses in Geneva, New York, and New York City, where acknowledgements need to be different to reflect the original occupants of those particular lands.
Cornell’s continental impact
AIISP also notes that through the Morrill Act land-grant process, Cornell University is morally tied to Indigenous Nations whose traditional territories were located in what is now the U.S. states of California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. The university also possesses land throughout New York state (experimental farms, research stations and the like) and retains mineral rights in the U.S. Midwest and Southwest. Further, some of the Nations that originally lived in these areas were forced into new locations through colonialist actions, including forced migrations into what is now Canada. A full accounting of the scope of Cornell’s entanglement with Indigenous dispossession must attend to all of these lands.
If you need help determining which traditional territory you are situated in, a useful website is Native Land. For various historical reasons, including displacement, migration, group fission and fusion and genocide, determining original inhabitants is not a simple matter. The information contained in Native Lands is explicitly termed a “work in progress,” but it is a good-faith effort led by Indigenous researchers that can serve as a starting point for further investigation.
As an educational institution, Cornell University faculty and staff have a particular obligation to making the Indigenous history of our location, and the current status of local Indigenous Nations, more widely known. One way to do this is to make frequent use of the land acknowledgment.
Cornell community members are encouraged to read the acknowledgment at the beginning of gatherings and events. It is particularly pertinent to use the acknowledgment at important events, such as welcome functions, graduation ceremonies, building dedications, and public occasions, but Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' leaders stress that such statements should be used as often as possible. It is also appropriate to include a land acknowledgment in course syllabi, and such statements increasingly are being used in academic publications, including scientific reports.
Use of the land acknowledgment should be done respectfully and not become merely routine.
It is not appropriate to create alternative statements, alter the acknowledgement, or invent ceremonial rituals when reading the land acknowledgment. Always use the names Indigenous Nations call themselves, rather than the names that are commonly used in the U.S. mainstream, as many of these are outsider terms (exonyms) that often are derogatory.
For pronunciation of the names of the original inhabitants of the Ithaca area, Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' is approximately Guy-yo-KO-no and Haudenosaunee is approximately Ho-di-no-SO-ni. Please also listen to Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' language teacher Steve Henhawk’s pronunciation in this video associated with his Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' language course at Cornell.
Mr. Henhawk uses Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' several times in the first portion of the video.
For an additional perspective on the crafting and meaning of land acknowledgements, see the video by Humboldt State University Professor Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa, Yurok and Karuk). The first 26 minutes contain a general discussion, while the remainder of the presentation is specifically about the history of Indigenous peoples in California.
Cornell’s AIISP took inspiration from the land acknowledgement page on the University of California-Santa Cruz website.