Purpose and Definitions



A Land Acknowledgment is not something you “just do.” Rather, it is a reflection process in which you build mindfulness and intention walking into a gathering. It should be rooted in whose land you are honored to stand on and should guide how you move forward in both conversations and actions.

Acknowledging the land is an important first step in an ongoing process to learn, build relationships with American Indian nations and peoples, and acting "by being accountable towards Native people, communities, and nations by supporting what they say, aligning oneself with the struggle, and speaking up when something problematic is said or done.”


The Campus Climate Leadership Team invites students, alumni, staff, faculty, administrators, and guests to read this acknowledgment at events, include it on syllabi, include it in presentations, and use it in other contexts in which they feel appropriate. UMD powerpoint templates and a complete list of possible boilerplate statements can be found at d.umn.edu/brand.

Land Acknowledgement Definitions

Federally Recognized Tribes

Indian tribes recognized by the federal government as self-governing entities with whom the United States maintains a government-to-government political relationship. This relationship may be established by treaty or agreement, congressional legislation, executive order action, judicial ruling, or the secretary of the interior’s decision. Recognized tribes are eligible for special services and benefits designated solely for such tribes (e.g., Bureau of Indian Affairs programs, Indian Health Services), but they also benefit by and are subject to the federal government’s trust doctrine and plenary power. 

Land Grant Institution

 "The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence." — President Abraham Lincoln upon signing the Morrill Act, July 2, 1862

Learn more about how the University of Minnesota became a land grant institution and about UMD history.


A Western concept, both complex and contested, central to modern political thought. Its importance is bound up with specifying the essential character of the territorial state. Implicit in the discussions about the term since Bodin, Machiavelli, and Hobbes is the conviction that the state is the ultimate arbiter of its own fate in relation to the outside world. Each state is “sovereign” in international society, a law unto itself. However, absolute sovereignty no longer exists for any modern state because of international interdependence and the interpenetration of domestic and international politics, the mobility and globalization of capital and information, and the rising influence of transnational social movements and organizations. Sovereignty in more modern times more accurately connotes legal competence: the power of a culturally and territorially distinct group of people to develop institutional arrangements that both protect and limit personal freedoms by social control.   


A formal agreement, compact, or contract between two or more sovereign nations that creates legal rights and duties for the contracting parties. A treaty is not only a law but also a contract between two or more nations and must, if possible, be construed so as to give full force and effect to all its parts. Treaties can be bilateral (involving two nations) or multilateral and cna deal with single or multiple issues. Indian treaties are of the same dignity as international treaties, but because of the unique political relationship that unfolded between tribes and the United States, the federal courts have created several so-called canons of construction to protect Indian rights. These serve to distinguish Indian treaties from those that the United States negotiates with foreign nations in three ways:

  1. A cardinal rule in the interpretation of Indian treaties is that the ambiguities in treaty language are to be resolved in favor of the Indians;
  2. Since the wording of treaties was designed to be understood by the Indians, who often could not read and were not skilled in technical language often used in treaties, doubtful clauses are to be resolved in a nontechnical way, as the Indians would have understood the language; and
  3. Treaties are to be liberally construed to favor Indians.

These three legal doctrines have been enforced inconsistently by the courts, the Congress, and the executive branch; for example, the courts have also ruled repeatedly that Congress in exercising its plenary power may unilaterally abrogate Indian treaty provisions without Tribal consent.