New floor stickers in many campus buildings celebrate the Indigenous people who once lived on the land where UIC stands and continue to live in Chicago today.
The initiative, spearheaded by the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, is influenced by the way that COVID-19 has changed how we look at a space, said Dean Rebecca Rugg.
“Over the past 18 months, we’ve grown accustomed to looking at stickers and arrows on the floor for guidance,” Rugg said. “This project uses the pandemic and contemporary social justice movements as opportunities to help UIC understand its place within this land’s history. It reminds us to be mindful of our ongoing participation in that history, while celebrating Chicago’s Indigenous communities and inspiring students, faculty, and staff to support and learn more about them.”
“[The initiative] was really focused on the ways that we locate ourselves in space right now and redirecting that attention to acknowledge who occupied those spaces and places first,” added Cheryl Towler Weese, associate professor of design, director of graduate studies in graphic design and associate dean for academic programs in CADA.
“They might give people the sense that even a large state university is a place for everyone, where many voices can co-exist and make themselves heard.”
The land acknowledgement stickers say: “You are on the traditional territories of the three fire peoples — the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodéwadmi.” They were designed by CADA graduate student Josh Cook, who used a typeface that’s based on civil rights placards and posters used during Martin Luther King Jr.’s marches, Towler Weese said.
Angela Walden, director for inclusion initiatives in the Office of Diversity, supported CADA’s process of creating the floor stickers.
“An important part of the process was to try to reach out to the native community here in Chicago,” Walden said. “Learning what the tribes and communities prefer in terms of what we call them demonstrates a level of care and respect.”
The land acknowledgement initiative helps raise awareness that Indigenous people lived in Chicago and continue to live here, Walden said.
“It’s been well documented that native people are pretty invisible in mainstream society in important ways. One of those rays of invisibility is perpetuated by the misconception that native people are of the past, and that, of course, is not true,” Walden said. “Seventy percent live outside of tribal land, and in lots of ways, they are not represented as contributing members of society who live in places like cities. Chicago has a relatively large urban native community.”
Land acknowledgement should be considered one step among many — including changes in policy and climate that promote the recruitment and retention of Native students, faculty and staff — that an institution should take to support the inclusion of Native people in all aspects of campus life, Walden said.
“A land acknowledgement is really about engaging deeply and confronting the areas where you lack understanding, and it goes beyond something in a statement — it translates into policy and increases equity. The first step is to think about why you want to do the land acknowledgement and how this statement reflects changes in policy that are in motion,” Walden said. “We need to keep the conversation going.”
CADA offered to create the stickers for other colleges and units that wanted to purchase them; the stickers can now be found in buildings across campus and at the law school. Stickers in CADA buildings share the link for a website that shares information on the project; stickers in other campus buildings link to the University of Illinois System’s Land Acknowledgement statement.
“There was a really broad interest in doing this,” Towler Weese said.