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LKSD votes to adopt Indigenous land acknowledgement

The Lower Kuskokwim School District was awarded a $34 million grant to build a new school building in Eek.
Courtesy of LKSD

For Clarence Daniel, the Lower Kuskokwim School District board president, adopting a land acknowledgment is a small way to honor the history and culture of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“I think the main thing is respect and acknowledgement,” Daniel said. “To respect the Indigenous people, and who and where our land and culture comes from.”

The board started discussing the possibility of adopting a land acknowledgment after the LKSD administration raised the question in late May. A number of other school districts in the state, including Anchorage and Sitka, had recently adopted land acknowledgments of their own. Although LKSD’s student body is primarily Alaskan Native, the district has never had an acknowledgement.

Daniel, who is Yup'ik, offered to take a first stab at drafting the statement. He said that it was important for the language to be as inclusive as possible.

There isn't just one tribe in our region, our school district covers a large area and there are 25 or 26 tribes,” Daniel said. “But the the main Yup'ik culture, Cup'ik culture, and Athabascan culture is really what we're focusing on.”

The statement that Daniel developed is "the Lower Kuskokwim School District operates 28 schools in 23 villages, and we recognize the diverse tribal structure throughout our school district. Therefore, LKSD acknowledges the traditional and ancestral lands of our Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan people on which we learn, live, subsist, raise our families, and work."

The board voted 7-2 on July 21 to adopt that language.

One of the dissenting votes, Hugh Dyment, said that he didn’t believe LKSD was obligated to start using a land acknowledgment just because other institutions were doing so. He doesn’t believe this will actively benefit the children enrolled in the district.

“You know, it's not that I disagree with it, but I don't think it I don't think it would help our kids in a meaningful way, personally,” Dyment said. “I don't think a land acknowledgement, read before a commencement or a board meeting, changes anything for any of our students.”

The board will meet in the coming weeks to discuss when the acknowledgment will be read and used. But board president Daniel indicated that it would likely be limited to a few occasions throughout the year.

“This isn't something that we’re going to put on everybody's email, or everybody's signature, or post up in buildings,” Daniel said.

For Dyment, even if he doesn’t ultimately see the acknowledgement as helping LKSD students, he doesn’t think it will do harm either.

“I think there's something good and just about being respectful to people,” Dyment said. “When I'm in Toksook Bay, I am cognizant that my wife and her loved ones have lived there since time immemorial, and that means something to them. Because it's important to them, it's important to me.”

Will McCarthy is a temporary news reporter at KYUK. Previously, he worked as a furniture mover, producer, and freelance journalist. Will's written for the New York Times, National Geographic, and Texas Monthly. He holds a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.