By Henry Fisher | November 7, 2022
Indigenous Student Association’s flier for their petition.
Photo Credit: Indigenous Student Association
The Indigenous Student Association’s petition for the University at Albany’s Commencement speech to include the Thanksgiving Address has recently gone online. The petition, which was distributed during ISA’s candlelight vigil on Sept. 30, is hoped to receive over 300 signatures.
According to the online petition, “The Thanksgiving Address is an opening acknowledgement done by nations within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. It is meant to be spoken each day and before/after meetings, ceremonies, or anything of importance. In the Mohawk language it is called the Ohenten Kariwatekwen translating to mean ‘words before all else.’”
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is also known by the name Iroquois Confederacy, which was the title given to it by the French.
The petition says that in the Thanksgiving Address, “we are giving thanks to all of creation in the natural world starting with ourselves and moving upwards from entities such as the earth, the waters, the trees, the birds, the thunders, and ultimately the creator. The world is an orderly place, and every part has been given responsibilities and instructions. Each continues to fulfill its duties as well as it can. This gratitude reminds us that humans are no more important than other living parts of the world.”
The petition states that this mindset is important while the world navigates through the impacts of climate change, and that “this initiative is extremely beneficial to Indigenous students and to all Indigenous people because it acknowledges the continual and resilient existence of the people native to this land.”
UAlbany ISA’s president, Jillian Benedict, also discussed the personal significance of this petition to her, saying “my grandfather fought for initiatives like this his whole life. He changed so many programs and people's minds about how to incorporate Haudenosaunee values in their life as it is beneficial to all humanity and I wish to do the same.”
Benedict’s grandfather, David Benedict, was notably included in the Tracking Project, which “wrote the address in Mohawk and translated to an estimated 38 different languages. The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian uses his translation,” Benedict said.
Benedict also noted that Syracuse University has included the Thanksgiving Address in their commencement for years.
Concerning the ISA’s work on campus and their petition, University Spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said, “We’re grateful for ISA’s collaboration with campus partners to highlight the contributions and experiences of Indigenous persons at UAlbany. We’re proud of their efforts because they reflect the leadership UAlbany students are known for and the continuous work necessary to maintain and grow an inclusive and socially aware community.”
Carleo-Evangelist noted the work that UAlbany had already done to acknowledge the university’s location on indigenous lands. Last August, in collaboration with ISA, UAlbany added the flags of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Seneca Nation to Convocation.
In addition, UAlbany has the institutional acknowledgement of the “University’s presence on the traditional homelands of the Mohawk Haudenosaunee and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican people.”
During Commencement, a land acknowledgement is already included, such as the one in the Commencement of 2022 read by Timothy Sergay, who said, “The University sits at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, on the traditional lands of the Kanien’keháka and Muh-he-con-neok people who stewarded this land for generations before the arrival of European colonists.”
Regarding the petition itself, Carleo-Evangelist said, “we’ll always be open to conversations with the ISA and all student organizations about how make the major events in the life of the University and our students as inclusive as possible, while also recognizing the complexity of the work that goes into planning and executing major events like Commencement.”
The petition closes saying, “We urge the UAlbany community to take part in this opportunity to change the narrative and include Indigenous voices that speak in terms of renewal and restoration.”
UAlbany’s Indigenous Student Association’s petition can be found here.