Mount Holyoke Native Land Acknowledgement Policy Challenged By Free Speech Organization

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The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is challenging a land acknowledgment policy implemented by a liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts.

The organization sent a letter to Mount Holyoke College interim president Beverly Daniel Tatum calling on the school to drop or amend its land acknowledgment, arguing that the school’s current policy is compelled speech. A land acknowledgment is “a statement that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from the homelands and territories upon which an institution was built and currently occupies and operates in,” according to Shoreline Community College.

Mount Holyoke implemented this land acknowledgment policy at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. It dictates that school leaders must recite a verbal land acknowledgment as part of “any opening remarks delivered at a Mount Holyoke College-sponsored event.”

Here is the verbal land acknowledgment, in full, according to the school’s web site:


Mount Holyoke College begins each event in the life of the College by acknowledging that those of us in Western Massachusetts are occupying the ancestral land of the Nonotuck people.

We also acknowledge the neighboring Indigenous nations: the Nipmuc and the Wampanoag to the East, the Mohegan and Pequot to the South, the Mohican to the West and the Abenaki to the North. We encourage every member of our community to learn about the original inhabitants of the land where they reside. The impact of settler colonization contributed to the displacement, removal and attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples.

This land acknowledgement seeks to verbalize Mount Holyoke’s commitment to engage in shared responsibility as part of our collective humanity. We urge everyone to participate in action steps identified by Indigenous community based organizations.


Amanda Nordstrom, program officer for campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, made the compelled-speech argument in the letter to Tatum, arguing that the Mount Holyoke College’s land acknowledgment policy shows a lack of interest in free speech on campus.

“MHC’s Land Acknowledgment policy requires students and faculty to convey from a first-person perspective personal pledges endorsing a university-prescribed ideology,” Nordstrom wrote. “The Land Acknowledgment’s wording compels students and professors to personally endorse a statement they might not personally believe. While many may agree with the language therein, compelling students or faculty — even those sympathetic to the statement’s sentiment — to repeat and endorse its specific ideological assertions violates MHC’s commitment to uphold free speech rights.”

Nordstrom added that with the same logic the school could compel people to do or say other things, like salute the American flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or denounce communism. 

“To further illustrate our concern by analogy, we trust MHC would readily recognize the problem with requiring students and faculty to salute the U.S. flag, or compelling faculty to publish the Pledge of Allegiance in their syllabi,” she wrote in the letter. “Likewise, MHC would surely think twice before forcing faculty to make statements promoting concepts like ‘patriotism’ or denouncing ideologies such as communism. Yet, MHC’s Land Acknowledgment — which includes phrases like ‘those of us in Western Massachusetts are occupying the ancestral land of the Nonotuck people’ — expresses an inherently ideological viewpoint about the land occupied by MHC. Requiring students or faculty to become personal couriers of MHC’s views, even where doing so violates dictates of their own consciences, is unacceptable at an institution promising free expression.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s web site says that the organization does not have a position on land acknowledgments. It adds:  “we do have a problem when colleges force people to say things they don’t actually believe. That appears to be what’s happening at Mount Holyoke.”

Mount Holyoke’s web site does not say what the penalties are for failing to comply with the land acknowledgment policy.

“Concerns about compliance with this policy should be referred to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” the school’s site says. “Appropriate resources and training may be provided to best support policy compliance.”

Mount Holyoke’s land acknowledgment pledge began a few months after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020. 

Mount Holyoke released an “anti-racism action plan” on August 27, 2020 — just before the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

One aspect of the anti-racism action plan is creating a land acknowledgment.

Here is what the plan says about the land acknowledgment:


The College will acknowledge its past history with Indigenous communities in Western Massachusetts, with a statement on land acknowledgement posted to the College’s website. In fall 2020, and in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the College intends to conclude its longstanding efforts to repatriate the remains of an Indigenous ancestor to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, returning to the earth a tribal member who was for so long rendered culturally unaffiliated by the original collection process and a lack of proper documentation. A public recognition and redress will take place soon after the burial.


Then, on September 8, 2021, at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the College Cabinet approved the proposal from the school’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to require the land acknowledgment be spoken at every school-sponsored event, according to the school’s web site

Mount Holyoke is a private women-only liberal arts school in South Hadley, Massachusetts that serves about 2,200 students.

A spokesman for Mount Holyoke could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday this week; nor could a spokesman for FIRE.


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