OPHS honors local Indigenous people

OPHS student works with Chumash tribal leader

Associated Student Body President Anna Stephens has been working alongside English teacher David Kinberg, Chumash tribal leader Alan Salazar and Coordinator for Special Safety and Equity Holly Baxter to honor local Indigenous people of Oak Park by way of a land acknowledgment plaque.

A land acknowledgement plaque is simply a plaque that is engraved with a land acknowledgement statement. It is one of the many ways to memorialize the history of the land we are on, and remind people to celebrate and support Indigenous people. 

Stephens had a long and detailed conversation with Salazar about what he wanted the land acknowledgement plaque to mention. Salazar suggested the inclusion of the injustice of the Mission period and bounty system. He also wanted it to mention that Native Americans have served voluntarily in every branch of the military and in every major American conflict at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. Lastly, he wanted them to acknowledge that Indigenous people are still working to regain their land and revitalize their culture.

“Once Mr. Salazar and everyone else I’m working with decided on a final draft, the words will be turned into a plaque and hopefully be displayed at every school campus and office building in [Oak Park Unified School District],” Stephens said.

The construction of the land acknowledgement plaque is still in progress, but Oak Park High School supports honoring the Indigenous peoples’ ownership over the land, according to Baxter. The monument is meant to educate the students more about the land, its history and local Indigenous people. 

“We are hoping that a land acknowledgement monument will encourage our students to consider and learn more about the Indigenous experience, their history, and their heritage,” Baxter said. “The land acknowledgement will be further considered by our Board of Education and has not been decided upon as of yet. These types of acknowledgements are a small step towards recognizing the Indigenous people on whose land we reside.”

According to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, the U.S. established legislation in the 1880s that has resulted in Indigenous people losing ownership and control of two-thirds of their reservation lands. The loss amounted to 90 million acres (about the size of Montana).

“I’ve been passionate about social justice since studying the civil rights movement in seventh grade. Indigenous rights are a huge part of intersectional activism and coincide with much of the other work that I do, especially when it comes to environmental justice,” Stephens said.

Baxter is working with Stephens to initiate the idea of this land acknowledgement. “It is very important to acknowledge the history of our community, our state and our country. The Indigenous people of our nation are owed a great debt for their sacrifices,” Baxter said. The Diversity and Equity Task Force was very impressed by the presentation of Anna Stephens and unanimously recommended that the Board of Education consider the addition of these monuments to our school sites.”