As national conversation takes place about the role of Indigenous peoples as mascots — especially as the Washington Redskins have announced a name change — FSU is reckoning once more with the relationship, association, and mascotry of the Florida Seminole Tribe. As these conversations continue all over campus, one popular demand has been for an official land acknowledgement. As such, the student Senate passed a bill to enact an SGA indigenous land acknowledgement on July 15th.
The land acknowledgement would establish the statement as the official position of the student body, post the acknowledgement on the Student Government website, and the acknowledgement would be read at several prominent SGA occasions such as fall and spring inaugurations.
The full land acknowledgement reads as follows:
The Student Government of Florida State University acknowledges that it is located on land that is the ancestral and traditional territory of the Apalachee Nation, the Muscogee Creek Nation, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. We pay respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to their descendants and to all Indigenous people. We recognize this land remains scarred by the histories and ongoing legacies of settler colonial violence, dispossession, and removal. In spite of all this, and with tremendous resilience, these Indigenous Nations have remained deeply connected to this territory, to their families, to their communities, and to their cultural ways of life. We recognize the ongoing relationships of care that these Indigenous Nations maintain with this land and extend our gratitude as we live and work as humble and respectful guests upon their territory. We encourage all to learn about and educate others on the contemporary work of the Indigenous Nations whose land we are on and to endeavor to support Indigenous sovereignty in all the ways that we can.
The bill passed almost unanimously in the senate, with only two abstentions, Senator James Bateman and Senator Corey Adamyk, and one no from Senator Mark Porter. For our readers, all senate voting records can be found here.
The legislation passed with just about as close to a complete consensus as one can get in government, but one student leader vetoed with a resounding no — student body president, Jonathan Levin.
The veto statement was issued to the Senate President and then the rest of the student body Senate. The veto came on July 29th and is not published on the official SGA website yet, but a source allowed Spire to view the statement.
Levin justifies this veto vote by claiming he views the required readings of the land acknowledgements to be unconstitutional compelled speech, citing an example from the U.S. Supreme Court Case West Virginia State Bd. of Education vs. Barnette. Levin quoted the following from Supreme Court Justice Jackson, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
The essential justification for the vote is that the reading of the land acknowledgement would be forcing people to make a statement of opinion. He followed the quotation with, “Compelling the reading of this statement would, in my opinion, lead us to be in violation of one of our most sacred constitutional rights.”
Students have taken to social media to express frustration with the veto, particularly in that the letter is signed “In Seminole Pride,” a statement that reads hypocritical in a veto of a land acknowledgement. Decolonize FSU issued a public statement on Instagram expressing frustration with the vote as well.
Students who feel strongly about the issue of land acknowledgement at Florida State should be sure to keep up with FSU’s SGA on platforms such as Twitter to find easy access to upcoming meetings and opportunities for public comment.