Higher Education

Jonathan Small | January 15, 2024

Will universities give the land back?

Jonathan Small

In the performance-over-substance world of the political left, “land acknowledgments” have become a ritual at many public meetings. Those acknowledgments, which note the land on which an event takes place was once controlled by various Native American tribes, are a farce. Otherwise, those spouting the acknowledgment would do more than talk.

But they don’t—including at many Oklahoma locations.

The University of Oklahoma website is littered with “land acknowledgment” statements that declare OU property “was the traditional home of the ‘Hasinais’ Caddo Nation and ‘Kirikirʔi:s’ Wichita & Affiliated Tribes,” and was also traveled by the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Osage nations.

The statement ends by saying that OU officials “fully recognize, support, and advocate for the sovereign rights of all of Oklahoma’s 39 tribal nations.”

The Oklahoma City University School of Law has a similar land statement that “honors” the Apache, Caddo, Tonkawa, and Wichita, as well as those with “a historic relationship to this region, including the Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, and Quapaw,” and then tacks on the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole for good measure.

At East Central University, officials “honor and extend our respect to the Kitikiti’sh (Wichita), Hasinai (Caddo), Na i sha and Ndee (Apache), Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche) and Cáuigù (Kiowa) peoples and their eventual successors, the Chikashsha (Chickasaw Nation) ...”

At the University of Central Oklahoma, officials declare the university “recognizes that we gather on land entrusted to the care and protection of the Caddo and Wichita peoples,” and note Oklahoma is home to 39 tribes including the Kiowa, Comanche, Osage, Apache and Fort Sill Apache Nations.

Yet despite all these (often lengthy) declarations of implied past wrongdoing and pledges to honor tribal citizens, not one of these institutions has given campus property back to any tribe.

Shocking, I know.

I’m not alone in noticing this.

Adam Kissel and Jay P. Greene of The Heritage Foundation recently opined, tongue in cheek, that “public declarations that a parcel of land is the rightful property of someone else should be considered legally binding offers,” because it is “important that we improve public dialogue by imposing consequences for empty and thoughtless rhetoric.”

Officials with the Native Governance Center have a similar viewpoint—but they’re not joking.

“Land acknowledgment alone is not enough,” the Native Governance Center states. “Commit to returning land.”

In reality, there is no serious argument for “giving back” university land to various tribes (who themselves rarely hesitated to seize control of land from other tribes prior to white seizure). These statements are for show, a desperate cry for applause from activists who embrace racial grievances over addressing real-world problems.

Even so, the statements are an embarrassment to all serious people. Thus, if Oklahoma colleges want to be taken seriously, they should end this farce—or back their words with action.

[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit]

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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