• Shayna Cohen

The Student Government Association Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Act of 2020

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Author: Shayna Cohen

Disclaimer: The Torchlight Center is not a foreign policy, human rights, history, or rhetoric think tank. In this article, we are explaining the publicly available information regarding a piece of legislation within the Student Senate for the purposes of informing the student body. None of the points or information discussed here by Torchlight are an endorsement, agreement, or promotion.

What is the Student Government Association(SGA) Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Act?

The SGA Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Act of 2020 (Bill 93), was submitted for consideration by the Student Senate by Summer Senator John Alvarez. It was passed on July 15th by the Student Senate, but then vetoed by the Student Body President.

The purpose of the Act is to acknowledge that Florida State University is located on the ancestral territory of multiple Indigenous Nations, call attention to the history surrounding the land, refer to the current inhabitants as “humble and respectful guests”, encourage others to learn about Indigenous Nations, and “endeavor to support Indigenous sovereignty in all the ways that we can.” It establishes that the full land acknowledgement statement be placed on the SGA website and read at a list of major events as official Student Government policy. It also outlines that an abbreviated land acknowledgement statement shall be read at every other public Student Government affiliated meeting. Beyond this, the bill will have no other direct impact on Student Government. The full text of the bill can be read below.

How were the Land Acknowledgements in Bill 93 written?

According to Senator Alvarez (0:44:22), the land acknowledgement statements were written with input from members of the Art History Program and a Florida State Professor who has worked with Indigenous Tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada. When asked in a committee meeting if he had communicated with any of the Indigenous Tribes regarding the language of the bill, Senator Alvarez responded that he had instead contacted the FSU administration who provided him an article.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Council and the FSU Administration have a long standing relationship. Senator Alvarez explained that he wrote Bill 93 to have the Student Government Association to expand on what is traditionally sanctioned by the Tribal Council through that relationship. He also noted how at Florida State, our conversation typically does not go beyond the Seminole Tribe into other Indigenous Peoples. Senator Alvarez stated that his intent is to encourage others to be more aware of the Indigenous Peoples that he reports have claims to the land Florida State University sits on. He emphasized his belief that this was a first step in Student Government acknowledging the struggles of Indigenous People and educating others.

How did the bill move through the Student Senate?

After the bill was submitted to the student senate, the Senate President delegated it to three committees for further discussion: SLAA (Student Life and Academic Affairs), Judiciary, and Rules and Calendar.

At the Student Senate meeting on July 15, 2020, the Senate President moved into hearing Bill 93. After a brief period of pro/con discussion, in which concerns of the bill only being surface level ally ship were brought up, the bill passed with a vote of 37-1-3. The full recording of the senate meeting is available on the SGA website.

Why was the bill vetoed?

The Student Body President(SBP), Jonathan Levin, chose to veto Bill 93, and included a letter explaining his decision.

He cited concerns over the content of the bill not being reviewed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida through communications with the FSU Administration. President Levin also outlined concerns over the application of the statute, due to a lack of clarity over which member of each organization would be responsible for reading the land acknowledgement acts. Additionally, he believes that requiring the land acknowledgement act to be read verbatim crossed into the boundaries of compelled speech, based on his interpretation of the court decision, West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette.

President Levin concluded his veto by recommending the Student Senate communicate with the FSU Administration and Seminole Tribe of Florida to hopefully present a revised version of the legislation. The full text of the veto is included below.

What would the implementation of the bill be?

If the bill is adopted as is, via a two-thirds vote of the senate to overturn President Levin’s veto, the bill would take effect on October 12, 2020. The land acknowledgement statement, or the abbreviated version, would be required to be read at all Student Senate meetings. Additionally, the statement would also be required to be read at many other general body meetings, organization events, and executive board meetings. This includes, but is not limited to: PRIDE Student Union, Black Student Union, Asian American Student Union, Office of the Mental Health Council, Campus Recreation Board, Class Councils, and the Inter-Residence Hall Council.

What is Florida State’s relationship to the Seminole Tribe of Florida?

FSU has a webpage dedicated to information on the relationship between it and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In 2005, the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Council released a public resolution solidifying their support for FSU’s use of Seminole imagery. In a recent letter from President Thrasher, he stated one of his goals for the Anti-Racism Task Force is the: “Creation of an educational outreach program about FSU’s history and relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”

On July 15, 2020, the Executive Branch released a letter on the SGA Instagram page, addressing a number of student concerns. In a section addressing the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the SGA Executive Branch expresses its support for a mutually beneficial relationship between the Executive Branch, the FSU Administration, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida Council.

What can the student body do to be engaged on this topic?

To engage in Student Government, the Student Body can email their representatives using the publicly available information found throughout the SGA website, or presented on the Torchlight SGA Contact Page. Additionally, students can speak during public comment at Student Government meetings. The next Student Senate meeting is on September 2, 2020 at 7:30pm via Zoom, and the next Executive Branch Town Hall is on August 31st at 7pm. Meetings for the Anti-Racism Task Force are also open to public comment and registration information for them can be found online.

Bill 93
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VETO for Bill 93
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