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Land acknowledgement is a reminder to all that history does not begin with colonization. The territory that is known today as the United States of America had centuries of history before the arrival of colonists. The mural was painted with acrylics on a 22-by-11 feet wall in October 2019.

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, visual artist Moira Villiard collaborated with students to create two murals at the University of Minnesota Duluth. 

The murals were in conjunction with the university’s Land Acknowledgement Day which took place on Oct. 22, 2019. Both murals serve as reminders that UMD is built on “traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of indigenous people."

“In a lot of spaces and academic spaces it’s hard for I think Native students to find...recognition of home...or recognition of...people acknowledge that my ancestors were here and our history is still alive and I’m here,” Villiard told The Bark.

“The Treaty of 1854 is what allows for the University of Minnesota - Duluth to exist on the land that it rests on.” 



The first mural titled “Migration”, located on the wall outside of the university’s Multicultural Center, depicts the Anishinaabe’s migration history from Turtle Island to what is now known as northern Minnesota.

The mural included Anishinaabe motifs such as the megis shell, a symbol of creation and homeland; the oral traditions explain the creator blew water, earth, fire, and wind into a megis shell and created the Anishinaabe. According to the Seven Fires Prophecy, “the Anishinaabe would know they found their home when the shell appeared above a place where food grew on water” or wild rice.

Students of the University of Minnesota Duluth painted the Anishinaabe medicine wheel colors onto the walls, depicting the concept of space that is reflected in the Anishinaabe's migration.

“Nbwaakawin” / Wisdom

Another mural was painted on the sidewalk outside of the Kirby Bus Hub, the main entrance into the university. The mural “Nbwaakaawin,” meaning “wisdom” in Anishinaabe, presents a vibrant turtle swimming in water with water lilies and a school of fish leading towards the doorway.

Villiard was inspired by the quest for knowledge. More than 50 students participated in the painting over the course of four hours. Villiard’s piece acknowledges the university was built on indigenous land—" the land on which this quest takes place.” 

The University of Minnesota Duluth was the first of the U of M schools to acknowledge the indigenous land it occupies. October 2019, concrete paint, temporary, middle circle is approximately 12 feet by 12 feet.


Time and Space


In Anishinaabe culture, the lake sturgeon is considered to be the spiritual guardian of fisheries. It had historically played a part in the Anishinaabe's economy after settling on the land known today as northern Minnesota.

Both murals utilized different concepts to represent time and homeland with the help of different natural elements and animals, traditionally used by the Anishinaabe to depict time. For example, the turtle in “Nbwaakaawin” has 13 large sections and 28 smaller sections on its shell. Villiard designed it to represent the Anishinaabe calendar which includes 13 moons with 28 days in each. The incorporation of time and space represents the prominent history of the Anishinaabe in Duluth but also the presence of the Anishinaabe in the city today.

Land acknowledgement is not just about the Anishinaabe and its relationship with the land, but also the relationship the U.S. has with it in the context of the 1854 Treaty.

The Anishinaabe (Chippewa) ceded its territory to the U.S upon entering the treaty. This treaty protects the indigenous nations’ rights such as hunting and fishing in the northeastern part of Minnesota without the state regulations. It is a misconception that the U.S. gave permissions to the Anishinaabe.

“It's important to remember that treaties do not give tribes rights, but rather, they afford rights and permissions granted by tribes to settlers and non-natives in order for them to live in what is now the United States,” Villiard wrote in her artist statement. “The Treaty of 1854 is what allows for the University of Minnesota - Duluth to exist on the land that it rests on.”  

UMD Land Acknowledgement Murals, 2019

"Migration" featured on UMD Office of Diversity & Inclusion Facebook

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Project Contributors

Sponsored by Forecast Public Arts and Zeitgeist Community

Volunteers who participated in the painting

Page by Suenary Philavanh

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