By George Schroeder | LTVN Managing Editor
The unofficial “Indigenous Peoples’ Advocacy Committee” is calling Baylor to take action after being unsatisfied with the lack of recognition given to Native groups in the Commission on Historic Campus Representations Report released in March.
In October 2020, Baylor’s President’s Council authorized the creation of the group to study the university’s historic connections with Native American groups. Dr. Julie Sweet, professor of history and founding member of the committee, said she hopes the university will take notice of their work and take the first steps to fully recognize Indigenous peoples.
“We need something permanent, something that’s very visible that anyone can access and is very open and acknowledging to everyone,” Sweet said.
One of the group’s main goals is for the university to craft a land acknowledgment.
“What the land acknowledgment will do is acknowledge and recognize the contributions of those original inhabitants and draw attention to them,” Sweet said. “Also, educate the public — both students, faculty and staff as well as the greater Waco area — about the fact that there was a substantial native presence here that forms the very foundation of this university.”
Baylor sits on land once inhabited by the Hueco Indians, a band of the Wichita Tribe, which is a group now located in Anadarko Oklahoma with only around 3,600 members. The committee found Baylor is the only school in the current Big 12, along with West Virginia, not to have any land acknowledgments.
“Once those connections are made, we can then use them in the future, perhaps to bring speakers to class or maybe, you know, even have some sort of major Native event like they used to have back in the 90s,” Sweet said. “So hopefully this is only the beginning of something that would be much larger and permanent.”
The committee is also aiming to promote the Trailblazer Scholarships, pay honorariums to Indigenous speakers in classes and consider reactivating the Harris-NASA Scholarship fund. Sweet said she hopes to reinvigorate the representation of Native people and groups she knows are already on campus and bring them comfortably and permanently to the table.
“We feel like they’re out there; they just don’t know where to come to,” Sweet said. “Then, once those people come to, we can move forward, have some sort of permanent group that can always give a voice to the people that were the original inhabitants here.”
The Indigenous Peoples’ Advancement Committee is not the only one pushing for future recognition. James “Derek” Ross, a local Wacoan and member of the Wichita Tribe, said he believes Baylor’s mission statement and Christian vision already justify a land acknowledgment.
“You know, there’s a Christian message in a Christian university to be Christian,” Ross said. “For Baylor to make a land acknowledgment, that would be a wonderful manifestation of the Christian heritage of the Christian university. I think that that would be a great opportunity for the school, the university, to be a peacemaker.”
Ross does not officially represent the tribe, but he said as a Wichita, it would be an honor to be recognized by the university. He said the Baylor administration should invite the Wichita leaders to campus and move forward in recognition.
“Inviting the tribe to come here, I think, would be the greatest first step in listening to the hearts of whoever these people are who were here before,” Ross said.
Ross is only in Waco temporarily. As a missionary to the Philippines for almost 20 years, he has plans to return. While he has been in town, many different entities have reached out to him regarding his heritage and further educating the Waco community — including Waco Tours, the Texas Ranger Museum and the City of Waco.
Ross said that his Christian faith comes first and that Baylor, as a Christian university, should be a leader in the community when it comes to recognizing the Native groups that used to inhabit the area. He said that Baylor should be asking one question when it comes to taking action.
“What kind of disciples are we making, would there be value in making a land acknowledgment, and what would that say about our Christianity?” Ross said. “That would be a great thing — to let our Christianity be manifested in actual action.”
The university held no events and made no acknowledgments for Columbus Day, which is recognized by many as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but the Mayborn Museum will be hosting a speaker series for Native American History Month.
With the help of the Indigenous Peoples’ Advocacy Committee, Sweet said she is hoping the series will bring attention to their cause and push Baylor to make a move.