Peace Tree to be relocated for cultural sensitivity

Oct. 7, 2013

April Wefler
[email protected]

In an effort to improve relations with local Native American tribes, the university planted a Peace Tree in 1988.

While no one currently employed by the university knows details surrounding the death of the original tree, it was necessary to dedicate a new Peace Tree in the early 2000s.

With funding from the Green Action Fund (GAF), another Peace Tree will be planted Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. on the slope between the Science and Engineering Building and University Center.

“When I got here 10 years ago, the Tree of Peace in front of Centennial was the Tree of Peace,” said Keith Woodring, groundskeeper supervisor.

The Tree of Peace, a honey locust, is outside the Centennial building and located next to a bus stop.

According to Michèle Companion, an associate professor of sociology who researches and teaches about Native American culture, the tree was culturally inappropriate.

“Mr. Eugene Red Hawk, a Mohawk elder and the spiritual caretaker for the tree, was deeply distressed by the location,” Companion wrote in an email.

“In the time since the last rededication, the amount of noise and exhaust from the buses and shuttles had increased tremendously,” she added.

The tree will stay where it is but won’t be the official Peace Tree. “It also makes the location a less than ideal place for contemplation and conflict resolution,” she added.

According to Companion, the Iroquois Confederacy originally established the Peace Tree as a white pine tree. When a sixth nation joined the five-nation confederacy, the tree was expanded to include any fir.

Companion explained the tree was temporary and the process in planting a new one has taken a while.

“Eugene Red Hawk called me and said that he’s been concerned about the spiritual health of the tree and was asking where we were in the process of getting a culturally appropriate tree … so I started the process,” she said.

GAF approved $400 to fund the project, and Woodring will buy the tree.

“I think it’s great to have a tree on campus, despite whatever group comes up with it and wants to plant the tree,” said Tyrone Thibou, chair of the GAF. “I think a tree is a tree and it’s a way of making our campus more sustainable.”

Thibou also said funding the project shows cultural sensitivity. “It shows respect to the people we took land from,” he said.

Of the seven present voting members, five voted in favor of the project, one against and another “potential.”

Thibou, who used the potential option – which is not expressly negative but raises concerns about the project – wanted more details on who would be paying for signage for the new tree. The GAF committee will discuss funding a sign, which will carry their name, at their next meeting Oct. 9.

GAF approves projects based on reduction of ecological footprint, increased student involvement, education and outreach, long-term feasibility and scope of impact on campus, meaning that the project integrates sustainable projects with their quantifiable impact.

“We have our standards for how we spend money … this project met those standards,” Thibou said. “It was green, it was sustainable and the majority of students wanted it. This would be something that students would see.”

Those that voted for the project appreciated its long-term feasibility (it will be maintained through the school and not GAF) and its ability to promote education.

While he agreed with the project’s strengths, Thibou personally felt that the project lacked a clear increase in student involvement. “While it shows sustainable practices, it doesn’t affect as many students as some of our other projects.”

“The Tree of Peace provides a place for students to contemplate their own issues and resolve internal conflicts. It also serves as a place to resolve conflicts with others,” Companion wrote.

The rededication ceremony will be hosted by the Native American Student Association, of which Companion is the faculty advisor.

The ceremony, led by Red Hawk, will start with placing sacred objects in the hole the tree will be planted in to bless the tree and create a sacred space.

“As part of the dedication, all people in attendance will be invited to decorate the tree with ribbons in the colors of the four sacred directions,” said Companion.

“This creates a blessing for the tree and enhances the bond between the communities, the tree and the land.”