STAFF MATTERS: Staff Council supports acknowledgment of indigenous people at Pitt


The University of Pittsburgh Staff Council is the shared governance organization representing staff at Pitt for more than 50 years. The mission of Staff Council is to represent the interests of and advocate for all staff at Pitt as well as providing opportunities for comprehensive professional development.

Staff Council says in its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Statement of Intent that the group “commits to addressing inequity and imbalance” and that it intends to “work to expand the diversity of our campus community by challenging the status quo with bold and brave brainstorming to help disrupt the power structure and systemic racism and sexism that we have allowed to flourish in the city and University that we love.” 

In keeping with that objective, Staff Council has created a resolution to recognize local and global indigenous peoples connected to Western Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh. 

Last academic year, former Staff Council President Angie Coldren and Kelly Tatone, chair of Staff Council’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee, served on the Paid Holiday Ad Hoc Committee, led by Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. To support the effort, the Staff Council equity committee wrote a resolution encouraging the University to close offices on Juneteenth (June 19) “in observance and in honor of this very important day in American History.” The University subsequently announced the recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday and soon after the addition of an extra personal day to be used by staff for various reasons, including observance of a holiday.

Staff Council promoted the adoption of Indigenous People’s Day in the Juneteenth resolution but determined the need for a separate and dedicated resolution. To create a space to acknowledge indigenous peoples, Staff Council, on behalf of its members and the Pitt staff at large, ultimately drafted and passed a resolution in July 2022 to recognize local and global indigenous peoples connected to Western Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh. 

We were proud to display a formal copy of the resolution at the recent Indigenous Cultural Festival, specifically at the Mini Pow Wow co-hosted by Pitt and Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. The festival was an inaugural effort of the Indigenous Community Engagement Initiative of Pitt’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

A formal land acknowledgement, developed by various stakeholders and Indigenous partners, is anticipated in the future. Currently, departments and offices have been creating their own, like Pitt Sustainability, the Department of Theatre Arts, and Pitt Votes.

Several visitors to the Staff Council table at the Mini Pow Wow commented that they had no idea there had been native peoples here before the waves of immigration in the 18th century. These comments reinforced the idea that our resolution directives are needed to raise awareness of the complex history of this area. Staff play a particularly critical role in fostering the consciousness of the campus community, as they often serve as supports for both faculty and students. They have a unique position to encourage the appreciation of the rich heritage of our indigenous community members.

In the resolution, Staff Council asks that Indigenous Peoples’ Day be included on the University calendar (as Constitution Day and Reading Day are currently). Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October, which this year falls on Oct. 10. This is a day to honor the cultures and histories of Native American peoples. If you are looking for something to do to acknowledge Indigenous People’s Day, consider an insider tour of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Washington County.

We hope the University will continue to collaborate with Indigenous staff, students and faculty, as well as partner with groups like the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center or the Pitt Native American Student Organization. This should lead to active consultation, commitment and understanding of the needs and desires of Native community members. It will strengthen relationships, while deepening and expanding our campus community. 

Staff Council looks to support this and any related work to offer workshops dedicated to educating the campus and surrounding communities on the identities, experiences and cultures of Native peoples. It is essential to use the University privilege and prominence to invest in, acknowledge and value the cultural capital of indigenous peoples.

Most importantly, Staff Council asks that the University provide an official space to recognize the Native people of Western Pennsylvania. The most logical place is with the Nationality Rooms. OEDI’s Native American Heritage Month webpage states:

“Long before there was a city of Pittsburgh or University of Pittsburgh, our region was populated by indigenous people. … we are acknowledging that the land our community occupies was once home to the Adena culture, the Hopewell culture, and Monongahela peoples, along with others. The history of our region documents that these communities established a presence representing the oldest recorded civilization in North America. They built thriving societies that lasted for generations, and we should pause to uplift those contributions and to commit to furthering understanding of their legacy. We must also support the current members of our Native American/indigenous community and appreciate the rich diversity they bring to our learning experiences.”

The Native inhabitants of what is now known as Western Pennsylvania were driven from these lands as European populations grew. The Nationality Rooms represent and celebrate the culture of the diverse communities of Pittsburgh. It bears recalling, honoring and commemorating the indigenous peoples who occupied the lands now called Pittsburgh and braiding those rich identities into the existing spaces, weaving them into our campus.

If you are a staff member interested in working with Staff Council to help move these and other efforts forward, please contact us at or join us for our next Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee meeting by contacting or

To learn more about what Staff Council is working on and advocating for on behalf of Pitt staff, join us for our next general meeting on Oct. 19, via Zoom. Meeting details are listed on the University Events Calendar.

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Kelly Lee Tatone is chair of the Staff Council Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She has been a staff member at Pitt for five years and currently serves as the research program manager for the UBelong Collaborative and as an academic foundations facilitator.