Commentary: Land Acknowledgements at the University of Washington
In 1851 twelve adults and twelve children of the Denny Party arrived at Alki and were quickly surrounded by encampments of “over a thousand” Indians.Ten years later, a gift of land from Charles Terry, of the original Denny Party, and others allowed a new Territorial University to be established in Seattle. As of 2018, this same tract of land, dubbed The Metropolitan Tract, provides over $46,000,000 in rental income to the UW each year and the total assets within this tract are valued at $190,605,000. This total valuation has since increased significantly with the new NBBJ designed Rainier Square Tower.
What is problematic is how this land was got by Charles Terry in the first place. As the first president of the Seattle board of trustees, Terry passed an ethnic cleansing ordinance on February 7th 1865. It read as follows:
While Terry used the law and its agents to enforce the expulsion of indigenous people from their homes, he also turned a blind eye to the law when his agents used extra-judicial authority, murdering and razing the homes of Seattle indigenous communities.A year later after a campaign of violent expulsion Terry authored a petition to Arthur Denny protesting against the establishment of an Indian Reservation on the historic Black River (then, the south drainage of Lake Washington, now destroyed and non-existent). He called the proposed reservation, “unjust and unnecessary,” saying that the Indians, “wants have always been justly and kindly protected by the settlers.” Between 1855 and 1904, 94 Duwamish longhouses had been burned to the ground by whites. Charles Terry was even reported to have led the efforts to raze dxʷdəwʔabš (The Duwamish) ancient village of həʔapus (ha-ah-poos).
The establishment of the UW on land gifted from a clearly dubious benefactor should force us to reconcile with our University’s legacy, made possible through violence, expulsion, and trauma that continues to affect our indigenous communities to this day today. The people who lived on the land of the UW Metropolitan Tract were violently expelled. This land now serves to further profit the whites at Wright Runstad & Company (who UW hired to develop the property) in addition to funding UW initiatives. Almost two centuries later, Jon, Judy and their Runstad Company gave $139,350 in political contributions in 2021 to PAC's, candidates and the "Compassion Seattle" Charter amendment whose policies pushed for the further criminalization of homelessness, which disproportionately affects our native populations.Note also the criminalization of homelessness brings increasing state violence against native populations. Today, our native neighbors are 9x more likely than whites to be stopped by the Seattle Police Department. 
The land was not stolen, it was taken by violent force. Those who profit off the land continue to use their profits to harm native populations. This is not history, it is the present.
Land acknowledgements can be rife with seemingly diametric language, ending up more hurtful than inclusive. When developed in a vacuum, they can highlight some major blind spots. Acknowledgements require real work and engagement to be meaningful.
As representatives of the 1861 Washington Territorial University, and as architects, depending on our client, we can play a unique role in the continued colonization, banishment and exclusion of native people from their historical territories. We have a duty to go even further to understand our role, history and future of the University on this land.
Denny, Arthur. Pioneer Days on Puget Sound. Bagley, Seattle. 1888. Pg
University of Washington. University of Washington Metropolitan Tract: Statements of Revenues, Expenses, and Changes in Net Position Bondholders Report. 2018.
Seattle Weekly Gazette. Ordinances of the Town of Seattle. March 4, 1865.
See notes on Maurer Trial October, 23 1854. https://www.historylink.org/File/3525