Justin Smith Morrill and the Land Grant College Act

ustin Smith Morrill Mathew Brady

Justin Smith Morrill is often called the father of America’s land grant college and university system, which at first blush can seem a little odd. As a U.S. representative from Vermont, Morrill didn’t come up with the idea or actually write the Land Grant College Act. But like some of his congressional colleagues, Morrill got credit for the achievement. In fact, the act establishing the system was named the Morrill Act.

His bill called for the federal government to grant land to each of the states to establish public colleges that would teach courses in fields like agriculture and engineering as an alternative to the classical curriculum offered by the existing church-affiliated schools. The bill gave states the option of either building the school on the land or selling the land and using the proceeds to finance a new school elsewhere.

Read the full article by Mark Bushnell at VTDigger.org.

Brief commentary:

The Land Grant University system (with 76 institutions) was created by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890,  and – somewhat ironically – expanded with 29 (now 32) tribal educational institutions in 1994. The University of Vermont (known as UVM, founded in 1791) became the state’s sole land grant school in 1865, when the university merged with Vermont Agricultural College (itself chartered in November 22, 1864, after the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act), emerging as the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College.

Originally, “each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres (120 km2) of federal land, either within or contiguous to its boundaries, for each member of congress the state had as of the census of 1860. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding the educational institutions described above.” As revised, “If the federal land within a state was insufficient to meet that state’s land grant, the state was issued “scrip” which authorized the state to select federal lands in other states to fund its institution. For example, New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University.” (Wikipedia)

Vermont, having no qualifying Federal land within its own borders, and with five members in Congress at the time (2 senators and 3 representatives, one of whom was Morrill himself), was granted nearly 150,000 acres elsewhere in scrip, to use according to the purposes of the Morrill Act of 1862. This gets tricky when one stops to consider where this self-styled Federal Land was originating: it was mostly confiscated “Indian Land” – acquired through removal, war, subterfuge, intrusion, and broken treaties. In other words, another chapter in a long story of cultural genocide in the name of Manifest Destiny. Most remote land grants of this immediate period were located in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a result of, among others, the Dakota and Black Hawk Wars. President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Morrill Act of 1862, served in the Black Hawk War and presided over the Dakota Wars. Vermont’s allotments were probably among these taken lands. Exactly where, and whose lands they rightfully were, is a matter for further research in the National Archives. The 149,920 acres were sold for $122,626 and the proceeds used to fund the newly combined “University of Vermont and the State Agricultural College.” It seems likely this was blood money.

More to come.

 

 

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Abenaki Nation Partners With City of Burlington

abenaki vermont cultural gifts

In early May, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office announced a new partnership with the Vermont Abenaki Alliance. The collaboration grew out of controversial discussions over the “Everyone Loves a Parade!” mural on Church Street, which not everyone loves.

(If you haven’t been keeping up: Calling the artwork racist, Albert Petrarca vandalized the mural’s identification plaque in October 2017. Since then, community members and City Council representatives have been debating whether to replace or alter the mural to depict a more accurate history of Burlington.)

The focus of the City and Abenaki Alliance collaboration will be public events and education about native people and history. The release notes a July 7 event on Church Street and, in the future, a permanent exhibition at the Burlington International Airport.

Read the full article by Sadie Williams in Seven Days.

City of Burlington and Abenaki Alliance to Promote Abenaki Awareness

A press release, just issued:

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Don Stevens from the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk – Abenaki Nation today announced that the City of Burlington and Vermont Abenaki Alliance (made up of the four Abenaki Tribes recognized by the State of Vermont) have agreed to explore several projects to promote awareness of Abenaki history and culture. This announcement is the result of conversations between the City and Chief Stevens that arose during the discussion of the Church Street “Everyone Loves a Parade” mural. In lieu of participating in the Mural Task Force to determine the future of the mural, Chief Stevens and the Abenaki Alliance have chosen to pursue other projects, which will include an annual summer event on Church Street and may include a display of cultural artifacts at the Burlington International Airport, among other potential projects. These projects will build on Burlington’s previous work with Abenaki communities to create the Chief Grey Lock statue in Battery Park and the City Council’s acknowledgment and support of recognition of the Abenaki Nation in September of 1995.

“Abenaki Tribes have a long history within the State of Vermont and with the City of Burlington,” said Chief Don Stevens. “As leaders within our Abenaki communities, the Chiefs have decided not to participate in the ‘Everyone Loves a Parade’ Mural Task Force, but to find other positive avenues to promote our culture within the City. We look forward to collaborating with the City on projects that will increase local and international awareness of Abenaki history and culture. Finally, if the mural is to be changed or altered, we do feel that the Native person depicted on the mural should accurately and historically represent Abenaki people from this region.”

“I appreciated Chief Don Stevens’ input as we have been working through the community challenges related to the ‘Everyone Loves a Parade’ mural,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “The City welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with the Abenaki Alliance to find ways of properly recognizing the role of the Abenaki in the history and future of this region.”

Please note that this communication and any response to it will be maintained as a public record and may be subject to disclosure under the Vermont Public Records Act.

Link here to posting at VT Business Magazine.

City Councilors Consider Action for Downtown Mural

burlington-mural-ctsy-michelle-maria-wikimedia-commons

“I’m Chief Stevens. I’m the Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe. I want to make it clear.  We are a sovereign nation. We are not victims. We would like to promote education and cultural opportunities which I think Burlington has a unique position to be able to afford that including the mural.  It’s problematic just from the fact that it doesn’t represent Abenaki people. But I want to find ways to work with you guys in promoting our culture in a positive manner.”

Read the latest discussion of the Church Street mural in Burlington, Vermont from WAMC and Northeast Public Radio, with Pat Bradley.

Local Radio Show Broadcasts Native Perspectives

deb reger moccasin tracks seven days

When Deb Reger began her weekly radio show, “Moccasin Tracks,” on WRUV 90.1 FM last Tuesday at noon, she reminded her listeners where she was. “We recognize this area where we broadcast from as N’Dakinna, the ancestral homeland of the Abenaki nation,” she said from the radio station’s studio in the University of Vermont’s Davis Center in Burlington.

As the song “Grandmother” by Navajo artist Radmilla Cody played in the background, Reger told listeners that her guest for the week was Grandmother Nancy Andry, an elder who lives in Connecticut and is of Algonquin and Metis heritage. It took a couple of tries before Reger got through on the phone to her guest. So the seasoned radio host adjusted her playlist to include longer songs. She wasn’t too frazzled, though. “It happens,” she explained.

Reger started “Moccasin Tracks” in 2009 because she wanted to produce a show that featured the voices and music of native peoples. “You just didn’t hear [from them] that much,” Reger said.

Reger, who doesn’t claim any native ancestry, stresses she doesn’t seek to speak for the native peoples. Her goal is to let them represent themselves and tell their stories.  “I hold this space, this broadcast time, for the people who are underserved,” the radio host said.

Read the full article by Kymelya Sari in Seven Days.

Bringing Together Two Sides of Vermont

don stevens drum flynn center vaaa

A preview of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming in FlynnSpace on November 14 at 7:30 pm. By KieraHufford, contributor to @flynncenter Tumblr.

The Abenaki people, like many Native Americans, have been living in America since before European settlers arrived. However, the tribes only received state recognition five years ago, in 2012. The Flynn welcomes the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), giving them a space to share parts of their culture with the public—a performance that would have felt entirely different had it taken place in 2010.

When Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki spoke with Vermont Public Radio (VPR) back in 2016, he talked about the importance of state recognition. “Before we had state recognition, whenever we made something—a pipe, a wampum bracelet, whatever—and we sold it, we had to say that we were of ‘Abenaki descent.’ We couldn’t say that we were Abenaki from such-and-such a tribe. That’s a federal law. You could get hit with a $250,000 fine per item.”

It made it difficult for Abenaki people to share their heritage. They couldn’t label their creations as being made by members of the Abenaki tribes, even though that’s who they are. And even now, they have to carry a native card proving that they’re members of the tribes; however, who they are, their culture, and where they come from is in their blood. It’s their identity, and a card shouldn’t be needed to prove that.

One of the biggest problems, according to the Abenaki, is that the Vermont Agency of Education doesn’t have a mandated curriculum surround the Abenaki people and their culture, so many students go through school and never really learn about their history or existence. The Abenaki are hoping to change that in the coming years.

“If we were going to sum up the state of where things are with the Abenaki right now, I would say change,” Eugene Rich, co-chair of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, told VPR. “I think we’re trying to change our public persona.”

According to their website, the VAAA “embodies the history, culture, and art of the Abenaki people. While most of our artists and performers preserve and pass on the traditional art of our ancestors, others create contemporary artistic expressions that are informed by tradition.” Their mission is to promote Vermont’s Indigenous arts/artists while providing a place to share ideas and develop professionally as entrepreneurs.

The VAAA wants the Vermont public to be able to find and engage artists like Chief Don Stevens, of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki; Nulhegan Abenaki Drum, who combine traditional Northeastern music with the sound of the big powwow drumming; and Bryan Blanchette, who began singing at powwows 20 years ago and is currently writing/performing new Abenaki language songs, who will be performing at the Flynn.

The Abenaki have a place of belonging in Vermont, a place that should be recognized and unquestioned by the state’s residents. Not every Native American appears the same, but that doesn’t mean they have to prove their culture. The best way to combat this thinking is by learning, by understanding the Abenaki culture and how it, too, has adapted as the years have gone by.