High Country News: Land Grant University Investigation

The results of a momentous 2-year research project into the implications of Indigenous Land appropriation and redistribution through the Morrill Act of 1862, documented in a series of articles in High Country News that began March 30, 2020.

A lot to digest here…

Brattleboro, Native People, and the Story of Here

bowles map new england 1771

From the article by Harmony Birch in the Brattleboro Reformer, May 9, 2018:

[Alex] White Plume visited Vermont Hempicurean on Saturday to share stories about his fight with the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow hemp, and to talk about Oglala Lakota-U.S. relations… The saga with the DEA, White Plume said, relates directly to the genocide of native American peoples.

“On the East Coast here there’s no more natural Indians. They were wiped out because they have 511 years [of colonization].” Local Native Americans have had their cultures wiped out, White Plume said. “We’ve only had 200 years of contact so we’re still real,” he said of the Lakota. “Our language is real, our ceremonies are real. We’re still alive; we still remember.”

This, coming from a Lakota man, shows the extent and depth of the darkness surrounding the stories about “here”; and then, further, in the article, another perspective from mainstream society:

Common Sense director Kurt Daims…wants to raise $1 million to distribute among local Native American groups. Brattleboro Common Sense has an anonymous council working out how the organization can move forward with the project. “There are four parts,” Daims said. “Money, a committee on determining certification, an education component requiring education about the American genocides in high school, and [possibly] considering a new form of currency to be used on reservations.”

None of the components are written in stone, Daims said. When approaching people to join the council, Daims said he wanted to include diverse voices. He wasn’t aware of committee members’ ancestry before asking them to join the council, but many of the people he approached happened to be of Abenaki descent, he said. “People say [of the Abenaki] ‘we’re here but you just don’t see them,'” he said. Still, Daims said he doesn’t think all Native Americans will be in favor of reparations. Daims said he spoke to one local Abenaki leader who said he didn’t think people were ready for reparations…

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My perspective on this (I believe I may be the person to whom Kurt Daims refers) aligns with that of Native author Tommy Orange, as quoted in this recent NY Times article about his new novel, “There There.” “…Tommy Orange’s polyphonic debut novel, takes its title from Gertrude Stein’s cutting line about Oakland, Calif: “There is no there there.” …For native people, Mr. Orange writes, cities and towns themselves represent the absence of a homeland — a lost world of “buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, un-returnable covered memory. There is no there there.”

And, then, at the end of the review, the explanatory words with which I concur:

“Mr. Orange struggled for several years with the structure, puzzling over how the characters’ lives fit together, and discarded hundreds of pages and entire chapters delving into different characters’ family histories. Eventually, he settled on an unconventional form: The novel opens with a series of brief and jarring vignettes revealing the violence and genocide that indigenous people have endured, and how it has been sanitized over the centuries.

Mr. Orange said he felt like he couldn’t move the story forward without first going back. “As native writers, there’s a certain feeling that you have to set the record straight before you even begin,” he said. “It’s been told wrong, and not told, so often.”

This is why we are not ready for suggestions for reparations. It’s not that simple, it’s not appropriate. The story is not yet told, much less heard. I spoke briefly with Alex White Plume while he was here, greeting him and assuring him he was welcome in these homelands, but his remarks to the Reformer reporter demonstrate that even our fellow indigenous people do not clearly understand the situation here. It will be hard, it will take awhile. The stories are only now beginning to be told. There is much to learn. The past is with us and creates the present. We cannot know where we are going until we understand the places we have been. We are the dreams of the ancestors, and we ourselves are dreaming the next generations into being. We must acknowledge first, accept, and allow. Only then will we know the way.

 

 

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.

 

 

At SIFF: Bearing Witness to Stories of ‘Cultural Genocide’

georgina sappier-richardson dawnland movie

To watch the documentary Dawnland is to experience having your stomach clenched in a knot. Native mothers weeping about having their children taken away from them; U.S. government policies stripping Native Americans of their culture; ‘reconciliation’ staffers fully aware of their white privilege but refusing to shelf it as they do cross-cultural work.

It’s all anguishing and infuriating to take in. It also makes Dawnland a powerfully illuminating film — a history lesson that you’re ashamed to have never learned but whose truths you’ll likely never forget.

Filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip spent five years completing their feature-length documentary about the forced removal of Native American children from their families into White adoptive homes, non-Native foster care and boarding schools. The government’s racist intentions — clinically explained in historic footage included in the film — was to “civilize” Native youngsters. The legacy of such policies can be seen in the continued high rate of Native children in foster care and in the tortured memories of those who wanted to embrace their cultural identity but who were told, sometimes violently, that they must not.

Read the full article by Florangela Davila in Crosscut.

Spiraling Through History and Into the Future

guilford students eugenics project reformer kris radder

Between 1931 and 1941, thanks to an act of their Legislature, more than 200 Vermonters were sterilized — many of them Abenakis and French Canadians — for the perceived social crime of being “idiots,” “imbeciles,” “feeble-minded” or “insane.” With the hindsight of history, it’s hard for many people — especially school children — to believe an official eugenics policy was written into law in the Green Mountain State.

“It’s been really powerful hearing about this,” said Rose Stone, a student at Guilford Central School. “My dad’s part Indian, so I am learning his history.”
“As a French American … my own history could be in that,” said Cooper Cooper LaFlam.

“It’s a really important thing for us to learn,” said Emily Matthew Muller, one of Stone’s classmates. “A lot of people would just tell history as Christopher Columbus came to America and everything was fine and nothing happened. But it wasn’t that way at all”

With the help of Judy Dow, an Abenaki basketmaker, Amy Skolnick and Cory Sorensen are leading Guilford’s fourth- and fifth-graders through an exploration of the story of eugenics in Vermont.

Read the full article by Bob Audette in the Brattleboro Reformer. Photography by Kristopher Radder.

Filmmakers Explore Vermont’s Uncomfortable Eugenics History

A former U-32 student is back in Vermont to make a movie about the state’s infamous eugenics era.

Luke Becker-Lowe, fellow film students from Emerson College in Boston and a cast of 20 were at the Center for Arts and Learning on Barre Street Saturday and Sunday, filming scenes that staged the sterilization of subjects.

The film is based on the Vermont Eugenics Program that followed a 1931 law legalizing the sterilization of “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons residing in state institutions.” Vermont’s eugenics program, headed by University of Vermont Prof. Harry F. Perkins, led to the sterilization of 253 people, mostly women, between 1931 and 1957, according to UVM’s website.

Becker-Lowe said growing up on dirt roads in central Vermont gave him an appreciation of backwoods life, unique characters and the challenges they face. He is also a fan of 20th century period films that reflect social and cultural shifts over time. Their project, “Dormancy,” was a response to and a reflection of a new era of political and social intolerance in America that serves as a sobering lesson, he said.

Read the full article by Stephen Mills in the Rutland Herald.

Link to the GoFundMe site for this production.

Judy Dow on Eugenics at Holyoke College Oct. 30th

judy dow mount holyoke eugenics oct 30

On Monday, 10/30/2017, Judy Dow, Abenaki activist and educator, will be speaking at Mount Holyoke College on the topic of “Is our future really our history?  eugenics of the past and today.”  The talk is part of the Fall seminar series sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences.  pdf here JudyDowOct30MtHolyoke

Time: 4:30 p.m. (refreshments served at 4:15 p.m.)
Location: Cleveland Room L2, Mount Holyoke College
Open to the public!

The Wabanaki People Are Taking Back Their Narrative

Cultural preservation is self-preservation for Native communities. An upcoming film from the Upstanders Project, “Dawnland,” explains just that.

The documentary, now in post-production, follows the journeys of those involved in a truth and reconciliation process in Maine involving the Wabanaki people. The documentary examines the history and the implications of the removal of Native children from their homes in the US.

From boarding schools in the 1800s to foster care today, Native children have repeatedly been separated from their families. In Maine, the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 2012 to trace the abuses experienced by Native children since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978.
As early as 1975, a US Senate report found that Native children were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Today, Native children are still twice as likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Research has suggested this practice can lead to even greater isolation and erasure of indigenous culture.

The stories of Native children in foster care are peppered with horrific and unusual punishments, including not receiving food and being subject to physical harm as well as emotional and sexual abuse.

To tell these stories today, “Dawnland” has tapped advisers and consultants to help ensure the representation of the Wabanaki is accurate. Chris Newell is one of the advisers — he ensures the film is “culturally competent to the collective cultures of the Wabanaki territory.” Newell — born and raised in Motahkmikuhk, an Indian township in Maine — considers the story of Dawnland not his own, but rather the story of many of the people he grew up with.

Hear more about cultural preservation in “Dawnland,” by listening to the audio above.

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Annual Nipmuc Deer Island Memorial (Day of Remembrance)

Via Rick Pouliot at Gedakina:

She:kon/Greetings

We wanted to pass this information along for the 2017 Deer Island Memorial on behalf of the Natick Nipmuc Indian Council.  Folks interested in paddling and/or walking/running should contact Kristen Wyman: kmwyman09@gmail.com

We also wanted to mention that even if you can’t participant as a paddler, runner or walker – please come out and support this important event. In addition to a morning circle at Deer Island, there is an afternoon circle at the Falls in South Natick, followed by a community potluck social. If you can – we know that the paddlers also appreciate being welcomed after the 18 mile paddle; and runners/walkers appreciate the support as they run/walk into South Natick.

Hope to see you on the 7th.

Rick Pouliot  GEDAKINA

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Natick  Nipmuc  Indian  Council DEER  ISLAND  MEMORIAL  2017

SACRED  PADDLE  and  WALK Saturday,  October  7,  2017

All  are  invited  for  a  Day  of  Remembrance  in  honor  of  the  Native  peoples forcibly  removed  in October  1675  from  South Natick  and  the  other  “Praying  Towns”  by  the  Massachusetts  Bay Colony,  and  imprisoned  on  Deer  Island  in  Boston  Harbor during  the  resistance  known  as  King Phillip’s  War.  The  few  who  survived  returned  to  their  aboriginal  homelands to  rebuild their lives  and  tribal  nations.  We  remember  the  ancestors’  sacrifice  and  survival  through  ceremony on  Deer  Island,  a  Sacred Paddle  through  Boston  Harbor  up  the  Charles  River  and  a  walk  from Brighton  to  Natick.  The  day  ends  in  prayer  at  the  falls  in South  Natick  and  a  Potluck  Feast  and Social.

Schedule:
8:00  AM Paddlers  meet  at  Community  Rowing,  20  Nonantum  Road,  Brighton,  MA

8:30  AM Paddlers  are  shuttled  to  Deer  Island  for  9:00AM  arrival,  gear-up  &  safety instruction

9:00  AM Welcome  Circle/Discussion  (Spectators  Only)  at  Deer  Island,  190  Tafts  Avenue, Winthrop,  MA

9:30  AM Prayer  and  send-off .  Sacred  Paddle  departs  from  Deer  Island.  Sacred  walkers caravan  to  Brighton.

10:30  AM Walkers  depart  to  the  falls  in  South  Natick

1:30  PM Sacred  Paddle  arrives  at  Community  Rowing ,  20  Nonantum  Rd.  Brighton (Time  is  approximate)

3:00  PM Ceremony  at  the  falls  in  South  Natick ,  58  Eliot  St.,  Natick,  MA

4:00  PM Potluck  Feast  and  Social  at  St.  Paul’s  Episcopal  Church,  39  E  Central  St,  Natick, MA  01760

Special  thanks  to  Gedakina,  Nipmuk  Nashaounk,  and  all  our  volunteers. 

Deer Island Memorial Announcement 2017.docx (2)

Reformer: Schools to Observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Chris Mays’ story in the Brattleboro Reformer (09/20/2017) on the recent affirmation by the Brattleboro Town School Board. Link here.

Following the town’s lead, Brattleboro public elementary schools will now be recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day.

Brattleboro Town School Board Chairwoman Jill Stahl Tyler said the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Board meets on Wednesday. The change, if approved there, could come to several school districts including Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon.

“It will be an interesting discussion of the supervisory union,” said Stahl Tyler. She was speaking at the Sept. 20 meeting where a resolution had been approved by the Brattleboro Town School Board. The document states:

Whereas, at the Town of Brattleboro 2017 annual Representative Town Meeting, the Town unanimously approved a petitioned article to advise the Select Board to proclaim the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day and the Town of Brattleboro Select Board has heeded said advice by adopting a resolution to that effect on April 18, 2017, and

Whereas the Brattleboro Town School Board likewise desires to recognize the Indigenous People of Wantastegok in Sokwakik — the immediate area now known as Brattleboro, Vermont — dwelling here prior to and during the colonization begun by Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere; and

Whereas, there is ample local evidence, including petroglyphs at the West River, demonstrating this area has been inhabited for millennia, long before Europeans began to settle along the Connecticut River and its tributaries, notably at Fort Dummer in Brattleboro in 1724; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes that this area comprises in part the homelands of Indigenous Peoples including the Abenaki, their allies, and ancestors; and whereas Indigenous Peoples’ Day will provide an opportunity for our community to recognize and celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of our region, in concert with similar celebrations elsewhere; and

Whereas, the Brattleboro Town School Board encourages our public schools, associated educational institutions, businesses, and other institutions to recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and now, therefore, the Brattleboro Town School Board hereby resolves and proclaims that the second Monday in October of each year shall be Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the public elementary schools of Brattleboro.