Verbum Ultimum: Indigenous Exclusion — Once Again
Dartmouth must recognize its problematic treatment of Indigenous peoples and honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an institution.
This past Monday marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. Twenty states plus the District of Columbia and countless cities across the country officially recognized the holiday this year in an effort to acknowledge the historical mistreatment of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian people throughout the history of the United States. In the places that celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the holiday replaces or coincides with Columbus Day, which was first designated a national holiday in 1934 but ultimately ignores over 500 years of Indigenous hardship and suffering at the hands of European colonizers.
Yet, all Dartmouth did to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the institutional level was publish an article on its website. Otherwise, no emails were sent, no College-run programs were held and no classes were canceled across the College. Given the College’s own unique and harmful history with the Indigenous community, Dartmouth continually makes this horrible and embarrassing mistake year after year.
Dartmouth was founded in 1769 with the intent to Christianize Indigenous children on the land of the Abenaki. Indeed, the £12,000 used to found the College was raised by Samson Occom — a member of the Mohegan tribe and student of Eleazar Wheelock — who traveled through Great Britain fundraising for members of his tribe, located in present-day Connecticut. The College failed to meet its early mission, with only 19 Indigenous students graduating from Dartmouth in its first 200 years.
As an institution, the College has been making an effort to right these shortcomings. In 1972, then College President John Kemeny led the formation of one of “the first Native American programs in the country.” Today, Dartmouth proudly advertises its “200 Indigenous students—representing more than 70 different tribal nations & communities” and “over 1,200 Native graduates among its alumni” on its admissions website. Additionally, Dartmouth hosted the Indigenous Fly-In this past weekend and launched the Tribal Services and Solutions Project to connect current students with the goal of “improv[ing] sovereignty, healthcare and economic development on tribal lands,” according to a recent article in The Dartmouth.
Yet, Dartmouth — an institution situated on Abenaki land — let the day to honor Indigenous communities come and go with little notice. This Editorial Board calls upon Dartmouth to make space for the community to honor all Indigenous peoples, including those whose histories are deeply intertwined with the College.
This call to action takes two strands. First, the College must recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day with time away from classes. This is not unprecedented: Three of Dartmouth’s Ivy League peers — Brown University, Cornell University and Harvard University — all take time off in honor of the holiday. Other liberal arts colleges in New England like Bowdoin College, Wellesley College and Williams College all do not host classes on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Second, in place of classes, Dartmouth must offer programming to recognize the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Since the College already puts together a slate of lectures and film screenings on racial justice in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day every January, this is not a tall order. All-day programming is an exhaustive logistical task, but it would not be a challenge to fill out a full playbill of events. After all, Dartmouth does have a Native American and Indigenous studies department, thousands of Indigenous alumni and access to a global connection of speakers and presenters. This programming would also complement that put together by Native Americans at Dartmouth, which held a demonstration on the Green and a film screening on Monday.
Of course, Indigenous Peoples’ Day alone does not do enough to repair the damage of 500 years of colonial history, nor can the day fully honor the contributions of Indigenous people to Dartmouth. But ignoring the day doesn’t help either. The breakneck speed of the Dartmouth term makes a day off class difficult to schedule, but we do it with Independence Day in the summer, MLK Day in the winter and Memorial Day in the spring. Sure, many students will not engage in extracurricular programming surrounding Indigenous Peoples’ Day; some may well use the three-day weekend as an opportunity to study harder or party longer. Still, students will not be able to gloss over a day off that disrupts the normal flow of classes.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is important to recognize the history of the College and the country. Yet, by ignoring the day, we ignore this history. Given our troubling past on the land the College is situated upon and the communities that were here before us, Dartmouth must begin recognizing the value Indigenous Peoples’ Day provides. It is hypocritical not to make space for students, faculty and staff to fully commemorate the occasion and acknowledge our intertwined and complex history.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.