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We're Still Here, Fighting to be Seen

Oct. 2022

By Emma Tsosie 

 

Every Dartmouth student, graduate, and employee should leave the college knowing the Indigenous history and contemporary reality behind our college. Every single person who spends time at Dartmouth should know who Samson Occom was. Who the Mohegan people are. Every person who has the privilege of being on Dartmouth’s campus must know exactly who the Abenaki people are, what their legacy and history is, and that they are not artifacts of a history class, but living people with unimaginable strength. Dartmouth College, as an institution, must do a better job teaching about the Indigenous history and life that surrounds us. Nothing will heal the centuries of damage caused to Indigenous people by past and ongoing colonization, but we have to start somewhere, don’t we?

***

I feel invisible as I navigate my way through what at times feels like the antithesis of Indigeneity, Dartmouth’s campus. I tightly grip onto any brief flash of my home culture that I can find. The only lifelines pulling me through the thick sea of Dartmouth’s colonialism are those that wade through it next to me: other Indigenous students who feel the same frigidity of quiet institutional exclusion.

The one and only time I have personally felt visible to the institution of Dartmouth was last year on Indigenous People’s Day eve, when the security presence was suffocating. As Indigenous students, faculty, and community members gathered in the annual prayer circle held at midnight in the middle of the Green, I saw more “Safety and Security” vehicles than I did when a white fraternity brother stole and violated campus property. As we wrote messages in chalk around the campus, not only was security watching and surrounding us at all times, but I even had the pleasure of a college employee threatening to call law enforcement. They carefully surveilled us to make sure our colorful chalk protest remained only on the cement and stone that gets walked on, not the stone and cement that we can see. Are your stone walls too sacred for our Indigenous words, Dartmouth?

***

You’re bound to hear about someone taking  a “woccom,” a walk around Occom Pond. Sometimes a woccom is a meeting with your advisor or a professor, sometimes it’s a moment you take for yourself, or a morning jog. And often it’s for less college-approved activities. 

I question, though, just how many people who’ve made their way around Occom Pond know or ever wonder where this shimmering gem in the middle of the trees got its name. Do the people strolling around in the trees know that Samson Occom is a crucial part of why each and every one of us are here in the first place. 

If you google the origin of Dartmouth college, the first thing you read will likely be about how Eleazar Wheelock founded the college specifically “‘for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land’” (“History and Traditions”). 

What you’ll have to scroll and dig to find, though, is that Samson Occom of the Mohegan tribe was crucial in the founding of Dartmouth. As the Dartmouth admissions website states, “Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock's first students, was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to found the College” (“History and Traditions”). To say that Occom was just “instrumental” was an understatement. A scholar and a Presbyterian minister, Occom traveled to Great Britain in 1766 to raise money for Wheelock (“It Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Samson Occom”). In this time, he raised over £12,000 for Wheelock’s future college, which would today be equivalent to over £2,300,000 (2,600,000 USD) (“It Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Samson Occom”). 

Occom was betrayed, however, when Wheelock “veered from the original mission” and elected not to use the college to educate Indigenous youth of the area, including from Occom’s tribe (“It Wouldn’t Have Happened Without Samson Occom”). In spite of the money that Occom raised for Dartmouth, he never even stepped foot on the campus.

***

When you first stepped foot onto the Dartmouth College Campus, did you wonder who before you has walked the ground that you trek across?

Have you ever imagined walking the same path as someone who hasn’t been alive for decades or centuries? 

Perhaps across the green, or towards the gym? 

What might you picture? 

Do you picture a sharply dressed man, walking with intention? 

Someone wealthy? Someone white? 

Someone who carries themself with the confidence of having a family history of other wealthy men attending Dartmouth? 

Do you picture Wheelock himself, perusing the grounds of his school? 

Or

Do you imagine the ancestors of the people who continue to steward the land to this day? Maybe even your own ancestors?

Do you picture the loving ways that Indigenous people interacted with the land that is buried beneath Dartmouth’s legacy of lies?

Can you imagine the ways that the land loved and was loved by tribes like the Abenaki?

Or

Do you imagine those who were not allowed? The Indigenous children who were falsely promised a place of education, just for them? The enslaved men, women, and children whose descendants wouldn’t be allowed to attend the college they built for another century? The Wabenaki tribes who had their land and lives ripped away?

Have you wondered about the Indigenos tribes of today? Considered where and who they are? What they look like and how they live? 

When you picture Dartmouth in your mind, do you imagine Indigeneity, in any form? Do you think about the Indigenous students walking around campus, being tokenized by the college at best and abused at worst?

***

We are not invisible. We are not in the past, not trapped in a history textbook, not a quiet background feature for the promotion of alleged diversity. We are not a tool for anyone or anything to use. 

Indigeneity still has a presence on campus, and a legacy of strength. With that legacy, Indigenous people for centuries have carried the weight of the college’s debt to Native tribes whose land and lives were stolen and continue to be profited off of.

Where is the acknowledgement? Nothing could ever come close to repairing the centuries of pain caused by colonization. Nothing. 

But the bare minimum is not even met. There is no permanent land acknowledgement. No reminder to all who have a relationship with Dartmouth that we each benefit from stolen land and old betrayals of trust. Even the annual orientation land acknowledgement is made not by a white college administrator such as the president of the college who benefits more than anyone from the stolen land we reside on, but instead it is delegated to an Indigenous professor. Attempts made by students to spread awareness are treated by campus security and policy like a small wildfire. 

And because of this refusal of accountability, we suffer. 

 

The Dartmouth Radical