In 1865, Cornell acquired 6,716 parcels comprising 977,909 acres.
March 30, 2020 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system. A stunning and thorough accounting by journalists Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone. "Over the past two years, High Country News has located more than 99% of all Morrill Act acres, identified their original Indigenous inhabitants and caretakers, and researched the principal raised from their sale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We reconstructed approximately 10.7 million acres taken from nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities through over 160 violence-backed land cessions, a legal term for the giving up of territory."
posted by spamandkimchi (15 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:40 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]

Their students sit in halls named after the act’s sponsor, Vermont Rep. Justin Morrill

I used to work next door to this one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:10 PM on March 30

Class of 06, attended lectures in Morrill Hall, and I had no idea. Agree with GenjiandProust.
posted by Alterscape at 4:24 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


Wow wow wow.

This is such important research, so meticulously done. And so clearly explained.

This is appalling, heartbreaking, infuriating. It is also hugely inspiring as an outstanding example of careful research, and of researchers Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone making it clear and accessible.

I wish this weren't true, but of course the outrageous sins of this country's history touch everything, even things that we tried to turn to good.

I am so angry to know this (and if I had given it any thought, how could I have imagined it had happened any other way?), but hopeful my anger can be put to good use.

Thank you so much for sharing this terrible, carefully told story, spamandkimchi.
posted by kristi at 4:50 PM on March 30 [9 favorites]

I mean... maybe this is a byproduct growing up in Oklahoma... but this is basically, at least from my perspective, the story of literally every institution in America. I feel like I've developed some mental browser extension that every-time I see "unsettled lands" in US history it automatically gets translated to "land we recently stole for Native Americans," so I'm maybe surprised that people are surprised by this aspect of the land grand scheme.

This is still neat reporting. They do an amazing job of showing how proximate everything was. And of any US institution, also, Universities are probably the most likely to meaningfully acknowledge and spread the story. I wouldn't expect Union Pacific to event comment on a story about land seizure.
posted by midmarch snowman at 5:14 PM on March 30 [18 favorites]

What many of these statements miss is that land-grant universities were built not just on Indigenous land, but with Indigenous land. It’s a common misconception, for instance, that the Morrill Act grants were used only for campuses. In fact, the grants were as big or bigger than major cities, and were often located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their beneficiaries.

Wow. This article could be taught in journalism school as an example of top-grade research and fine writing. Anyway, I will share with students in the Indigenous Land Stewardship program at my school. Not in the States but I've no doubt Canada's story is just as alarming.
posted by ecourbanist at 5:18 PM on March 30 [10 favorites]

Wow indeed. I also took classes in a Morrill Hall and had no idea.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 PM on March 30

Thank you, spamandkimchi! The rhythm of the closing paragraphs, the team's acknowledgments, and the contributor info (particularly Margaret Pearce is a cartographer and enrolled Citizen Band Potawatomi. She grew up on Seneca territory at Ga'shgöhsagöh (Rochester, NY) and now grateful to be a guest on Penobscot territory at Catawamkeag (Rockland, ME). Her first cartography class was in Morrill Hall at the University of Massachusetts) was oddly satisfying. Also fascinating to me, as linked in the article: How we investigated the land-grant university system.
This unique database was created through extensive research into primary source materials, including land patent records, congressional documents, historical bulletins, archival and print resources at the National Archives, state repositories, and special collections at universities, digitized historical maps and more. Information for the database was extracted programmatically where possible, primarily from the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office database, but in some cases it was transcribed manually from print records, microfilm and microfiche reproductions, or poor-quality digital images.
The database is available here; "We encourage exploration of the database and invite feedback if you see omissions, errors or miscalculations. Since no other database of this kind exists — location and financial analysis linked to approximately 80,000 individual land parcels distributed through a Civil War-era law — we are committed to making it publicly available and as robust as possible. This database can be downloaded as CSV and shapefiles. The database is licensed under the Open Database License and the contents under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license." &

"To reconstruct the redistribution of Indigenous lands and the comparative implications of their conversion to endowment capital for land-grant universities, we followed procedures that can be usefully categorized in seven steps: We identified the university beneficiaries; Determined the size of the state grants; Identified the grant parcels; Mapped the grant parcels; Compared the parcel locations to Indigenous land cessions; Determined and distributed payments for Indigenous title; and Determined and distributed principal raised for endowments."
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:39 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

Wow, I knew about LGUs, but I didn’t realize that the land they were granted was often in a totally different part of the country. I mean, University of South Carolina owning pieces of Washington state? How does that make sense?

I can picture now the response of these schools, bastions of liberalism, to this article: they’ll erect a statue to the Native Americans whose land was stolen, or put up a plaque, or possibly even rename Morrill Hall... but they’re keeping that blood money.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:45 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]

I agree with the 'great article, but am surprised that people are surprised' take.
But since I'm in a bit of a mood, I'll admit that my second response was
Meaning what to do with this? Is this for some purpose beyond people who want facts and figures to go with their White Guilt?
Proposal: Tribe members get free tuition at relevant LGUs.
Navajo? Enjoy your $0 PhD from the University of Arizona.
Cheyenne? Gotta pay for meals, but you can always go to dental school at Colorado State for free. Art school, mechanical engineering degree, veterinary medicine. Doesn't matter, it's owed.
Hey LGU, you accepted the land; an education seems like a cheap exchange.
The fact that there are interlinking webs of ownership between various institutions in different states simply provides more opportunities to make good.
posted by bartleby at 10:22 PM on March 30 [11 favorites]

I knew about LGUs, but I didn’t realize that the land they were granted was often in a totally different part of the country.

This is what surprised me. I knew that land grant schools had been given land, and obviously that land had current or former tribal inhabitants/caretakers when the title was transferred to the schools, but I had (obviously foolishly) thought that the land grants were local -- space to build a university and so on. That in fact they were acctually given land all over the place, which was then sold for development, has been left out of the founding stories that universities tell about themselves.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

That in fact they were acctually given land all over the place, which was then sold for development, has been left out of the founding stories that universities tell about themselves.

Yeah, that was a factoid that I learned in Public Land Law back in 1992 that I found surprising. Sadly, despite being a pretty lefty law school, we did not pursue the issue of underlying indigenous rights to the land in question.
posted by suelac at 10:11 AM on March 31

Bartleby, that’s the least that should be happening. I am pretty sure it isn’t. Any ideas how we can change that?

(I work at a university but it isn’t a land grant university).
posted by nat at 10:12 AM on March 31

This is powerful research. Thank you for sharing it.

Also, I'd like to add that those are fine maps and photos.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,” Dunn said. “But you can start today and change the ending.”
posted by doctornemo at 12:08 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]

This is super powerful. The sheer scale of the damage done is heartbreaking.
posted by storytam at 10:51 PM on March 31

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