- Campuses, Colonialism, and Land Grabs before Morrill
readers of the articles and materials included in the Land-Grab Universities (LGU) project learn about the financial machinations and land expropriation at the heart of the Morrill Act's financing of land-grant universities across the United States. Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone's important investigative reporting illuminates a range of relationships and degrees of reliance on Indigenous dispossession at fifty-two educational institutions across the United States. Their work explores a critical moment of settler-colonial exploitation, adding another layer to the history of Indigenous peoples and formal schooling. Critically, this research facilitates readers' understanding of the foundational role Indigenous dispossession has played in the establishment, expansion, and maintenance of major educational institutions. LGU is both a powerful testament and a tool that can be utilized by those invested in transforming relationships between Indigenous peoples and higher-education institutions. This work should also serve as a springboard, prompting readers to investigate, question, and reflect on how every campus has shaped and been shaped by its relationship to the land and to Indigenous peoples.
Until recently, campus processes of investigation, interrogation, and reflection have focused primarily on their roles and responsibilities with respect to slavery and the slave trade, resulting in a wide and impressive array of campus-based research projects.1 It is equally essential that colleges and universities understand and address the place of settler colonialism in the past, present, and future of their institutions. As conveners of an upcoming symposium titled "Campuses and Colonialism," we take inspiration as well from decades of work by scholars in Native American and Indigenous studies and allied disciplines who have investigated the histories of settler colonialism at their institutions as part of their "service" to NAIS initiatives, programs, and departments.2 "Campuses and Colonialism" will amplify the research of scholars investigating experiences of Indigenous peoples at campuses across the United States and beyond. Our call for contributors acknowledged the diversity of research questions and methodologies shaping this work and yielded dozens of proposals, ranging from reconsiderations of the "founding" stories of early American colleges, to [End Page 151] universities' troubled history of collecting Native material culture, to the contemporary struggles of Native students to transform institutions into places where they can belong. As conveners, we take particular inspiration from ongoing work at two of the campuses with which we are affiliated: the University at Buffalo and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. These local stories suggest the power and the potential of LGU for reckoning with the history of land-taking, even where that project's focus does not capture the central features of colonization on particular campuses.
As we grapple with institutions' involvement with settler colonialism in New York State and Wisconsin we must look to periods and policies prior to the 1862 Morrill Act. In the territories currently known as western New York and Wisconsin, land cessions occurred much earlier than in the western regions of the continent where public lands acquired through negotiation or theft are connected to the Morrill Act. Following the Revolutionary War at the close of the eighteenth century, land speculators, including war financier Robert Morris and principals of the Holland Land Company, used every trick in the book to expropriate Haudenosaunee territory, the homelands of the Six Nations. By 1797 they had succeeded in their goal. According to the terms of the Treaty of Big Tree, the Seneca Nation ceded 3.3 million acres in exchange for $100,000. Through this agreement the Seneca Nation retained eleven reservation territories: six along the Genesee River and five farther west.3 Joseph Ellicott, working on behalf of the Holland Land Company, supervised teams of surveyors establishing towns and ranges that were later incorporated into a map of the region used to promote land sales, American settlement, and the transformation of Haudenosaunee territory into "settler sovereign landscapes" during the early nineteenth century.4 Ellicott, who became resident-agent for the company shortly after he concluded the survey, played a key role in this transformation. Working from 1800 through 1826, he developed and implemented the company's plan to sell land acquired through...