From Land-Grant to #LandBack: A Story of Loss and Resilience

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By Aliyah Keuthan

Nestled in the hills, meadows, marshes, and forests, between the Ohio and Mississippi River systems and the Great Lakes, are The University’s of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Kentucky, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, West Virginia University, Purdue University, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University. These are all Land Grant Universities, or LGUs. Four of these LGUs, Purdue, Ohio, Illinois, and Kentucky, rank among the top ten of the original 52 Land Grant Universities, for which the greatest amount of land from indigenous tribes, bands, and communities was ceded or seized. 

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Above: Map of Land Grant Universities discussed in this post. 

Purdue University is pivotal to this region, positioned in the heart of an agricultural belt that stretches across the central latitudes of the United States. Purdue, like all LGUs, formed immediately following the Morrill Act of 1862 (Martin and Hipp, 2018), for the purpose of educating generations of farmers, teaching technical trades, and later providing for agricultural and science research (Ahtone and Lee, 2020). The decision to add military strategy to the fields of study, tipped the scales in favor of passage of the Morrill Act (The U.S. Land-Grant University System: An Overview, 2019), a Civil War era act of Congress. Signed by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, the legislation allowed for investment in LGUs and ongoing federal endowments to be accomplished through the expropriation and sale of Indigenous lands.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, the legislation allowed for investment in LGUs and ongoing federal endowments to be accomplished through the expropriation and sale of Indigenous lands.

The cession and subsequent sale of lands by treaty, unratified treaty, or seizure without treaty, used to fund LGUs in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia, had long-reaching impacts on the 245 indigenous tribes and bands affected (Atone and Lee, 2020). The sale of 380,440 acres of indigenous lands, from California to Michigan, raised $212,149 to fund Purdue University alone. Land that was purchased from the Chippewa through the treaties of 1837 and 1842 cost the government 8¢ and 7¢ per acre respectively, while land taken by force was much more costly to the US, so treaties were the preferred method of land acquisition (LaDuke, 2014). Land with minerals was not to be sold for LGUs, according to stipulations of the Morrill Act, leaving forests, wetlands and agricultural lands to bear the weight of transition out from indigenous stewardship. Much of the ceded or seized land became used for the timber industry and homesteading, as well as railroads and large scale farming, dairy farming, and ranching (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2022). Large urban areas replaced forests, meadows and gardens. In heavily forested and agriculturally viable areas like Indiana, in 1813 prior to statehood, early European settlers were even known to feed their livestock fodder from the unharvested crops left behind when tribes were banished from their homes and farms in late Fall. The remaining ceded lands were made available to homesteaders with a rarely kept promise to farm the lands for five years for $1.25 per acre, and would form the original economic base that fueled further westward expansion by settlers. 

Research The Morrill Act on The Native Land Information System

The Native Land Information System (NLIS) hosts a Morrill Act Parcel Locator which draws on patent data from the BLM’s General Land Office (GLO) compiled by High Country News in their March 2020 feature story “Land Grab Universities.” And the second resource that the NLIS provides is the Lost Agriculture Revenue Database that calculates up to 177 years of unrealized Agriculture Revenue for every major Native land cession.

In present day Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, 137,911.5 acres of land, expropriated from several Chippewa and Ottowa bands, account for 36% of the land sold for the Purdue University land grant. Of that land, 18,163 acres were ceded by treaty on 9/24/1819 and 18,546 acres on 7/29/1837 from the Chippewa in present-day Wisconsin. 60,248 acres were ceded by treaty on 3/28/1836, from the Chippewa and Ottawa nations, collectively. The treaty signed in 1837 facilitated a growing timber industry in territories newly inhabited by homesteaders, where numerous tributaries fed into the Mississippi River from the East, securing access to Chippewa, Sioux, and Winnebago Lands. The discovery of copper ore near Lake Superior prompted another treaty with the Chippewa in 1842. With the Treaty of LaPointe in 1854, the remaining lands South of Lake Superior were ceded and reservations were officially set aside for several Chippewa bands (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2022).

“Winter on Madeline Island.” Original photo by Aubree Herrick, digitally edited by Aliyah Keuthan

"a pan-indigenous movement" is necessary to propel the level of government commitment to do this. The #LandBack movement could be precisely the kind of "pan-indigenous movement" to which Mireles refers. The momentum behind this broad indigenous movement is driven by traditional spiritual and cultural connections to ceded and seized lands.

In the light of extreme economic disparities, centuries of dispossession, forced food dependency, continual displacement and fragmentation of reservation lands, it hardly seems an adequate response for present day university communications to merely include a brief verbal or written acknowledgement of the native nations, upon whose expropriated lands their institutions of higher learning rest (Wilkie, 2021). Words by college officials, or as a post script in intercollege e-mails, while not lacking as a gesture of respect, much more is needed. A step implies action. The steps necessary to make native nations whole once again, to heal ancient, traditional, and ceremonial disconnections caused by removal of native peoples from their homelands, is essential for the US as a whole to move forward. Tangible resources can, and must, be available for Indigenous nations, communities, and tribal colleges to sustainably thrive and excel.

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), or Wheeler-Howard Act, of June 18, 1934largely ended the privatization and liquidation of treaty lands, protecting them through federal trust status on reservations for for specific tribes or bands. A 1935 supplementary report of the Land Planning Committee to the Natural Resources Board, recommended restoring 25 million acres, nearly 50% more than their present day holdings, to enable tribes enough land to be self-sufficient (Wilson, 1935), but, despite this well researched recommendation, the Federal Government restored only 4 million acres under the IRA – much of it marginal lands (Philp 1983) 

Ernesto Mireles, Professor of Social Justice at Prescott College in Arizona, suggests that effective legislation must benefit all indigenous tribes, not just a few individuals. According to Mireles, “a pan-indigenous movement” is necessary to propel the level of government commitment to do this. The #LandBack movement could be precisely the kind of “pan-indigenous movement” to which Mireles refers. The momentum behind this broad indigenous movement is driven by traditional spiritual and cultural connections to ceded and seized lands. These connections provide the foundation for widespread collective indigenous support of regenerative, organic agricultural and forestry programs, and shared urban gardens, caring for sacred sites and shared spaces (Dooley, 2021).

Look for future articles by Aliyah Keuthan about food sovereignty and related regenerative ag and forestry projects around the Great Lakes in connection with the LandBack movement and restoration of native lands to tribes.

Aliyah Keuthan is from West Central Indiana. She has traveled extensively throughout the US and globally, and was an Assistant Editor for the Journal of Sustainability Education (JSE) at Prescott College in Arizona. Aliyah is currently a freelance writer.

References

Martin, M. V., and Hipp, J. S. (2/18/2018). A time for substance: Confronting funding inequities at land grant institutions. Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education; 29(3) Spring 2018. Retrieved from: https://tribalcollegejournal.org/a-time-for-substance-confronting-funding-inequities-at-land-grant-institutions/

Michael V. Martin, Ph.D., was the President of Florida Gulf Coast University, and Janie Simms Hipp, J.D. (Chickasaw), is a Professor of Law and Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas.

T. Ahtone, & R. Lee (May 7, 2020), Land grant universities should acknowledge their debt to Indigenous people. New York Times (reprinted with permission in High Country News on May 8, 2020). Retrieved from: https://www.hcn.org/articles/indigenous-affairs-land-grab-universities-land-grant-universities-should-acknowledge-their-debt-to-indigenous-people

Tristan Ahtone (Kiowa) was an Associate Editor at High Country News until the end of April and is now Editor In Chief of The Texas Observer. Robert Lee is a Lecturer in American History at the University of Cambridge.

Wilkie, S. (April 22, 2021). So you want to acknowledge the land? Some notes on a trend, and what real justice could look like. High Country News: Perspective (print ed.).
Retrieved from:
https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.5/indigenous-affairs-perspective-so-you-want-to-acknowledge-the-land

Morrill Act of 1862 Parcel Locator Dashboard – Native Land Information System. Retrieved from:
https://nativeland.info/dashboard/morrill-act-of-1862-parcel-locator-dashboard/

Lost revenues from ceded agricultural lands This data dashboard, developed by the Native Lands Advocacy Project estimates 177 years of lost agriculture revenue from lands ceded from Native Americans from 1840 to 1897. Developed by David Bartecchi. Retrieved from: https://public.tableau.com/shared/564H23WCN?:display_count=y&:origin=viz_share_link&:embed=y

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction retrieved from:
https://dpi.wi.gov/amind/tribalnationswi/badriver

Dooley, K. (9/3/2021). Growing food sovereignty on the shores of Lake Superior. In These Times.
Retrieved from:
https://inthesetimes.com/article/anishinaabe-food-sovereignty-lake-superior

ACT OF JUNE 18, 1934-(Indian Reorganization Act)
[Chapter 576 of the 73rd Congress, Approved June 18, 1934, 48
Stat. 984, 25 U.S.C. 461 et seq.]
[As Amended Through P.L. 109–221, Enacted May 12, 2006]

LaDuke, W. (8/1/2014). Returning to the home of the golden-breasted flicker, the Anishinaabe homeland. Lake Superior Magazine.
Retrieved from:
https://www.lakesuperior.com/the-lake/madeline-island-anishinaabeg-home-of-the-golden-breasted-flicker/#

Croft, G. K. (8/29/2019). The U. S. Land-grant university system: An overview. Congressional Research Service Report
Retrieved from:
https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R45897.html

Genevieve K Croft is an analyst in agricultural policy.

Philp, Kenneth R. 1983. “Termination: A Legacy of the Indian New Deal.” The Western Historical Quarterly 14 (2). Western Historical Quarterly, Utah State University: 165–80.

Personal communication with Ernesto Todd Mireles, professor of Social Justice studies at Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona.

Beem family history written by Captain David Enoch Beem of the US Army, Indiana regiment.

Aliyah Keuthan is a descendant of the Beem family of Owen County, Indiana, one of the first European families to settle in that area.

Wilson (1935). Indian Lands Tenure, Economic Status, and Population Trends: Part 10 of the Supplemental Report of the Land Planning Committee to the National Resources Board ( in: The General Allotment Act of 1887 Crippled Native Agriculture for Generations)

Retrieved from: https://nativeland.info/the-general-allotment-act-of-1887-crippled-native-agriculture-for-generations/

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