In an unprecedented move to recognize Harvard's Native American alumni, the College has elected to construct a monument in their honor. A plaque will be mounted on the wall of Matthews Hall in recognition of the first five Native American students to attend the College.
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, Joel Iacoomes, John Wampus, Eleazer and Benjamin Larnell were admitted to the College through The Harvard College Charter of 1650, later incorporated into the current Corporate Charter of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, which provided for the "education of the English and Indian youth of this country." This clause allowed the College to receive financial support from a missionary society and to found the Indian College with those funds in 1653.
It was within the walls of Indian College, segregated from other student housing in its location behind the spot where Matthews Hall stands today, that those first five students became acquainted with the missionary society's true goal: the conversion of Native American Indians to Christianity. The Indian College housed a printing press that furnished the first Christian texts translated into Algonquin, with much of the translation done by the Native American students themselves.
Some may argue that this plaque is a monument to blatant colonialization. However, it must be remembered that Harvard was founded as an institution dedicated to the training of Protestant ministers and remained one in the 1650s. The plaque is obviously not a celebration of the religious emphasis of Harvard's origins nor is it intended to praise puritanical conversion. Rather, the plaque is a reminder that our university has been pluralistic from its inception.
The admittance of Native Americans to the College appears to be a bright spot in Harvard's history. But we should not let this instance of inclusion overshadow the University's long history of exclusion. As Native American Program director Lorie Graham said, "The plaque is just a small piece of the story that needs to be told." Building a monument to Native American alumni is a good first step, but we've only just begun.
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