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Native Americans Are Honored With Plaque

By Leigh S. Salsberg

Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, Joel Iacoomes, John Wampus and Eleazer and Benjamin Larnell are hardly household names.

But a plaque to commemorate the first five Native Americans to attend Harvard College some 300 years ago will soon make these names more familiar, according to Peter R. Golia, director of external relations at the Harvard Native American Program at the Graduate School of Education.

According to a draft plan, the plaque will read, "Here American Indian and English students lived and studied in accordance with the 1650 Charter of Harvard College, which calls for 'the education of the English and Indian youth of this Country.'"

The 4' by 4' slate plaque will hang on the north wall of Matthews Hall, facing Harvard Hall, Golia said, adding that it will be displayed and dedicated in early May.

He said the 1650 Commemorative Committee, which made the plans for the plaque, chose Matthews because the dormitory is nearest the now-demolished "Indian College," where the Native American students lived.

The Indian College also housed the printing press which published the first Christian books translated into Algonquian, a Native American language, he said.

Golia said another of the plaque's functions is to highlight that these first Native Americans were also outstanding students in their own right.

"They were able to perform and succeed in a very different culture," he said. "I'm awful with languages, and they had to learn English, Greek and Latin, on top of their own languages. It's quite amazing."

The plaque is also a reminder of a time when Harvard embraced a diversity significantly different from that of today's standards.

Golia called Harvard an "end spot" for Native Americans who stood out academically in a 17th-century Christian system which emphasized the education and conversion of heathens.

According to a recent speech by Native American Program Director Lorie Graham, Cheeshahteaumuck and Iacoomes, both members of the Wampanoag tribe, took their Harvard entrance examinations after a series of steps toward their conversion.

She said these steps included a collection of preparatory schools set up all over the area. Native American boys often studied alongside English boys in these schools, and those who did well occasionally went on to Harvard College.

Cheeshahteaumuck and Iacoomes were in their mid-teens--the typical age of matriculation at Harvard in the 17th century--when they entered the Class of 1665.

There are currently about 120 Native American students at the University, Golia said.

The dedication of the plaque is tentatively scheduled for May 4, according to Golia. This date coincides with Arts First weekend and the Harvard Native American Program's third annual powwow.

Tribal leaders from across the country, as well as University officials and students, will attend the festivities.

Program directors have also planned an exhibit of Native American history, both at Harvard and in the state of Massachusetts as a whole, to be on display in the Widener Library Rotunda throughout April and May

She said these steps included a collection of preparatory schools set up all over the area. Native American boys often studied alongside English boys in these schools, and those who did well occasionally went on to Harvard College.

Cheeshahteaumuck and Iacoomes were in their mid-teens--the typical age of matriculation at Harvard in the 17th century--when they entered the Class of 1665.

There are currently about 120 Native American students at the University, Golia said.

The dedication of the plaque is tentatively scheduled for May 4, according to Golia. This date coincides with Arts First weekend and the Harvard Native American Program's third annual powwow.

Tribal leaders from across the country, as well as University officials and students, will attend the festivities.

Program directors have also planned an exhibit of Native American history, both at Harvard and in the state of Massachusetts as a whole, to be on display in the Widener Library Rotunda throughout April and May

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