By Lauren Caruba, dailynorthwestern.com – Northwestern did not celebrate “Founders’ Day” this year.
Instead, officials called NU’s 162nd anniversary a “birthday,” in an attempt to appease a group of students who associate the school’s founding with a much more violent moment in American history: the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.
Whether the tragedy is directly part of NU’s history, however, remains in dispute.
The Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance, is pushing for the University to acknowledge NU founder John Evans’ role in the massacre. Considered one of the most brutal Native American genocides in U.S. history, the attack by federal soldiers resulted in the slaughter of more than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
The petition, which has amassed more than 200 signatures, calls on the University to formally recognize Evans’ responsibility for Sand Creek and investigate if his actions against native peoples benefitted NU. The document also requests the creation of a Native American studies program — something faculty have supported for years — the establishment of a Sand Creek memorial and the creation of a scholarship to attract more Native American students to NU.
NAISA partnered with Associated Student Government’s Diversity Committee to help author a resolution, passed at Wednesday’s Senate meeting, supporting NAISA and the investigation into Evans’ past.
“A lot of times with historical events, people tend to try to put them in the past and say it’s not important,” said NAISA co-president Adam Mendel, a Weinberg senior. “But with Sand Creek, the University is directly tied to that event.”
Not everyone is as convinced of Evans’ culpability. Two weeks ago, the University formed a committee to formally examine the history over the next year.
NAISA is still struggling to see eye-to-eye with administrators, whose actions, members say, are resistant to change and not transparent. By not allowing students to participate in the committee’s research, however, officials say they are set on separating Evans’ ties to Sand Creek from the need to create a Native American studies program.
“Let’s get the facts straight first,” said Provost Daniel Linzer, who appointed the committee. “The concern that I had with the petition is that it was assuming it had all the facts and was jumping to a conclusion.”
University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily at the beginning of February he is glad NU is examining the issue.
“Did we benefit from it?” Schapiro said. “What was the ongoing relationship with John Evans? That stuff I’d like to know as president.”
‘Erasing’ the past
NAISA hoped the University would commit to probing Evans’ ties with Sand Creek by Founders’ Day on Jan. 28. Although students were in regular discussion with officials, the group grew frustrated when the University failed to issue a formal statement that week.
NU eventually announced Feb. 14 the formation of the John Evans Study Committee. The seven-person commission, which includes NU professors and Native American scholars from across the country, will explore Evans’ connection to Sand Creek and his later involvement with the University, including whether his monetary contributions to NU came from exploiting Native American peoples. Read more…