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THE MONITOR

  • Adina Mujica

“A Very Notable and Significant Starting Place for Collaboration”: Hamilton Works Toward Partnership with Oneida Nation

As Hamilton prepares for a new president, access and transparency are at the forefront of conversations for the future. Hamilton College – founded as Hamilton-Oneida Academy – recognizes its unique responsibility to the traditional custodians of the land Hamilton College resides on.


A land acknowledgment lunch gathering on March 28 offered updates on the symbolic and material efforts the College is making in collaboration with the Oneida Nation. While it is actively being modified, the new draft land acknowledgment wording was as follows:


“With humility and pride, Hamilton College acknowledges its campus sits on the ancestral homelands of Oneida Indian Nation, the Oneida, or onʌyoteˀa·ká, in their Indigenous language, means “people of the standing stone.” Emerging in 1793 from a vision by Reverend Samuel Kirkland and Oneida Chief Skenandoah, both now interred side-by-side on our campus, to establish a place where American Indians could receive a quality education. Hamilton College’s very foundation was built upon Indigenous reciprocity and inclusivity. We recognize our past failures to implement this vision. Through sharing our community and educational resources, we are committed to building a sustainable partnership with the Oneida Indian Nation, and the Haudenosaunee peoples. We embrace that both our past and our future are forever tied to the Oneida people.”


(This transcription was created from an audio file and may not accurately represent its grammar and formatting.)


The currently used official College land acknowledgment, for comparison, is:


“Hamilton College recognizes our collective responsibility to acknowledge our colonial history. Our campus is located on the ancestral and traditional lands of the Oneida Nation. We express gratitude for the relationship between Chief Skenandoah and Samuel Kirkland, who founded the Hamilton-Oneida Academy to educate Indigenous and settler youth together. That institution became Hamilton College.


Today, the Hamilton College community commits itself to engaging in solidarity with the Oneida Nation, and to ensuring that the perspectives and cultures of Indigenous peoples are honored and embraced.”


At the lunch event, Professor Aaron Strong, a collaborator of the initial land acknowledgment, complimented the seriousness with which the land acknowledgment is being done. Strong described it as impactful to see the acknowledgment presented shortly after DJ Shub’s Tolles Lecture and following initiatives for individualized support with Oneida people, for example support in publishing Dr. Kathleen (Kathy) M. Kuhl’s manuscript.


Community members should anticipate a pronunciation guide of a finalized version of the new acknowledgment alongside the acknowledgment itself, both of which will be made available on Hamilton’s DEI website. The acknowledgment will be used as educational material, according to Associate VP for Academic Affairs Nathan Goodale. VP Goodale, VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Sean Bennett, and VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Ngonidzashe Munemo expressed collaborators' willingness to participate and contribute to these initiatives.


Dean Munemo spoke with the Monitor last semester, sharing that his larger aspirations for Hamilton to recognize its colonial history started with: “what should we have?” Munemo referred to the acknowledgment draft as “a very notable and significant starting place for collaboration,” potentially beginning to answer that overarching question.


The discussion began with feedback on the acknowledgment. Katie Rockford ‘24 suggested adding “present” between “our past and our future” to hold the school accountable, suggestions about grammar and readability from Professor Margaret Thickstun, and Professor Pete Guiden’s inquiry about a physical display of the finalized land acknowledgment for public display of the College’s commitment. Similarly, Dani Bernstein ‘24 requested further information about “hopes, dreams, or ideas” for the future.


Professor Brianna Burke, soon-concluding her first of two years in a faculty fellow position dedicated to Indigenous Studies and supporting the College’s efforts to recognize its colonial history and build a relationship with local Indigenous communities, referred to a physical version of the land acknowledgment as a “dream project… and to build a yearly ceremony… where we talk about how it [the land acknowledgment] was written, we talk about the history of the place, then we read the land acknowledgment, what that will look like, you know, it will be a collaborative process.”


In a Monitor interview last semester, Burke said she aspires to have Indigenous artists with pieces currently or previously featured in the Wellin return for a fellowship or residency to “work with students and potentially help us with a commemorative [piece] or a mural.”


Beyond physical infrastructure to evidence progress in relationship-building with Indigenous groups and people, Burke spoke about inviting guest speakers to connect Indigenous knowledge and studies with economics, law, and policy work. Burke wants her work to make people “feel welcomed in.” When discussing DJ Shub’s Tolles Lecture, Burke spoke of having to balance catering to students and faculty, requiring a considerate mix of scholars, activists, and artists. The future of this work could “decolonize our scholarly disciplines” by challenging how academia controls what qualifies expertise and bounds disciplines. As Burke described academics “they’re so much more intermeshed… the exciting part of academia is that it should reinvent itself… all the time.” She implores us to remember “the Oneida do not need Hamilton College. I think we can have really healthy community relationships and be of value to each other, if we do it right.”


Goodale spoke of a future Indigenous Studies Program, highlighting Burke’s role as “the start of that initiative.” With consideration to this topic as “an ongoing conversation” the program is imagined to hold enough courses to create a concentration.


Derek Montroy of Oneida Turtle Clan, the Member Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator of the Oneida Nation, and a member of the committee formed in response to the offensive Eells House wallpaper, collaborates in the land acknowledgment creation and the funding process for a potential Indigenous Studies Department.


Dean Munemo describes a potential Indigenous Studies Program as “an interest that faculty… and staff, as well as students, have spoken to for a while.” Aspiring to “build a structure for educational engagement around native and Indigenous studies,” Dean Munemo concluded that “time will tell… we could do these things at the same time.” Having indicated a more direct and immediate path to Oneida relationship-building, a curriculum should follow and reflect the progress made, potentially “integrat[ing] relationships and collaborations with the Oneida into whatever curricular structure we might come up with… there's a lot of looking forward… there's interest across the board.”

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