Over 500 people have signed an online petition calling for Columbia to fund the creation of a plaque on the Morningside Heights campus that would recognize Lenni Lenape territory.
Julian NoiseCat, CC ’15 and president-elect of Columbia’s Native American Council, said he started the petition because the plaque would symbolize Columbia’s acknowledgement of the land that once belonged to the Lenni Lenape people, who were persecuted and removed from their homeland in the 18th century.
NoiseCat said that Columbia, which strives to promote a study of history through the Core Curriculum, has failed to recognize its own history as an inhabitant of this land.
“We recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of Lit Hum, which is all about looking back at past human experiences,” he said. “However, the experiences that we mark on this campus, through the name Columbia and through the king’s crown imagery that appears throughout campus, are all about a colonial history—there’s not a mention of any other history.”
Lakota Pochedley, CC ’13 and president of the Native American Council, said that the plaque, while it is symbolic in nature, can lead to a larger discussion of incorporating Native studies into the Core Curriculum.
“A plaque is a start into having those types of conversations. It’s something that can start conversations on campus, and then it can lead to incorporating that history into CC or Lit Hum,” she said.
The campus is marked with names and reminders of the past, Pochedley said, such as the names of the great writers and philosophers on Butler Library. But nowhere does it acknowledge Native American history as its own history, she said.
A Student Affairs spokesperson said that Kevin Shollenberger, dean of Student Affairs, and Terry Martinez, dean of Multicultural Affairs, would be meeting with NoiseCat this week to discuss the petition. Commenting on the matter now, she said, would be premature.
Both NoiseCat and Pochedley said that they anticipate a long process of navigating through the Columbia bureaucracy before the plaque can be installed. Meanwhile, they’ve sent letters to the tribes in both Delaware and Oklahoma.
But Pochedley said that their efforts don’t stop with the plaque, noting that the ultimate goal for NAC would be to see the creation of a Native American studies major at Columbia. Right now, students can specialize in Native American studies under the umbrella of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, but it is not offered as a major or concentration on its own.
“It would be amazing to have an actual major and to have several intro classes instead of one, and have Native scholars here at this school,” she said.
Maddy Popkin, BC ’14 and president-elect of Barnard’s Student Government Association, said that she signed the petition to show solidarity and support for NAC and the people it represents.
During her SGA campaign, Popkin advocated for the inclusion of Native American studies courses in the Barnard curriculum.
“I think that it is hugely important to our development as individuals, as students, and a University as a whole to recognize our location on native land and the processes that we’re implicated in by existing here, so that we can move towards redress for those who are and have been wrongfully oppressed and develop a University-wide active ethic of social justice,” she said.
César San Miguel, CC ’15, said that he signed the petition because Native American history is the history of the United States, and the plaque would be a symbol of that.
“Given that this entire continent was previously inhabited by other people, it just seems fitting to me that we have something that recognizes that,” he said.
San Miguel added that instituting the plaque is a small gesture that would be easy to implement.
“It’s not hard. It won’t cost millions. It’s just a nice symbol recognizing who used to live here and what land we’re on,” he said.