Erased from our collective memory is awareness of the native societies that once dominated the spaces we now inhabit. Students from five COPLAC colleges researched this hidden history: Sonoma State in Miwok country, Truman State in Missouria/Otoe country, SUNY Geneseo in Seneca country, Keene State College in Sokoki space, and the University of Maine at Farmington in Abenaki country. Our organizing question was, “How did native people lose their lands where our COPLAC colleges and universities are situated?” The course was team taught by Dr. Sabine Klein and Dr. Marie Christine Duggan, using this syllabus.
It is a testament to how hidden this history is given that our first task was to learn the name of the particular native peoples. The second step was to figure out the town myth–the way that the modern town itself explains why native people no longer live there. Sometimes we found that the town had forgotten its own story, and we had to uncover that, too. Research in books, archives, and museums generated the process of re-envisioning our landscapes through the eyes that looked at them before. It turns out modern society is not the only way of organizing human life where we live. The project has required us to face some disturbing aspects of US history. As inhabitants of these spaces, we have the right to the memory of what happened here. Photo credits: Bead work on Missouria/Otoe pouch from National Museum of Natural History, accession no. 005251; arm bands worn by the Seneca from National Museum of the American Indian, Catalog No. 2/9717; and Miwok basket from National Museum of Natural History, accession no. 064687); collections.si.edu.
Sonoma: Miwok head man, portfolio 14, plate no. 493, from Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian,”2003.
Truman State: Ioway leader Moa-Na-Hon-Ga (also known as Great Walker), hand-colored lithograph on paper, McKenney and Hall 1836-44, object no. 1985.66.153,229 in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, www. collections.si.edu.
Geneseo: Seneca war chief Red Jacket, a hand-colored lithograph on paper, published by McKenney and Hall, 1836-1844, object no. 1985.66.153,293 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, www.collections.si.edu.
Maine at Farmington: Detail from Abenaki Couple, an 18th-century watercolor by an unknown artist. In the public domain courtesy of the City of Montreal Records Management & Archives, Montreal, Canada, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abenaki#/media/File:Abenakis.jpg