Confronting Cornell University’s Origins in Indigenous Dispossession

by Professor Jon Parmenter

In this contribution to a forum on “The End of Early America” the author discusses his research-in-progress on Cornell University’s historical entanglement with the proceeds of Indigenous dispossession stemming from the Morrill Act of 1862.  Analysis of the parcels of Morrill Act acreage located, entered, and subsequently managed by Ezra Cornell (and later, by Cornell University staff), permits us to identify nine specific treaty surrenders of Indigenous land concluded circa 1825-1851 with six different tribal nations that later generated over 93% of the direct financial benefits to Cornell University by the federal grant.  By demonstrating the relationship between Cornell University’s founding and particular incidences of Indigenous dispossession, the essay aims to inform subsequent conversations regarding the University’s obligations as a land-grant institution to some of the key original stakeholders in its founding: the Indigenous nations whose birthright served as the economic fuel sustaining the University through most of its first half-century of existence.  The article contends that given the extent to which Cornell University not only contributed to the processes of Indigenous dispossession but also garnered incredible financial benefits from same, it owes reparations to affected Indigenous communities.

Read full paper here.