Once again Dartmouth College, home of the Ivy League’s largest Native American student program was in the news in a negative light. After Indigenous Peoples’ Day was celebrated on campus—and while 56 prospective Native students from around the country were still visiting the college—fliers were put up all over campus urging Native students to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day by purchasing ‘Dartmouth Indian’ products from a CafePress store called Occupy Parkhurst. This store featured whiskey flasks and even a woman’s thong with a ‘Dartmouth Indian’ on it. Dartmouth discontinued the use of this mascot in response to Native American students demands four decades ago.
Although, Dartmouth College president Philip J. Hanlon has been silent during all of the recent bad press regarding the college’s relations with Native Americans, the Provost of the college Carolyn Dever denounced the actions of the anonymous students who did this as “cowardly and disrespectful” in an email to the student body.
She quoted former President Wright who said, “Since the Dartmouth Board of Trustees decided in the 1970s not to use the Indian symbol, the College’s position on this has never wavered. Nor will it. American Indians are a rich part of Dartmouth’s heritage and a strong contributing part of our community. Collectively and as individuals they deserve our respect and our admiration.”
Dartmouth was originally founded as a college with a charter from King George III to educate Indian youth and others. It focused mostly on the latter for its first 200 years and only re-committed itself to its charter in 1968 and began recruiting Native American students to attend the college.
On campus at the time were 53 Native American high school seniors, prospective students who had been flown to Hanover, New Hampshire from across the country to check out the college. Due to programs like these to retain and graduate Native students, Dartmouth has more Native American alumni than all other Ivy League schools combined.
Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, a national youth leader on the mascot issue was on campus as a “fly-in” (prospective Native student) and celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day with the other Native students. He told Indian Country Today Media Network:
“We sang-in indigenous day well past midnight and it quickly felt like we were part of the campus rather than visitors. Monday brought more adventure in the life of being a college student. We gathered and prepared signs to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day: ‘We are Still HERE’ ‘Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day!’ The derogatory fliers appeared late Monday night, in a failed attempt to mock us celebrating IPD by using our own words from the signs we held. All students showed support of the Native community by helping to throw them away quickly. It was a solid sense of unity giving us a great idea of what we could look forward to as students. Administration, alumni and students clearly made it a priority to address it quickly, professionally and made the statement, loud and clear, that the attempt to use any Native mascot would not be tolerated.”
Brown notes that this experience actually made him consider attending the college even more.
CafePress responded to this writer’s tweet about the thong and took immediate action—shutting down the entire Occupy Parkhurst store (Parkhurst is one of Dartmouth’s administration buildings). Dartblog, an independent blog about the college, speculated that the Dartmouth Review, a conservative student paper affiliated with the National Review, is behind the fliers. As Review students are extremely conservative it is clear the “Occupy Parkhurst” name was meant to be ironic. However, despite the removal of the Occupy Parkhurst store, the Dartmouth Review’s CafePress store is still up and carries the same products that the Occupy Parkhurst store did including the thong, flask and dog clothing with the Indian symbol on it.
Surprisingly, the Greek houses gave a very strong denunciation of the fliers. Interfraternity President Sam Macomber issued an email stating: “There are rumors that a fraternity’s new member class is responsible for creating and distributing the poster. I want to share that this is entirely unacceptable and violates IFC bi-laws concerning conduct/respect, hazing, and cultural appropriation… In response to this event, the GLC is proposing an amendment in which any house promoting or prominently displaying the Dartmouth Indian will be ineligible for funding, disassociated from the GLC, and fined. This would apply to any artwork, posters, pong tables, etc. in your houses.”
There is evidence that the fliers have fed a backlash against Native American students on campus. An email from the Student Assembly noted that a Native student had been harassed on campus after the incident.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler