LETTER: We need to talk about land grants

A section of the "We Are the Dream" mural located in Hale Library. The mural — created by several students — was sponsored by the Black Student Union, MEChA and the Native American Indian Student Body, and dedicated on Oct. 24, 1980. (Jared Shuff | Collegian Media Group)

We need to talk about land grants and what Kansas State, as a land-grant institution, is built on.

We need to discuss educating students and the public about the dark history of genocide and colonization of Indigenous people behind land grants and our university.

In an article published in the Kansas State Collegian on March 24, new K-State president Richard Linton said he wants to keep K-State connected to its land-grant mission. That land-grant mission includes providing technical and agricultural education, as well as conducting research and educating members of the working classes. Land-grant institutions were established through the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.

Although land grants through the Morrill Act are touted with pride in universities throughout the Midwest and the South, it is important to remember that the land on which they are based was systematically stolen from Indigenous people through land grants that relied on manipulation, coercion and unkept promises.

How did the government get the land to create institutions like K-State? They stole it.

K-State in particular has profited off of two land treaties: the Treaty of 1825 and 1846, both with members of Kaw (Kanza) Nation. These treaties pushed the Kaw west, off of the land on which K-State stands today. Do not let the word “treaty” fool you, however. Although the United States government claimed that the treaties were a fair trade, they were little more than a legal document to rationalize theft. Between both treaties, the U.S. paid a little over a thousand dollars for 87,290 acres of land. Today, K-State has raised $517,367 off that land– a 445x return.

So, although K-State‘s status as a land grant university might seem prestigious, it is deeply rooted in forced removal and, ultimately, genocide. It is extremely dangerous and irresponsible to ignore the true origins of K-State’s land because it actively participates in the erasure of the Kaw — and the erasure of Indigenous people across the U.S. — that has occurred for centuries.

While we are pleased with President Linton’s enthusiasm about his position with K-State, we would encourage him to learn more about K-State’s history — and not just the good. To be a great president for K-State, all issues at the university must be addressed.

The Collegian article referred to earlier neglected to mention the Indigenous history of the land we sit on. It’s a history often swept under the rug because there is a lack of education on the issue. It’s everyone’s responsibility to learn this history.

What can you do as a reader? You can take the time to learn about the Indigenous history of the land you live and work on. You can support research conducted at K-State that aims to educate others on the history of Indigenous land and culture. It also helps to attend events that aim to educate the public on Indigenous perspectives. There is no lack of information on a college campus.

Here are some upcoming events:

On April 12, you can attend Occupying Indigenous Land: Kansa(s) Perspectives on Land Acknowledgements, #Landback and K-State’s History over zoom. This event “privileges Indigenous perspectives on land acknowledgments and the #landback movement,” and will be led by Kaw Nation members and Chester Hubbard, the president of the Native American Student Body at K-State. Email David Mackay for the Zoom link at dbmackay@ksu.edu

On April 21, The Chapman Center for Rural Studies is hosting “Kansas Without the Kanza: Understanding how the Kanza Homeland became K-State,” at the Manhattan Public Library.

Bailey Britton is a senior in English and mass communications. She is also a former editor-in-chief of the Kansas State Collegian. Kinsley Searles is a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.