Davis Center highlights College’s colonialist past

On Monday, members of the Davis Center placed signs along the path on the lawn outside of the Paresky Center and the Congregational Church. The signs contained facts and statements related to the College, Williamstown and Native American history. Shawna Patterson-Stephens, director of the Davis Center, was the primary organizer behind the project.

Signs included statements such as: “Fort Mass. (North Adams) was built to offset the Schaghticoke Village, owners of Mt. Greylock. Ephraim Williams, Jr., led the fort”; “Prior to European colonization, there were several eastern woodland tribes in what would become New England” and “Two extensive trails used by Native peoples for centuries intersected in Williamstown; evidence of permanent sites haven’t been found.”

“Oftentimes, attempts to bring awareness can have a sense of irrelevance, a sense of ‘that happened to those people over there,’ but a project such as these signs brings the issue closer to home,” Angela Wu, assistant director of the Davis Center, said. “It makes it clear that the Williams community is built on indigenous land, and that however great the education that the College provides, there were people that paid the price for us to enjoy these benefits, and their histories should be recognized as much as Colonel Ephraim Williams’ is.”

In recognition of Indigenous Peoples Month, the Davis Center wanted to provide recognition [of] native peoples culture and the legacy of injustice that has historically been committed against the indigenous community via these signs,” Dominic Madera ’21, a community builder at the Davis Center, said. For me, this is a reminder to be mindful of the indigenous experience in my workshops on identity.”

The signs were one part of the Davis Center’s larger effort to recognize Native American and Indigenous People’s Month. On Monday, the Davis Center collaborated with the Departments of American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies to host “A Tale of Two-Spirits,” a talk by former Lambda Legal Director of Community Education and Advocacy Holiday Simmons, a “Black Cherokee transmasculine two-spirit activist.” Next Tuesday, the Davis Center will collaborate with the Student Athletic Advisory Committee to show More Than a Word. The documentary, according to its website, “analyzes the Washington football team and [its] use of the derogatory term R*dskins.”

“[Our] goals are to raise awareness about Native American history as part of Native American Heritage Month [NAHM],” Wu said. “As with most heritage months, NAHM provided an opportunity to recognize the complexities of American history, including the histories of those who are often left out of American narrative.”

“It’s incredibly wrong that we live on and claim land as our own that we acquired by killing, harming and moving American Indian bodies,” Katie Manning ’20, a community builder at the Davis Center, said. “But at the same time, I continue to live here, attend college here, and don’t think about the history of this land on a daily basis. The fact that I can not think about it reveals how much white privilege affects my opinions on the matter.”