Kpomthe’nã Mã’eekanik: We are walking on the lands of the Mohican

Williams Student Union

The College was founded on the lands of the Mohican Nation, but it has only recently begun to reckon with its legacy of forcibly displacing the community and its contribution to the ongoing institutional harm of Indigenous people globally. The Stockbridge-Munsee Community, also known as the Mohican Nation, is indigenous to the Hudson River Valley, including the land that the College is now on. In the 1700s, the Williams family — for which our college is named — played a key role in displacing the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, which now resides in Wisconsin as a sovereign tribal nation.

Student-led activism has led to some improvements for Indigenous representation on campus: Banners in the Mohican language have been hung about campus, booklets on Mohican history have been distributed around town, an affinity group for Indigenous students has been re-established, and art exhibits on Indigenous history led by Indigenous students have been shown at and commissioned by the Williams College Museum of Art.

Although representation of the Mohican Nation has increased on campus, it is sparse relative to representation of white male scholars. Thus, the Williams Student Union is engaging in a multi-year historical reclamation process, which includes researching and engaging with the history of namesakes and spaces on campus to increase awareness for those who occupy them. 

In fall 2021, a group formed after an independent study with the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Historic Preservation Office hung posters with land acknowledgements in College buildings and a banner reading “Mã’eekanik koomhinã/Mohican Homelands” outside of Paresky Center. These were important steps. However, the presence of this language on campus was only to be temporary, as the College has policies restricting posters to only be posted for three weeks at a time. The College chose not to grant an exception, and the posters and banner were taken down. 

It became clear that there was a need to permanently declare what has always been and always will be true: We are walking on Mohican homelands.

Accordingly, we are spearheading an effort to engrave the marble blocks in front of Sawyer Library with language and symbols selected by an artist in collaboration with the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Historic Preservation Office. After years of working with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and others, we have secured funding from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the engravings are set to be completed in spring or summer 2023. 

We are calling this project “Written in Stone.” The engravings will be done by Inkpa Mani, a multimedia artist who creates community-informed art that portrays the injustices faced by Indigenous people of the Americas. 

Mani visited campus in mid-October to hear from people involved with activism for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community on campus, including the Native and Indigenous Working Group, a student-faculty committee created to increase native and Indigenous representation and advocacy on campus. When he returns to campus this spring, there will be more opportunities for the campus to engage with him as he creates the engravings in dialogue with the space and community.

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office suggested two quotes for engraving. The first, “Before we knew you we were rich for we had all we wanted… When you were as a little shrub — we were as a mighty tree,” is from Hendrick Aupaumut, Mohican (circa 1791). The second, “When you go into the world, take your whole self with you — take your roots and plant them in your new world,”  is from Dorothy Davids, a Mohican scholar, community leader, and activist.

These quotes, accompanied by Mohican language and symbols selected by the artist and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, will stand in contrast to the names of cisgender, heterosexual, white, Christian, male philosophers and writers engraved in Sawyer’s exterior. They will encourage us to consider the intellectual basis of our education — who do we learn from, and who is missing? 

The new engravings, like the engravings on Sawyer, represent the College’s values and beliefs at the point in which the monument is set in stone. However, we hope that these new engravings will be as timeless as their message: This space always has been and always will be Mohican homelands.

The Williams Student Union is the student advocacy pillar of the Three Pillars student Government at the College. The opinions above represent beliefs and work of the representatives from fall 2022.