We Need to Focus on the Damn Land: Land Grant Universities and Indigenous Nations in the Northeast

Hannah Leighton, Director of Research and Evaluation

Research by Maeve McCurdy, Fee Pelz-Sharpe, and Sofia Perrotto  

In the Fall of 2020, three undergraduates from Smith College partnered with FINE to investigate how land grant universities view their historic relationships with the Indigenous tribes whose land they occupy, and to answer the question "Can food create a bridge between Indigenous communities and land grant universities?" They explored whether these universities are changing their policies and actions, or considering returning the land through reparations, partnerships, or other pathways.

New England tribes.

Universities have played a unique role in the theft of Indigenous land and have a long history of exploitative research practices. Today, many universities are making steps towards repairing their relationships with Indigenous communities. However, the size, number, and influence of these efforts and programs varies vastly between universities. For this research, the team focused on the six public land grant universities of New England: University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, University of Maine, University of Connecticut, and University of Rhode Island. Even among such a small sample, the team was able see a broad spectrum of progress toward repairing university relationships with Indigenous peoples. The students conducted 18+ hours of interviews with staff, faculty, and students from the six public land grant universities, speaking with Native and non-Native stakeholders in a variety of positions and academic disciplines.

Although the interviewees represented a variety of positions and strategies, when reviewing common themes the team was able to compile four overarching principles for those looking to undertake projects to build or repair relationships between universities and Indigenous communities. The report includes case studies from each land grant as well as a set of recommendations for universities, FINE and other groups around policy and funding, partnerships, programs, and research.

Read the Full Report (pdf)

About this series

In the Fall of 2020, FINE partnered with three groups of Smith College undergraduate seniors on collaborative research projects that would support FINE’s ongoing farm to institution research efforts and serve as a final project for the students’ sustainable food capstone class. We will be publishing the results of each of these projects over the next month. The three research topics were:

  1. The relationship between land grant universities in New England and the Indigenous communities whose land they occupy and if / how food can play a role in repairing those relationships
  2. The impacts of COVID-19 on food packaging waste at MA college campuses
  3. A recommended suite of updated health and food access metrics for the New England FTI dashboard, using a racial equity lens. FINE is eager to engage in collaborative research with students across the region.

Faculty or students who would like to discuss future partnerships can email hannah@farmtoinstitution.org.