Oct 11, 2021 - News

How Ohio's 'land-grab' university was created

A view from above the Oval on Ohio State University's campus.

An aerial view of Ohio State University's campus. Photo courtesy of Ohio State University

The funds that established Ohio State University in 1870 only existed because the U.S. government seized land from Native Americans.

What's happening: For the past year, the university has been working toward making reparations to tribes affected by the loss of land.

  • A team led by professor Stephen Gavazzi, who initially approached OSU about the project, is gathering information to help the university create a "land acknowledgement" in the months ahead.
  • So far, the university has awarded $230,000 in internal grants to the land acknowledgement team.
  • The group gave a presentation last week to put this issue in the public's eye ahead of Indigenous Peoples' Day. More than 700 people representing 35 land-grant universities attended.

Why it matters: Land acknowledgements are often performative. Those involved with OSU's project say they want to make theirs actionable by actually engaging with tribes.

  • A 2020 report by High Country News, "Land-Grab Universities," exposed the little-known history of land-grant institutions founded by the Morrill Act of 1862.
  • In Ohio's case, the state received more than 600,000 acres of public-domain land taken from 108 different Native American tribes. None of the properties were in Ohio, but the profits from selling the land were used to create OSU.

What they're saying: "For Indian people, who are largely invisible in this country, to even have an institution like Ohio State University reach out and begin that conversation is a pretty incredible first step," Michael Roberts, president and CEO of the First Nations Development Institute, tells Axios.

  • Roberts' nonprofit helps tribes with economic development and is bridging conversations between them and Ohio State representatives.
  • Many tribal leaders have suggested tuition scholarships as a solution, Roberts says.
  • John Low, an associate professor at OSU's Newark Campus and a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe, tells Axios that recruiting more Native American faculty must also be a priority.

By the numbers: Less than 0.1% of Ohio State students are Native Americans.

What's next: Gavazzi's group hopes to deliver a report to Ohio State officials by December.


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