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Know the West

Cornell University addresses stolen Indigenous land in new project

The university obtained almost 990,000 acres of expropriated Indigenous land through the Morrill Act and hopes to provide some remedies.


Margaret Pearce/High Country News

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The Morrill Act of 1862 expropriated 10.7 million acres of Indigenous land to fund future colleges across the nation. Over a two-year period, High Country News located more than 99% of those acres, identified the original inhabitants, who represent nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities, and calculated the profit raised from land sales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the top institutions involved was New York’s Cornell University, which obtained almost 990,000 acres in 15 states and 202 counties (“Land-Grab Universities,” April 2020).


Now, Cornell’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program has publicly acknowledged the university’s moral obligation to address its legacy and its impacts. The program has created the “Cornell University and Indigenous Dispossession Project” to continue researching Cornell’s Morrill Act lands and to discuss possible remedies with Indigenous communities. Notably, researchers highlighted the university’s mineral rights on 420,000 acres in the Central and Southwestern U.S. They’re asking Cornell whether those rights were received under the Morrill Act and for a full account of any revenues derived from them. Results will be shared at hcne.ws/cornell-landgrab.

Jessica Douglas is an intern at High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.