Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Land Grant Institutions: A Forgotten Debt



In 2020, High Country News published a report called “Land-grab Universities” (Lee and Ahtone, 2020). This work brought visibility to the Morrill Act of 1862, the source and scale of distributed “public domain lands” to endow land grant institutions and connected these parcels of land with named Indigenous communities who were initially displaced from these areas. This dataset offered an opportunity for the Charles Research Group to expand on the role that Indigenous Dispossession plays in the endowments of Land Grant Universities and explore the impacts that the Morrill Act continues to play on Indigenous food systems. Utilizing national datasets on food security, temperature, precipitation, and food productivity indices, we aim to quantitatively contribute to the story of Indigenous displacement and Land Grant Institutions through a lens on Indigenous food systems. The team has developed a tool that enables users to explore and map out the effects of dispossession on food system-related metrics, comparing metrics associated with the 11-million acres distributed to 52 institutions and today’s federally-recognized Tribal lands. The data is labeled to filter and calculate impacts for a particular Tribal Nation or the sum of impacts for a specific institution. Although the metrics are imperfect and do not capture the effects of brutal histories and impacts on cultural values, we believe that this data-driven approach can empower Indigenous communities to advocate for themselves as sovereign nations and encourage Land Grant Institutions to grapple with their own histories and develop plans to understand what truth and reconciliation might look like on their own campuses.

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