Samson Occam was sent to Europe to raise money for a school for Native American students, but the money was directed to the founding of Dartmouth College. Now is the step towards reconciliation.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
This is the next story of betrayal and steps towards reconciliation. In the 18th century, the scientist worked to raise money to build a college for Native American students like him, but the money was used to create the Dartmouth Ivy League. This was reported by Diane Orsan of Connecticut Public Radio.
DIANA ORSAN, BAYLINE: Born in 1723, Samson Occam was the first Indian student of the Rev. Eleazar Wilak. Occam was a gifted speaker and became a minister. In the 1760s, at the urging of Willak, Ockam traveled to Europe to raise funds for what he believed would be a school in Connecticut for local students. But shortly after his return, he learned that Willak had directed funds to establish a school in New Hampshire that served the sons of white settlers. It became Dartmouth College.
(SOUND OF SINGING)
ORSAN: Members of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut sing a traditional song before the repatriation ceremony. Among the guests are Dartmouth officials and the Mahegan family.
Sarah Harris is the Vice-Chair of the Tribal Council and a Dartmouth graduate. She says that for decades the Mahegans have asked Dartmouth to honor Okom’s role in the school’s history.
SARAH HARRY: Hundreds of years of not telling the story of Okom have deprived the truth of Dartmouth’s founding of both natives and non-indigenous students and the wider community.
ORSAN: The Mahegans have also called on the college to return Okoma’s collection of manuscripts. When Dartmouth President Philip Hanlan prepares to hand them over, he reads from a 1771 letter that Ockham wrote to Willak about the betrayal.
PHILIP HANLAN: (Reading) You have so many white scientists and so few Indian scientists or none at all, very upsetting to me. And now I am afraid that in Europe we will be considered liars and fraudsters.
ORSAN: Occom documents include letters, diaries, sermons and a page on local herbal remedies. He wrote in five languages - Mahegan, English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Experts from Dartmouth say this is one of the earliest examples of the written language of the Magyans. President Hanlan admits that the documents returned to Mahegan land took too long.
HANLAN: But they are here now, accompanied by the spirit of Samson Okama, who lives with them.
ORSAN: Jane Fawcett becomes emotional when she describes what a repatriation ceremony means to her. Fawcett is a magician, or honored grandmother, and grew up on the Okoma estate.
JANE FOSSET: Samson Occam was very important to me, actually. He was – he inspired me to go to college. sorry. I don’t usually break.
ORSAN: For two centuries Dartmouth has done little to maintain its purpose. Less than 20 Native American students received Dartmouth diplomas between 1769 and 1969. In 1970, the school began to actively recruit staff. About 1,200 Native Americans have graduated since then. And Mohegan leaders say today’s ceremony marks the beginning of another relationship with Dartmouth, now that Samson Okama’s documents have returned home.
For NPR News I am Diane Orsan.
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