After 200 years of neglect, College commits to Native American Program

Despite having been founded with one its goals being “the education of the Youth of the Indian tribes,” Dartmouth boasted just 19 Native American attendees in its first 200 years.

In the past 34 years, however, the scenario has changed dramatically. The College has made significant efforts over the past three decades to increase its Native American community. Since 1970, over 700 Native Americans representing over 120 different tribes have graduated from Dartmouth.

Today, Native Americans at Dartmouth are the only so-called underrepresented minority group whose percentage of the Dartmouth population exceeds its percentage of the U.S. population as a whole. The Native American population composes a relatively significant three percent of the student population at Dartmouth today, or about 120 students, whereas the national figure stands at only around one or two percent of the total U.S. population, or about 2.2 million people.

The man credited with Dartmouth’s rededication to this once-neglected clause was John Kemeny, who became the 13th president of the College in 1970. It was Kemeny who established Dartmouth’s now-famed Native American Program. Prior to Kemeny’s tenure, few paid attention to the fact that Eleazar Wheelock and Samson Occom, himself a Mohegan Indian, had founded the college in part for the education of Native American students.

“Now, with over 140 Native students, faculty and administrators on campus, I am pleased to say that we are still very much like a family,” said Native American Program Director Mike Hanitchak.

Today, the College actively recruits Native American students through an annual fly-in and information sessions on reservations across the country. Kemeny had started the tradition during his tenure as president by urging the Admissions Office to become more proactive in its recruitment of Native students.

“The first years of the Native American Program were very different from today. There was no Native American Studies Program, there were no Native American faculty, and there were only a handful of students,” said Hanitchak.

Today, three programs on campus help fulfill the needs of Native American students on campus.

The primary support structure for Native American students on campus comes from the Native American Program, founded at the outset of Kemeny’s tenure as president. Hanitchak, with the assistance of Julie Ratico, runs the program, which sponsors activities throughout the year that aim to help the students maintain and affirm their cultural identity while pursuing their study at an Ivy League institution.

The NAP, through the support of its student members, organizes the annual Pow Wow on the Green, cultural performance groups and workshops. It also overlooks the second major program on campus, Native Americans at Dartmouth, known to most students by its familiar acronym, NAD.

“The NAD is the student body of natives, but you don’t have to be native to be in NAD,” said Andrew Mackin ’07, an active participant in the program.

The NAD functions primarily out of the Native American Cultural Center, or the “NAD House,” located at 35 North Main Street, and the copresident of the NAD Council are Natasha Singh ’04 and Cara Wallace ’03. The NAD House is an alcohol- and drug-free dormitory that serves as a student resident and a cultural focal point for several more Native students on campus.

As Dartmouth’s recruitment of Native American students has expanded from its previous practice of recruiting mainly from reservations and their surrounding areas, NAD is growing each year as its membership expands to include Native Americans of more diverse backgrounds.

“More and more these days, NAD is reflecting what we are as Natives. We are a very diverse minority; there are a rainbow of backgrounds, beliefs, traditional ways, languages and skin tones,” said Mackin.

Adding to the appeal of Dartmouth as an option for higher education is its renowned Native American Studies Program, the third feature on campus related to Native American interests on campus.

In 1972, the academic program was introduced by the College and became one of the first of its kind in the country. That year, Michael Dorris, a part-time faculty member, taught two experimental courses.

“In the current academic year, NAS had 13 single majors, 11 double majors, eight minors, and two modified majors,” said Colin Calloway, the head of the Dartmouth Native American Studies Program. The program has grown stronger in recent years, with a total of 525 students taking NAS classes this year, the largest ever student enrollment for NAS since its inception.

Ambitious plans are in development for the future of NAS. “Future plans include a program to bring tribal scholars to Dartmouth as short-term fellows, and establishing a Native American Research Center and a Native American Living Culture Archive,” Calloway said.

Top Stories