Section: Features

Celebrating Indigenous Heritage Month at Kenyon College

With Halloween in the rearview mirror and students beginning to focus on the upcoming Thanksgiving break, the nation is observing the first days of Indigenous Heritage Month. Kenyon’s history, like that of the rest of the country, is intertwined with the cultural heritage of the Indigenous groups that are native to our corner of Ohio — after all, “Kokosing” is a Native American term for “river of little owls.” In recent years, the College has taken steps to improve its inclusion of Indigenous viewpoints and stories, and while there is always work to be done in this area, such improvements are a step in the right direction.

According to a December 2019 Collegian article, the College began putting together a land acknowledgment statement alongside the numerous other colleges and universities releasing statements of solidarity with the Indigenous groups that once inhabited the land their campuses occupy. Intended to call attention to the fact that Native Americans were forced off of their land by colonialism, land acknowledgment statements have been criticized for lacking tangible impact. One comment on the article above stated, “A land acknowledgment does not do the indigenous people any good. Why not give the land back to them, since you admit that it was stolen from them?” In spite of the criticism, the College went ahead with compiling a land acknowledgment and currently encourages (though does not require) professors to include it in their syllabi. 

Well before the College’s land acknowledgment came into being, a student organization sought to highlight the experiences of Indigenous students. Formed in 2014, Indigenous Nations at Kenyon (INK) was a club devoted to increasing awareness of Indigenous issues on campus and beyond. A November 2015 Collegian article noted that one of the club’s goals was the establishment of a Native American studies concentration. While no such concentration currently exists, there are numerous course offerings in the History department devoted to Indigenous history, including an overwhelmingly popular seminar on the history of corn.

 On the subject of Indigenous agricultural practices, a Kenyon initiative started in 2015 by Associate Professor of History Patrick Bottiger has been focused on growing the “Three Sisters” — corn, beans and squash — in an effort to educate the community about seed sovereignty and Native American history. According to a page on the Kenyon website devoted to the Three Sisters Project, a spring 2021 initiative “planted about a third of an acre at [the] Kenyon Farm comprised of [14] 20×20 ft. planting treatments. [They] grew Indigenous seeds on all the plots but varied [their] use of Indigenous planting strategies to test and explore the rationales behind such varied planting techniques.” After harvesting the plants, Bottiger and his team of four students returned “nearly 100 lbs. of viable seeds to [their] growing partner.”

Kenyon, like many of its peer institutions, can always do more to support and uplift Indigenous communities, and the steps it has taken to do so in the past prove that it is capable of continuing its efforts in the future. This Indigenous Heritage Month, students across the nation are encouraged to engage with Native American history and culture, and Kenyon is no exception.


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