Indigenous Peoples demand reparations from the University of Minnesota for historic abuses

Minneapolis, Minnesota - Indigenous Peoples are demanding "reparations in perpetuity" from the University of Minnesota (UMN) for more than 150 years of exploitation and abuse.

The University of Minnesota is facing calls for reparations from Indigenous communities it has harmed over more than 150 years.
The University of Minnesota is facing calls for reparations from Indigenous communities it has harmed over more than 150 years.  © STEPHEN MATUREN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

The case for reparations is grounded in a comprehensive assessment of the history of UMN, which got off the ground thanks to the proceeds of land taken from Indigenous Peoples through the 1862 Morrill Act. Subsequent land seizures increased the size of the university's holdings.

The Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing (TRUTH) Project in April released a report, over 500 pages long, detailing the harms UMN has inflicted on Indigenous Peoples throughout its existence, from perpetrating genocide and expropriating land to peddling revisionist history.

The university also conducted "unethical" medical research on Indigenous children in the 1960s, including experimental kidney biopsies, and failed to return sacred objects displayed in its museum, the Indigenous-led research team found.

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"You have these schools that have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal, but they are not looking at any ways they can improve living situations for Indigenous peoples today," An Garagiola, a descendant of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, told the Washington Post.

"Yet their existence as institutions, as schools of learning, are only there today because of everything that was taken."

University of Minnesota profits off Indigenous lands

Kevin DuPuis, chair of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, called out university buildings set up on Indigenous land given away without consent.
Kevin DuPuis, chair of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, called out university buildings set up on Indigenous land given away without consent.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The seizure of more than 200,000 acres of land with little to no compensation for tribal nations allowed UMN to develop into the immensely profitable institution it is today – with little regard for Indigenous life.

The institution's Permanent University Fund controls around $600 million in royalties from iron ore mining, timber sales, and other industries built off land taken from the Ojibwe and the Dakota, the TRUTH report states.

The nations are now demanding they get their due with "perpetual reparations" to Indigenous Peoples. They are also calling for the return of lands to Indigenous communities, tuition waivers for all Indigenous people and descendants regardless of state of residence, Indigenous curriculum requirements for all degree programs, and a complete inventory of human remains and other sacred items in the university's possession.

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In 2021, UMN established a program that offers free or reduced tuition to many enrolled members of the state's 11 federally recognized tribes. The TRUTH Project says the program excludes many people who have historically suffered from UMN policies, including descendants of Dakota people expelled from the state by the university founders, and has stressed the need for its expansion.

The urgent calls for redress comes amid a growing movement for reparations for Black Americans and the fallout over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Cover photo: STEPHEN MATUREN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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