For Native Americans, Harvard and other colleges fall short

By: | May 27, 2021

When Samantha Maltais steps onto Harvard’s campus this fall, she’ll become the first member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe to attend its prestigious law school. It’s a “full-circle moment” for the university and the Martha’s Vineyard tribe, she says.

More than 350 years ago,Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, became the first Native American to graduate from the Cambridge, Massachusetts, university — the product of its 1650 charter calling for the education of “English and Indian youth of this country.”

“Coming from a tribal community in its backyard, I’m hyper aware of Harvard’s impact,” said Maltais, the 24-year-old daughter of her tribe’s chairwoman. “It’s a symbol of New England’s colonial past, this tool of assimilation that pushed Native Americans into the background in their own homelands.”

Maltais will arrive on campus at a time when Native American tribes, students and faculty are pushing the Ivy League institution and other colleges to do more for Indigenous communities to atone for past wrongs, much in the way states, municipalities and universities are weighing and, in some cases, already providing reparations for slavery and discrimination against Black people.

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