Occom Papers Repatriation Ceremony

President Hanlon's remarks at the repatriation of Samson Occom's papers to the Mohegan Tribe.

Good morning. Thank you for the warm welcome. It's such an honor to be here for this historic day, as we repatriate the papers of Samson Occom, a brilliant student, scholar and Presbyterian minister, to his homeland and the Mohegan people.  

It's especially meaningful to be doing so at this historic church, which I'm told has always been a place for Mohegans to gather in solidarity and spirituality, both of which we feel today.

On behalf of everyone at Dartmouth, I want to express my sincerest gratitude to Chairman Gessner, Vice Chairwoman Harris and the entire Mohegan Tribal Council; Chairman Strickland, Vice Chairwoman Regan and the Council of Elders; and Chief Lynn Malerba and Medicine Woman Tantaquidgeon Zobel for this privilege.

I also want to acknowledge and thank our Native American Visiting Committee at Dartmouth for their counsel and support; our distinguished guests from Brothertown, who I'm delighted are sharing in this moment; and my fellow Trustees, colleagues and students from Dartmouth, who I'm proud to have here by my side.

Today is both a solemn and celebratory occasion. Solemn because we know of the crushing disappointment Samson Occom experienced at the hands of his teacher, Eleazer Wheelock, who broke his promise to utilize the extraordinary sums Occom had raised on a trip to England for the creation of a new school to educate Native Americans. 

That school, of course, was Dartmouth. But despite a mandate in its charter to educate Native peoples, it was clear to Occom within the first two years of its existence that Native education was no longer Wheelock's priority. 

The disappointment he expressed in a 1771 letter to Wheelock over this betrayal is heartbreaking. 

"I think your College has too much wordly grandeur for the poor Indians; they'll never have much benefit of it," he wrote.

"Your having so many white scholars and so few or no Indian scholars, gives me great discouragement — I verily thought once that your Institution was intended purely for the poor Indians. With this thought, I cheerfully ventured my body and soul, left my country, my poor young family, all my friends and relations, to sail over the boisterous seas to England, to help forward your School, hoping that it may be a lasting benefit to my poor tawny brethren.

"But when we got home, behold all the glory had decayed and now I am afraid, we shall be deemed as liars and deceivers in Europe. […] I understand you have no Indians at present except two or three Mollatoes — this, I think, is quite contrary to the minds of the donors. We told them that we were begging for poor miserable Indians. As for my part, I went purely for the poor Indians, and I should be as ready as ever to promote your School according to my poor abilities if I could be convinced by ocular demonstration that your pure intention is to help the poor helpless Indians. But as long as you have no Indians, I am full of doubts."

Occom's anguish in this letter is palpable, his concerns well-founded. Indeed, Dartmouth did little to actualize its founding commitment to Native students for the next two centuries. 

But in 1970, my predecessor – then-Dartmouth President John Kemeny – sought to turn this point of pain for Occom and, by extension, the Native community into a point of pride.

Understanding that the past could never be undone…but that the future was ours to build, President Kemeny helped our beloved College take its first step toward righting the past, rededicating Dartmouth to advancing Native American education and founding our prestigious Native American Studies Program.

In the five decades hence, more than 1,200 Native American students have proudly graduated from Dartmouth, deeply enriching our community along the way. Each of those students – Vice Chairwoman Harris, among them – has brought us one step closer to fulfilling Occom's hopes and vision and to honoring the seminal role he played in our founding, despite how duplicitous that founding was. 

This is what we celebrate today.

Chairman Gessner, would you please come and join me at the podium?

On behalf of the entire Dartmouth community, it is my profound honor to present you with this box containing Samson Occom's original papers, which rightfully belong with all of you. 

These papers represent not only the brilliant student and scholar Occom was, but the strength of the bonds that exist between Dartmouth and the Mohegan people.

I sincerely hope this gesture will be one more step in our reconciliation for the disappointment Occom experienced, and in our resolve to continue our commitment to the education of Native students that John Kemeny reignited five decades ago and that Occom felt so passionately about. 

It has taken far too long for these papers to be returned to where they've always belonged. But they are here now, accompanied by the spirit of Samson Occom that lives on in them. 

I couldn't be more pleased that you will serve as their stewards from this point forward, and that you will continue to make them accessible to all so that the story of Samson Occom can be told for generations to come.  

Thank you for welcoming them home.