Investigating Land Grants to Universities

Passed in 1862, the Morrill Act gave 11 million acres of public land to states to sell off to endow fledgling land-grant colleges. Those lands, of course, were not uninhabited. They had become U.S. real estate through broken treaties, illegal seizures, and outright genocide. A grant only in name, the Morrill Act was a wealth transfer from tribal nations to American colleges nationwide.

The funds remain on the books today. To track their sources, this reporting team delved into various streams of data, from tracing endowments to gathering data from land offices and archives. This investigation will challenge universities to reexamine their ties to dispossession and will show how land-grant universities profited from Indigenous land in stunning detail: every tribe fleeced, every parcel sold, every dollar endowed. Told through a contemporary Indigenous community and illustrated with an interactive webpage that presents the data for easy exploration and download, this project will reveal that the violent removal of Indigenous people was central to the founding of some of America’s most powerful educational institutions.