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Native American students say Dartmouth library weather vane ‘flaunts racist depiction’

  • A petition is being circulated decrying the weathervane atop Dartmouth College’s Baker Library in Hanover, N.H., as racist, and asking for its removal, Thursday, June 11, 2020. The weathervane depicts Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock with a Native American smoking a long pipe near a barrel of rum and a tree. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Baker Tower rises above downtown Hanover, N.H., Thursday, June 11, 2020. A petition is being circulated decrying the weathervane, depicting Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock with a Native American smoking a long pipe near a barrel of rum and a tree, as racist and asking for its removal. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2020 3:00:45 PM
Modified: 6/12/2020 9:35:41 PM

HANOVER — A Native American student group is calling on Dartmouth College to remove the weather vane from the tower of Baker Library, saying that it “flaunts a racist depiction in the face of all the meaningful and beautiful progress that has been made.”

Calling the weather vane, which depicts college founder Eleazar Wheelock sitting next to a barrel of rum while lecturing to a Native American student, a “patronizing and stereotypical depiction of Native peoples,” and a “demeaning symbol,” the executive board of Native Americans at Dartmouth said in a statement that “its removal would be a welcome and long overdue change.”

The statement, provided by Dartmouth student Steven Malcolm Jump-Mora, “reflects the sentiments of the members of the executive board of NAD,” he wrote in an email.

The statement is a response to an online petition calling for the weather vane’s removal. As of Friday afternoon, almost 110 people had signed the petition.

“It’s just a cruel mockery of Native Americans,” Hanover resident David Vincelette, a member of Dartmouth’s class of 1984, said this week. Vincelette posted the petition on Change.org a couple of weeks ago.

Erected in 1928, along with the library, the weather vane shows Wheelock sitting on a stump, while the Native American he’s instructing is sitting on the ground and smoking a long pipe. Behind Wheelock are a barrel of rum and a tall tree.

The barrel of rum as an icon of alcoholism is particularly grating, Vincelette said.

“The positioning of this figure at the feet of an ‘educating’ colonizer demonstrates an inherent subversion of Native people and upholds a narrative of white supremacy,” the Native Americans at Dartmouth executive board said in its statement.

The controversy comes as Dartmouth celebrates a virtual graduation on Sunday and as its Board of Trustees are meeting online.

“We understand and respect the reaction community members have to the weathervane,” Dartmouth spokesperson Diana Lawrence said in a written statement. “After some consultation and additional consideration, we will determine what is the most appropriate action.”

Vincelette, who has been at odds with Hanover and Dartmouth officials in the past, said he thinks the weather vane represents a time when the dominant culture wasn’t as aware of negative stereotypes of Native Americans.

“It belongs in a museum, not on the highest building in Hanover,” he said.

Dartmouth has faced a long reckoning with its origins as a school meant to convert Native Americans to Christianity, and with the symbols of those origins.

The school disavowed its sporting teams’ unofficial Indian mascot in the 1970s, around the same time the college rededicated itself to bringing Native American students to campus, a mission it still carries out.

Colin Calloway, the chairman of the college’s Native American Studies Department, and N. Bruce Duthu, the department’s incoming chairman, said in a joint statement that “concern about the weathervane is nothing new for Native American Studies, or our Native students. It is a daily reminder that for 200 years the college failed to live up to the promise of its charter, and the placement of the Native figure in a subordinate position perpetuates the colonial thinking of Eleazar Wheelock that white society has nothing to learn from Indigenous peoples.”

In recent years, the racist Hovey murals, which depict Native American stereotypes (including barrels of rum) of roughly the same era as the weather vane, were moved first to a basement room in the Class of 1953 Commons, and in 2018 to a Hood Museum of Art storage area, where they are available for scholarly research.

“The derogatory images in the Hovey murals convey disturbing messages that are incompatible with Dartmouth’s mission and values,” Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon said at the time. “Moving them off-campus to Hood storage is the right thing to do.”

The weather vane was designed as part of a contest, won by architect Stanley Orcutt, who titled his winning entry “Wheelock and an Indian under the Pine.”

It is 8 feet, 9 inches long, 6 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 600 pounds and stands 200 feet above campus.

The device was restored in 2016 as part of the restoration of the Baker Library tower. A new copper skin was bent around the metal frame, and the original one was placed in storage.

Both the Baker tower and its weather vane are among the most visible symbols not only of Dartmouth but of Hanover.

The town’s logo features the tower.

The new shield designed for Dartmouth’s Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies incorporates the Baker tower with the weather vane partially obscured.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.



This statement was provided to the Valley News on Friday by Native Americans at Dartmouth.


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