Universities as quasi-cities have an obligation to reflect on their educational mission, and public universities have a responsibility to Native America through the unique federal trust responsibility owed to Native Nations by the federal government. The naming of buildings and transitioning to responsible adulthood requires universities, administrators, and students to reflect on who we were, who we are now, and whom we hope to be. Collaborative efforts to work with Native Nations should be undertaken with regard to naming issues.
Sovereigns possess power to control historical narratives and outcomes through their sovereign power to (1) name geographical places; (2) protect names as intellectual property; (3) use military naming protocols; and (4) name buildings. With this power comes the unique trust responsibility to Native Nations and Native Americans to recognize and acknowledge harms that have negative generational impacts. Universities are urban spaces and environments that are especially important spiritually to Native people who live, work, and attend classes there.
Once universities are on notice that buildings on their campuses may have names that inappropriately glorify those responsible for widespread human rights violations, they are at least ethically obligated to (1) review the alleged harms; (2) remove and replace the name; (3) mitigate the harm by offering a prominently displayed permanent educational explanation or exhibit that is based on facts; or (4) if the committee determines the second and third mitigation steps are not warranted, then the University should seek other means of recognizing harms by alternate programs, museum exhibits or other educational strategies, e.g., establish an American Indian Studies degree program.
Creating an environment of reflection and action to mitigate historical harms that come from failures of the past to recognize these harms is an important role for universities to protect and advance the future of Indigenous people in America.
"Native America: Universities as Quasi-Cities, Sovereignty and The Power to Name,"
American Indian Law Journal: Vol. 11:
1, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/ailj/vol11/iss1/2