What's the Indigenous History (Past and Present) of Columbia University?

Columbia students, faculty, and staff talk about the history of the university and the strides made by the indigenous community.

Kelly Moffitt
October 08, 2021

Since 2016, a plaque has stood on Columbia University’s Morningside campus reading:


The Lenape lived here before and during colonization of the Americas. This plaque recognizes these indigenous people of Manhattan, their displacement, dispossession, and continued presence. It stands as a reminder to reflect on our past as we contemplate our way forward.

Last year was the first year that the university officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be celebrated on the second Monday of every October. 

Columbia University and Morningside Heights sit on the land of the Lenni-Lenape and Wappinger people, the indigenous residents of Manahata (“island of hills” in the Algonquian language). 

“This whole presence, almost all of New York that we sit on, is on indigenous peoples’ land,” said Kianna Pete (CC’23), the Publicity Director for Columbia’s Native American Council, the group responsible for pushing for the plaque to be installed on campus and for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be recognized.

This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, five years after the installation of the plaque, Columbia News has gathered students, faculty, and staff to reflect on the indigenous history of Columbia, the activism of Native Americans on campus, and the indigenous scholarship that takes place at the university.

You can watch the full video at the embed above or at the link here

“My existence as an indigenous person is dedicated to furthering an understanding of our history, our culture, and our struggles in the present,” Audra Simpson, Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. “It is my entire body of research, it is my future research, my teaching, and my pedagogy. So, it is not just one day for me. It is my life.”