Keynote—Land-Grab Universities: How Indigenous Lands Funded U.S. Land-Grant Institutions

  • Robert Lee (University of Cambridge)
  • Tristan Ahtone (Grist)


In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which distributed public domain lands to raise funds for fledgling colleges across the nation, including Iowa State University. Now thriving, the institutions seldom ask who paid for their good fortune. Their students sit in halls named after the act’s sponsor, Vermont Rep. Justin Morrill, and stroll past panoramic murals that embody creation stories that start with gifts of free land. Behind that myth lies a massive wealth transfer masquerading as a donation. The Morrill Act worked by turning land expropriated from tribal nations into seed money for higher education. In all, the act redistributed nearly 11 million acres—an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. But with a footprint broken up into almost 80,000 parcels of land, scattered mostly across 24 Western states, its place in the violent history of North America’s colonization has remained comfortably inaccessible. Dr. Lee and Mr. Ahtone will shine a light on this history, including how the state of Iowa was the first to sign up for the land. Take a closer look To take a closer look at the infographics shared during the presentation and discover more about the topic, we encourage you to visit the Land-Grab Universities website.



Published on
02 Mar 2022
Land-Grab Universities: How Indigenous Lands Funded U.S. Land-Grant Institutions