You don’t need a weather vane

On the colonial frontier Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock established Dartmouth College as an institution to educate Native Americans. The college had its origins in the Indian missionary movement and in the mid-eighteenth-century evangelical revival. The college’s charter reflected its origins in Indian education even though it also provided for the education of “English Youth and any others.” (I borrow this account of the college’s history from Encylopedia.com.)

The education of “English Youth and any others” quickly came to predominate, though the college’s origins were proudly visible when John, Paul, and I attended as undergraduates. Visible signs and tokens of the college’s origins have mostly been covered up and removed since the early 1970’s.

The college’s athletic teams, for example, then known as the Indians, were renamed the Big Green in 1974. At that time the trustees declared the “use of the [Indian] symbol in any form to be inconsistent with present institutional and academic objectives of the College in advancing Native American education.”

One remnant of the college’s origins still sits atop the tower adorning Baker-Berry Library at the heart of the campus. It is a 600-pound copper weather vane that “depicts Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock with a Native American smoking a long pipe near a barrel of rum and a tree.”

In the tear down all the things phase of the current revolution, the weather vane of course must go. The Dartmouth Daily reports:

College President Phil Hanlon announced today that Dartmouth will remove and replace Baker Tower’s weather vane, which currently bears an image of a Native American.

The 600-pound weather vane, first installed as a result of a contest held during the construction of the tower in 1928, bears an image similar to that on the former Dartmouth crest, which was replaced last year. The vane portrays a Native American wearing feathers, smoking a pipe and sitting on the ground in front of Dartmouth’s founder Eleazar Wheelock. A round shape — which historical records say is likely a barrel of rum — sits behind Wheelock.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence said the College would remove the vane “as soon as possible.”

Native Americans at Dartmouth, a student organization that supports Native and Indigenous students at the College, wrote in a statement that the image on the weather vane promotes an idea that white systems of education are “valued above” those of the Native American community. NAD’s statement noted that the vane “panders to an invented and false idea of Native people” not based on any specific person or tribal group.

“It is clear that the images portrayed on the weather vane do not reflect Dartmouth’s values,” Hanlon said in a statement from the College.

Hanlon wrote that the decision to remove the weather vane, which stands seven feet tall and nine feet wide, came following students’ and community members’ concerns regarding the image. A petition created by Hanover resident David Vincelette calling for the removal of the weather vane has nearly 600 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows. Given the college’s disgraceful origins, I’m thinking it’s time for the whole damn thing to go.

UPDATE: A classmate passes on this lament for our benighted days beneath the weather vane: “I hadn’t realized that a Hanover resident had gotten almost 500 signatures demanding the removal of the weathervane. Well, then, who can object? A tidal wave of deeply committed people has swept away this horrid thing. I look back with regret on my undergrad experience as only now I realize how that symbol of racist patriarchy looked down from its proud height on everything I did and learned. It was a kind of invisible pervasive poison in the cultural atmosphere I had breathed so eagerly and proudly. Why did Hanlon wait so long to banish it? What finally gave him the spine and strength to throw it down?“

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