Before arriving at MIT, Francis Amasa Walker had twice led the us Census—and helped justify the troubling US plan of containing native Americans ~ above reservations.

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This map indigenous Walker’s 1874 book,The Indian Question, shows what he referred to as the “white population” in mauve, Indian appointments in orange, and variety or hunting grounds in peach.

A decade before Francis Amasa Walker became MIT’s 3rd president in 1881, he offered as commissioner that Indian affairs for the joined States. The was not a task for i beg your pardon he had actually any specific qualifications. Born come a significant Boston household in 1840, Walker had served together a staff officer in the civil War, teach political economic situation at Amherst College, to be chief the the united state Bureau that Statistics, and was appointed superintendent that the us Census that 1870, all before transforming 30. Yet he had no endure with aboriginal American issues. Follow to at the very least one historic account, president Ulysses S. Grant named the commissioner in component so the could proceed to get a commonwealth paycheck in ~ a time as soon as the still-unfinished census had run out of money. A man of significant energy, Walker separated his time between the 2 positions.

As commissioner, Walker used his specialization in statistics and also economics to mapping policy alternatives in the midst of the levels Wars, when indigenous Americans battled the us Army and also settlers for control of land native the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains—land that they had been promised under multiple treaties. The bureau’s yearly report of 1872, which he wrote greatly himself, attests the he performed “hundreds the interviews … with guys from every ar of the country, that both parties, and also of all professions.” however he made just one trip to the Plains, where he met with the Sioux in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

Walker’s landmark report to be a considerable summary of concerns involving the 300,000 native Americans then living in the us (excluding those in Alaska, which had actually recently to be purchased native Russia). According to his 1897 obituary in the Quarterly newspaper of Economics, the report was “remarkable because that its thorough evaluation of the totality subject.” after leaving his post, walker penned two posts on the topic, which he republished with product from the report in his 1874 book, The Indian Question

Viewed indigenous our modern vantage, 2 notable aspects of Walker’s writings are the unflinching means he blamed the conflict virtually entirely top top the aggression the whites and his description of the diversity amongst the tribes. Walker acknowledged that numerous of them had actually been uprooted from ancestral lands the were fertile and rich through game, then forced to live on floor that can not support them and told to embrace European agriculture. Unable to feed themselves, they were dependent top top rations promised under treaties v the US—rations that were generally late or stolen. The also detailed that the US had actually made nearly 400 treaties with the tribes—“confirmed by the Senate as are treaties with foreign powers”—but that numerous had been abrogated. 

Francis Amasa Walker, photographed during his tenure together president that the Institute.

A potent resource of dispute was illegal incursions by whites right into Indian territory: “The eagerness the the median American citizens of the areas for acquiring upon Indian lands quantities to a passion,” pedestrian wrote. “There is scarcely one of the ninety-­two bookings at current established on i beg your pardon white men have actually not effected a lodgement: plenty of swarm with squatters, who hold their ar by intimidating the rightful owners.” In skirmishes between whites and Indians, pedestrian noted, white skin - man “often commit atrocities rivaling those that the savages” and “are an extremely often indiscriminate in your revenge, and do cruel injustice to peaceful bands.”

Walker likewise observed that disputes had escalated v the 1869 perfect of the Trans-Continental Railroad—and would certainly likely flourish with anticipated future railroads, i m sorry would cut right through appointments that had been promised come the Indians.

Walker"s "Indian Question" had two parts: “What shall be done v the Indian together an obstacle to the nationwide progress?” and “What shall be done v him when, and also so much as, he ceases to oppose or obstruct the extensions of railways and also settlements?” 

Despite this frank and largely precise assessment, today Walker’s book is pertained to by many as a racism screed, and also he is viewed as a proponent that “scientific racism”—a discredited movement that misused the devices of scientific research to argue for the natural superiority the whites. Indeed, Walker wrote that the US federal government was justified in pushing indigenous Americans off their genealogical lands so they might be used an ext productively through “civilized” whites. 

The “Indian Question” the posed had actually two parts: “What shall be done with the Indian together an obstacle to the national progress?” and “What shall it is in done through him when, and so far as, he end to protest or obstruct the expansions of railways and also settlements?” 

Walker believed that the an option was “between two antagonistic schemes—seclusion and also citizenship.” the favored the former because, the wrote, “the principle of secluding ind from whites because that the an excellent of both races is developed by one overwhelming preponderance of authority.” He advocated confining indians to reservations and forcing them to farm or otherwise work until they to be assimilated right into the us economy. Meanwhile, he maintained, the US should make good on its treaty obligations due to the fact that doing so would certainly be cheaper than further military action: “Expensive together is the Indian company as in ~ present conducted in the interest of peace, it prices far less than fighting.” 

His disagreements may have actually helped cement the device of Indian reservations, however Walker walk not develop it: the very first reservation was created in southern brand-new Jersey in 1758. The modern system began in the 1810s, ~ Andrew Jackson beat the Creek Confederation in ~ the battle of Horseshoe Bend and also negotiated the “removal” of several Eastern tribes to west that the Mississippi River. 

Jackson ended up being president in 1829; the adhering to year the signed the Indian removal Act, i beg your pardon led directly to what’s well-known as the follow of Tears, once 125,000 indigenous Americans indigenous Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, north Carolina, and also Florida were compelled to walk hundreds of miles to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi. Every this happened prior to Walker to be born.

While Walker served in the army of the Potomac during the polite War, the united state was at the same time fighting multiple wars with assorted tribes ~ above the Plains. These wars were commonly accompanied by massacres of aboriginal American women and also children. In 1867 Congress created a “peace commission” to settle the countless outstanding issues. 

Grant ran because that president in 1868 v a setup for boosting relations between the US and also the Indian nations. Forty days after taking office, that appointed Ely S. Parker, a Towanda Seneca additionally known together Donehogawa, together the an initial Native American commissioner of Indian affairs. Parker, an engineer who had actually graduated indigenous Rensselaer Polytechnic, had served with provide in the Civil war as a commissioned lieutenant colonel, and also transcribed the terms of Lee’s surrender in ~ Appomattox in component because the his fantastic handwriting.

Parker had enemies. In December 1870, the racist previous chairman the the board of Indian Commissioners composed a letter to congress accusing that of corruption. Parker at some point cleared his surname after a months-long investigation, but he was ruined by the ordeal and also resigned. Walker was his replacement, fee with proceeding the administration’s plan of making good on contract commitments and rooting out corruption.

Following a wave of violence against Indians in the Oregon Territory, pedestrian resigned in December 1872, having actually served proper a year. He joined the faculty in ~ Yale, wherein he taught political economy and also wrote The Indian Question, which expanded on his factual report with evaluation and plan recommendations. The publication soon “became a traditional treatise,” according to a 2018 biography released by the American statistics Association. 

Today Walker’s writings actors a shadow over MIT’s aboriginal American community. “From mine understanding, as soon as he wrote that book, Indigenous civilization were very unusual dichotomy: us were thought about by non-Indigenous as both mystical in a Last that the Mohicans sense—noble, ready to make sacrifices, warriors—while simultaneously we were considered savages and childlike,” states Alvin Harvey, SM ’20, a member of the Navajo Nation, a doctor student in the room of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and also president that the MIT native American college student Association.

When Harvey check out Walker’s book, that says, he was “shocked to uncover MIT’s background with Indigenous world extended that much back—that among its presidents was prominent in the mechanism that still exist to this day.”

“I don’t think that to be without compassion for people, but he was an essentialist,” states Deborah Douglas, the MIT Museum’s director of collections, who is emerging an exhibit about the history of race at MIT. 

Walker thought there were “essential differences in between races, between men and also women,” explains Douglas. That belief is top top full display in his book, in i beg your pardon he created that colonizers “beat the savages with their very own weapons, as males of the higher race will constantly do when forced by situations to together a contest.” yet despite his views, he showed up willing to recognize outstanding individuals, nevertheless of their heritage or sex: Robert Taylor, MIT’s very first Black graduate, gone into MIT ~ above Walker’s clock in 1888, and Walker approved the production of the Margaret Cheney Room, a community facility for MIT women, in 1884.

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“Having walker as the 3rd president that MIT—it doesn’t make MIT one inherently bad institution. I think the MIT has done so many amazing things for the world,” claims Luke Bastian ’21, also a member of the Navajo Nation. Nevertheless, that says, it took comprehensive negotiations last year for aboriginal American college student to acquire their own physical an are on campus. “We’re here. Us exist,” Bastian says. It is “the simple thing” that the team struggled to gain MIT to acknowledge.

Harvey, Bastian, and other members of the MIT native American community likewise successfully encouraged MIT to article a declare on that is website acknowledging that MIT is developed on “unceded are of the Wampanoag Nation.” 

“We identify the painful history of genocide and forced occupation of their territory,” the statement goes on come say, “and us honor and also respect the plenty of diverse indigenous people connected to this land on which we gather native time immemorial.”