Tracing and Celebrating Indigenous Roots at the College of the Holy Cross

1620/2020 Speaker Series is part of ongoing work to educate the campus community on the College’s complex history

It is a well-known story that Holy Cross was formally established by the Jesuits in 1843, on land that college founder Bishop Benedict J. Fenwick, S.J. purchased for $1,500. The fact that the land was originally home to the Nipmuc, a Native American tribe found in Massachusetts and adjacent portions of Connecticut and Rhode Island, is lesser-known. 

This academic year, the College, its faculty and students are working to change that. 

In his fall address, Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president of the College, reflected on the heightened obligation to not only educate the community about the College's complex institutional history, but also to memorialize it. Thus, in addition to creating a plaque referencing the Nipmuc tribal community who once lived here, Fr. Boroughs also announced that, starting with October 12, 2020, the College will observe the federal holiday of Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

"Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrates and honors Native American peoples, their histories, contributions and cultures," said Fr. Boroughs. "It also serves as a reminder of the losses suffered by the Native American peoples and their cultures from diseases, warfare, massacres and forced assimilation at the hands of colonialism and westward expansion. At Holy Cross, in particular, being built upon Pakachoag Hill, we have a responsibility to recognize and understand our own history and to honor those from the Nipmuc nation who are native to this land."

This is a topic that Professor Thomas Doughton, a senior lecturer in interdisciplinary studies at Holy Cross, and one of the preeminent historians of the Nipmuc people in the region, has had on his mind for a while now. "Today's students are so hungry to learn more about past and present Indian-U.S. relations, here in Worcester, but also at the national level," said Doughton. "It's important to give them an opportunity to deepen their understanding of these important issues."

Thus, he teamed up with colleagues Sarah Luria, professor of English and director of the Environmental Studies Program; Sarah Klotz, assistant professor of English; environmental studies major Madison Chouinard ‘22; and environmental historian Colin Novick from the Greater Worcester Land Trust, to develop the 1620/2020 Speaker Series.

Open to area educators, historians and the general public, the series will explore past and contemporary Indian/New England/U.S. relations in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth, Mass., and will culminate with the November 7 premiere of the College Hill/Pakachoag Film Project: "Pakachoag: Where the River Bends," a film documenting historic sites around College Hill. 

"The 1620/2020 Speaker Series can make a meaningful contribution to the College's commitment to social justice in presenting the Native American heritage of The Hill," said Doughton. 

The series is co-sponsored by the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture.

Relevant Coverage:

Worcester Magazine, Nov. 3: Holy Cross examines its foundations built on Native American settlement