IPECC’s History Day Calls Out Whitman’s Past

IPECC%27s+History+Day+Calls+Out+Whitman%27s+Past

Mikaela Slade

Update: IPECC wishes to draw attention to how Whitman College has historically promoted, and still tacitly supports, a version of local history that is racially insensitive and supports imperialism. This history presents Marcus & Narcissa Whitman as white martyrs whose deaths justified the United States’ invasion of the inland Northwest and the killing of Native Americans.

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The Indigenous People’s Education and Culture Club, IPECC, set out tables on Alumni weekend in order to educate both alumni and students about the racism and symbolism of some of the landmarks on campus.

During this event, dubbed Whitman History Day, IPECC brought in Associate Professor of Art History Dennis Crockett to give a talk on the architecture and the history of the school in order to discuss the misleading romanticism that is associated with some of the historic landmarks and to ensure that their historical context was provided.

“I decided to back it up with content about where we are from and emphasize the biases of the foundation of Whitman; it is not a nice clean history,” said Crockett.

Crockett spoke about the conflicts between the UK and the US, as well as the conflict between Catholic and Protestant settlers. Crockett’s talk was geared towards the British and European Americans that were in the Oregon Territory between 1763 and 1846 in order to talk about their conflicts, which preceded the founding of Whitman.

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Professor Dennis Crockett presents for Whitman History Day

“What I was focusing on was British and US conflict out here and Protestant and Catholic conflict,” said Crockett. “The British tended to be Catholic and the US was Protestant.”

This talk was given in relation to the second part of Whitman History Day, which was a self-guided tour of historical landmarks on campus. Senior Jacqueline Rees-Mikula, a key member of this club, helped research and write about the landmarks students presented. Her work focused on acknowledging the problems with romanticizing memorialized individuals.

“It was a self-guided tour and you could start anywhere we [had] pamphlets available,” said senior Jacqueline Rees-Mikula. “We were standing in front of Memorial Hall, Prentiss Hall, and the amphitheater.”

Brenna Two Bears is a junior and president of the IPECC who played a big role in bringing this event together. She worked with club members during this event, all of whom manned tables at several different stations. Two Bears stationed herself in front of Prentiss, at the table focused on Narcissa Whitman.

“We were talking about how she was a very strong woman,” said Two Bears, “and how she did all this work, but we were also trying to de-romanticize her because the work that she did here was not that well done.”  

An overarching theme of all stations was the iconography of the missionaries, who are still part of Whitman’s culture as the school mascots and logo.

“We were focusing on this image of the missionary [and] what we were trying to tell people was that what [the Whitmans] came here to do, what the school was named after, wasn’t accomplished,” said Two Bears.

The IPECC is a fairly new club and this event was their very first event. The event had been in the works for a long time and its members worked extensively to gather the research on landmarks and coordinate scheduling.

“This is the first official club activity this year, but it has been in planning since last semester,” said Rees-Mikula.

The club wanted to educate the Whitman community about the monuments on campus, the missionaries, and the college’s history. They strategically planned the event for this weekend to get the attention of the alumni, who are crucial in providing donations for the school and would greatly influence any change to the school’s mascot.

“I think that it [the event] went really well.  Our focus for doing this on alumni weekend was to get a lot of alumni interest so we can have their support.” said Two Bears.