To the Editor: A Letter of Support from Members of IPECC


“We cannot be understood separated from the past, for what has happened to our ancestors over the past centuries has had its large share in molding the character that is ours today.” -Maudie Antoine, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, at the Centennial Treaty Observation on Whitman College’s campus in 1955

As members of the Indigenous Peoples Education and Culture Club (IPECC), we support the campus newspaper changing its name from The Pioneer.

The name The Pioneer is problematic for many reasons—it assumes people coming into virgin land with nothing previously existing on that land. This conception is horrendously inaccurate, as native peoples lived on this land for millennia before the “pioneers” invaded this area. “The Pioneers” were in fact white settlers entering into an already occupied space and assuming cultural and racial superiority.

We cannot dissociate “pioneer” with Whitman College’s history. Trying to remove the context is both revisionist and ignorant; a word cannot simply have partial meaning recognized while erasing the negative and violent parts of its historical association.

Furthermore, names are of extreme importance, especially from a native perspective. Names commemorate and legitimate individuals, thus embedding values within places and institutions.

Those who think the colonial project at Whitman College is over are misled. Whitman College exists on colonized, occupied land, serves a primarily white student body, and teaches in the European tradition. No students or faculty are enrolled members of the tribes on whose homeland the college is built. The college website’s description of history continues to exclude indigenous people. For nearly 20 years there has been no formal examination of the college’s history of promoting and benefiting from colonialism.

We, as students, are critically examining our community’s past and working to create inquiry into what it means to exist in this space. We support the name change as being in line with these efforts.

In the coming weeks, a petition created by faculty and students will be sent around the campus community. This petition calls for the inclusion of a trip to the Whitman Mission and the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute as part of every first-year’s orientation to campus. This is what a critical examination of history would look like. A critical examination does not come from the continued reduction of a painful and violent history to two words, The Pioneer, to be printed at the top of every issue without context.

Whitman College was founded to reinforce a story about colonial virtue and white racial supremacy, while erasing the memory and presence of indigenous people. It largely continues to act out that mission today. To remain silent, to ignore the past of this campus, the mascot, and the term “pioneer” is to endorse this mission. Only by actively confronting colonialism can students begin to dismantle the oppression that’s all around us.