Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Major grant will help teach UW’s roots in Indigenous land dispossession

Many students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison aren’t aware of the state’s full Indigenous history, nor the history of the university’s founding and early years. With the help of a recently-awarded major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Assistant Professor Kasey Keeler and four other UW–Madison professors seek to change that with their project “Teaching Indigenous Dispossession in Wisconsin and Beyond.”

Portrait of Kasey Keeler, a Native woman, smiling, wearing a patterned blue and red dress with red beaded earrings.
Dr. Kasey Keeler

UW is a land-grant university, which means it benefited from the sale of American Indian land through the 1862 Morrill Act. While land-grant institutions produce important scholarship and research that gives back to the state, they can do so because of the wealth and real estate gained from the dispossession of Indigenous lands.

Keeler and her interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students aim to help teach this history by creating educational modules about the expropriation of Indigenous lands and integrating these educational modules into courses across campus.

“There is a huge disconnect if you don’t know American Indian history, you don’t know the tribal nations of the state and you don’t know how treaties worked,” says Keeler, who has appointments in the School of Human Ecology’s Civil Society and Community Studies and in American Indian Studies. “But when you can kind of connect the dots, I think it’s really, really powerful. And I think this project can do that.”

The team intends to make the information accessible to local Native and non-Native communities – not just the UW–Madison campus – and hopes the curriculum will inspire other land-grant universities to create similar curricula for their own campuses.

The sun sets over two visible effigy burial mounds on Observatory Hill. They are covered in grass and fallen fall leaves. In the background are trees and Washburn Observatory, a dome shaped building.
Two effigy burial mounds, which were part of a larger Indigenous-mound group created over one thousand years ago, on Observatory Hill at UW. The UW–Madison campus is located on the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk Nation, on what they call Teejop (day-JOpe), the Four Lakes. Photo by Jeff Miller / UW–Madison.