To the Editor:
The day I graduated from Oberlin College I walked with many of my classmates around the arch in Tappan Square. In this simple action we called upon Oberlin to re-examine its missionary history and the limited way in which the College continued to represent Oberlin's involvement in events of the past. It was not enough to ask what Oberlin gained and lost from that involvement. It was important to seek an understanding of the ways in which Oberlin's missionary ties may have been linked to the gains and losses of other groups, cultures and institutions outside what was then "the Oberlin community."
Not long after I graduated in '93, I got a letter requesting that I give (more) money to Oberlin College. I laughed. Dissatisfied with the education I received at Oberlin and still paying for the Oberlin experience, I was not a likely match for a donor.
The College continued to send me these letters, and I recently decided to give something back. I sent a check to the Nez Perce Tribal Foundation, Spalding-Allen Collection, Laowai, Idaho. I encourage all alumni considering donating money to Oberlin College to instead direct their gifts to the Nez Perce Tribal Foundation.
I'm not aware of what has been happening in Oberlin lately, or whether the Nez Perce Tribe's effort to reclaim the Spalding-Allen Collection (which includes items of historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Nez Perce) has gotten much attention on campus. Somehow, what was taken from Nez Perce Indians by the infamous Rev. Henry Spalding, sent to his friend Dr. Dudly Allen in Ohio, donated by Allen's son to Oberlin College, permanently loaned to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) and then temporarily loaned to the Nez Perce National Historical Park became "property" of OHS to be sold back to the Nez Perce for $608,000. It is my understanding that officials of Oberlin College chose not to take any active role in the negotiations between the Ohio Historical Society and the Nez Perce Tribe. It appears the College made no effort to convince OHS that the collection should be returned, rather than sold. I believe Oberlin College has acted irresponsibly.
Recent fundraising letters from the College urge us to "have faith" in Oberlin. I can have no faith in an institution which acts only on its own financial interests by protecting its relationship with the Ohio Historical Society and shows no understanding of the ways in which its historical ties have taken a toll on other communities.
The Nez Perce should not have to buy what is rightfully theirs. If someone now has to pay for the collection in order for it to be kept in Idaho, why not Oberlin? Oberlin has willingly accepted generous gifts from the families of missionaries and has profited greatly. The College should be just as willing to acknowledge that some of the items it has received were obtained unjustly. In addition, Oberlin College should cover the bill which has now been attached to those gifts.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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