Exploring the History of Indigenous Students at Andover

“I [don’t have enough] Indian customs left to be an Indian, and not enough white customs to be a paleface,” said Francis Verigan, an Indigenous Phillips Academy alumnus from the class of 1925, according to a research paper written by Rosie Poku ’17. Belonging to the Tlingit people, Verigan drifted between being homeless and attending boarding schools for Indigenous students before arriving at Andover. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries boarding schools, such as the Hampton Institute and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, were formed to expose Indigenous students to a traditionally white education, according to Poku. After the students left these boarding schools, some Indigenous students continued their education through attending predominantly white institutions like Andover.

Boarding schools for Indigenous students hold a violent history. The United States government forcibly removed Indigenous children from reservations to relocate them to these boarding schools, where they were stripped of their Indigenous culture and suffered repeated abuse, according to NPR. These policies lasted until 1978, according to The Atlantic.

In the presentation of their independent project “Sexual Violence Among Native American Communities and the Violence Against Women Act,” Celine Kwon ’13 and Elain Sohng ’13 attributed the origins of the violence within Native Ameircan communities to the establishment of Indigenous boarding schools, according to a Phillipian article from May 2013. 

“The boarding schools… destroyed traditional family structures, especially with abusive boarding school owners, who would physically and sexually abuse children,” said Sohng in the presentation. 

Despite the brutal history of these boarding schools, some Indigenous students such as Verigan have still attended other boarding schools like Andover. Going by Frank while at Andover, Verigan served as president of the Dramatic Club, played second-base on the baseball team, and was an active member of the student body, recognized in the 1923 yearbook several times, according to Poku. Verigan also wrote for The Mirror, Andover’s literary magazine, publishing “Little Hoss Discovers Andover,” in 1922. According to Poku, the short story follows the Indigenous character of Little Hoss as he attends his first year at Andover. Little Hoss grew up in the fictional “Blockfoot county,” in Montana, similar to the actual Blackfeet Nation residing in Montana. 

“Upon Little Hoss’ arrival at [Andover], he experiences hazing from older students. He is forced to wheel ‘three wheelbarrow loads of fire-place wood from Day to Pemberton,’ (two dorms that still exist on [Andover’s] campus today), make ‘several trips to town after various books for different fellows,’ and wake up to ‘a large firecracker under the head of his bed.’  Little Hoss experiences great homesickness at [Andover], but he is soothed when he remembers his mother’s advice: ‘If you find things discouraging, go out and listen to the unknown whispers in the woods, they will soothe you.’… Both Little Hoss and Francis Verigan himself were Native Americans who lived in Montana before coming to [Andover],” wrote Poku. 

Another notable Indigenous alum, LeRoy Spencer Jimerson Jr., son of a leader of the Seneca peoples, attended Andover from 1940-41, according to a document provided by Dr. Ryan Wheeler, Director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. After graduating, Jimerson received a scholarship to attend University of Michigan and was recruited by IBM. There, he worked on the NASA Gemini mission, helping to establish the foundational math necessary for the moon landing. According to the document, Jimerson achieved much at Andover, but nevertheless, faced microaggressions due to his Indigenous identity. 

“During Jimerson’s post-graduate year at [Andover], he ‘joined the school band, ran as a member of the cross-country squad, distinguished himself as a math student, won a Latin prize, and was elected to a cum laude (honor) society.’ In the Boys’ Life article, he describes general acceptance by his fellow Academy students, relating one instance where an international student wanted to know why he wasn’t wearing paint and feathers,” the document said.

More than 65 years later, feathers, a sacred object to some Indigenous cultures, continued to be used in a derogatory way to mock Indigenous peoples at Andover. In December 2009, the JV Girls Soccer team dressed up as caricatures of Indigenous people for their weekly “team psyche,” wearing bright feathers as part of their “costumes,” according to a Phillipian commentary article written by Indigenous student Tristin Moone ’10, titled “Respect the Natives.”

“On the eve of Native American heritage month and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I am disappointed by the team’s choice of psyche. Such racial ‘costume’ imitations demean Native American peoples and cultures. More so, this action doesn’t just reflect on the soccer team’s questionable judgment. It also reflects on the entire [Andover] community. It was apparent that there wasn’t strong opposition to the apparel as the students saw friends and faculty throughout the day without receiving much critical feedback,” wrote Moone. 

Nevertheless, the Andover administration and community have attempted to make Andover a more welcoming place for Indigenous students in recent decades. In May 2008, eleven Indigenous education, tribal, and community leaders visited Andover to determine whether the school met the needs of Indigenous students, according to a Phillipian article. The visit was sponsored by a $15,000 Abbot Grant requested by then Assistant Dean of Admission Jose Powell and Director of Student of Color Recruiting Susan Mantilla-Goin.  

“We did indeed have a small group of Indigenous educators visit campus back in 2008. This was a visit organized by our office in collaboration with Nedra Darling, Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. The visit offered a great opportunity for both parties to learn about one another, and aligned with our efforts to recruit youth from every quarter,” wrote Jill Thompson, Director of Admissions, in an email to The Phillipian

According to a December 2007 Phillipian article, the visit was part of an initiative from the Admissions Office to increase the number of Indigenous students at Andover. The number of Indigenous students at Andover from 1997-2007 ranged from a high of ten students to a low of about four, according to the December article, as well as data collected from Andover applicants asked to share their racial and ethnic identity.

“The leaders will determine whether [Andover], as a school and a community, is able to support Native American students. The goal of their visit will be to increase the presence of Native American students at [Andover]… This Abbot Grant sponsors one of the first concerted efforts to expand Andover’s recruitment of Native American students specifically. This year, the Admission Office has focused more on visiting areas with higher concentrations of Native students, especially in the southwestern region of the United States,” wrote Juliet Liu ’10 in the December 2008 Phillipian article. 

Additionally, in 2009, the Abbot Academy Fund awarded Moone $2,000 to create an Indigenous student lounge/library in the Peabody. According to a December 2009 Phillipian article, the lounge would have displayed Indigenous art from New Mexico and other culturally significant materials. Although Ryan could not confirm whether the lounge was ever created, he stated that there is no such student center in the Peabody currently. Ryan cited the fact that the Peabody only opens during business hours, Monday through Friday, as a possible conflict in establishing the lounge. 

“After talking with faculty and admissions officers about Native American recruitment, Moone realized that Native American students would feel more comfortable in a ‘community where we have something that we can connect to,’ [Moone] said. The project ‘will serve as base in the Peabody Museum to spark interest in [Native American] culture,’ she added.” wrote Apsara Iyer ’12 in the December 2009 article.

Current student Donoma Fredericson ’23, Board Member of Native Americans at Phillips Academy, believes that the small population of Indigenous-identifying students on campus characterizes the Indigenous experience at Andover. The three-person board of NAPA is currently focusing on working with the administration to formalize a land acknowledgement for the Andover website and incorporating it into different spaces on campus, according to Fredericson. A land acknowledgement is “a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories,” according to Native American and Indigenous Peoples Steering Group at Northwestern University. 

Fredericson attributed the push for land acknowledgements at Andover to the efforts of Indigenous student Emma Slibeck ’20, who led a protest calling for them during Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2020. According to Fredericson, Andover’s use of land acknowledgements in recent All-School Meetings are a step forward in dismantling settler-colonialism, which means the “removal and erasure of Indigenous peoples” in order for tribal land to be used by settlers.

“Obviously, a lot more can be done to support Indigenous students, [including] just being an institution that recognizes their role in settler-colonialism and trying to make amends to that, to recognize it and actively work against it. But it is a step forward. There’s just a lot more to be done in the future. This isn’t the end-all, be-all. It’s just a step,” said Fredericson. 

To further support Indigenous students and dismantle settler-colonialism, Fredericson encourages the Andover community to be conscious of their relationship with land and to be in communication with the original inhabitants of Andover’s land. Fredericson also stressed the importance of supporting Indigenous voices. 

“In terms of the institution itself, I think that there’s a lot to be done with decolonizing and expanding the narrative of how we learn history… In everyday life, in different classes, including Indigenous voices to make sure that we’re not telling the narrative, especially this country, but just in general, a narrative that is playing into settler-colonialism and silencing Indigenous people,” said Fredericson.