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Dartmouth College Removes Director Of Native American Program


By October, most new college students are settled in on campus. But that's not true for many Native American students at Dartmouth College. That's because the controversial director of the school's Native American program has just been removed. From our Code Switch team, New Hampshire Public Radio's Peter Biello has this story.

PETER BIELLO, BYLINE: It's a quiet morning at the Native American house at Dartmouth College. Freshman Sherry Sneezer has parked herself in the dining room to study. She's one of the 91 students currently at Dartmouth who rely on the Native American program for support and advice.

SHERRY SNEEZER: We just need a director right now because we don't have anyone who will lead us, and we need some sort of support, someone we can relate to.

BIELLO: Sneezer is Navajo. Before she came to Dartmouth, she lived on a reservation in Arizona where she says people are quieter and more modest. So being surrounded by noisy college students took some adjustment. She knew that there'd be cultural differences like these.

SNEEZER: It's still kind of difficult, but I'm getting used to it.

BIELLO: The Native American Program director is supposed to help students get used to it. That's why Dartmouth brought on Susan Taffe Reed. When the college announced her hiring in September, it cited her work with the Native American Student Associations at Colgate and Cornell universities. It also promoted her, quote, "leadership roles in her Delaware tribal community." That's when Nicky Michael, a member of the Delaware Tribal Council, said, wait a minute.

NICKY MICHAEL: The two recognized tribes are in Oklahoma, and we've never seen her here.

BIELLO: As it turns out, Taffe Reed's nonprofit, Eastern Delaware Nations in Pennsylvania, is run by members of the Taffe family. It's not a federally recognized tribe and doesn't claim to be. Michael says this nonprofit has no connection to actual Delaware Indians.

MICHAEL: What upsets me is that they're taking money for Delaware culture. We have no idea what it's being used for.

BIELLO: A representative from Eastern Delaware Nations says they are entirely separate from the federally recognized tribe in Oklahoma and that their connections to Native American tribes are legit though documented.

ANTON TREUER: So just because a tribe is not federally recognized does not mean that they're not legitimate.

BIELLO: That's Anton Treuer. He's a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. Treuer says lots of people self-identify as Native American without having documentation.

TREUER: For a long time, being Indian was not cool. but now it is. And you also have people who have very, very tenuous ties to native communities who are happy to raise up that part of their profile if they feel it will give them any advantage.

BIELLO: Dartmouth College and Susan Taffe Reed declined our interview requests. But in a statement, the college defended her hiring, saying it can't ask job applicants about their heritage. The college says it's now looking for a new role for Taffe Reed. For Sherry Sneezer, heritage is not a requirement to lead the program, but...

SNEEZER: They'd relate to me better if they were Native American. That would make it a lot easier to talk about spiritual and mental problems.

BIELLO: Problems such as feeling out of place at an elite institution like Dartmouth. The college says it's looking for a permanent director of the Native American Program. In the meantime, current program coordinator, Kianna Burke of the Narragansett tribe, is in place to provide support to students. For NPR News, Peter Biello in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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