A second letter calling for the removal of the controversial Sullivan memorial along with several other goals related to Indigenous concerns will be sent to the Lafayette administration in May.
The memorial in question was installed on June 18, 1900 by the George Taylor Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), based in Easton. The plaque commemorates the path along which General John Sullivan marched to wage a scorched earth campaign against the Iroquois who carried out devastating raids on American settlers. It is located near the Delta Upsilon fraternity house on Sullivan Road.
The letter, which is part of a final project for a class called Voices of Environmental Justice, was written by Lizzie Diacik ’23 and Tessa Landon ’22. This letter led the two students to collaborate with Ariel Haber-Fawcett ’24, Abigail Schaus ’24, and a number of other students to form the Sullivan Removal Coalition.
It was not the first time students had heard of the plaque in their curriculum, nor the first time students had advocated for its removal. Several students submitted a letter to the administration in 2019. Two years later, the situation remained unchanged and students again protested against the memorial. Through the formation of the coalition, however, a variety of different voices began pushing for deeper changes to improve Lafayette’s current lack of recognition of Native American history.
Some coalition members expressed uncertainty about the ownership of the plaque, particularly whether Lafayette would be allowed to enforce its removal or whether that power rested with the DAR. Haber-Fawcett said if the plaque couldn’t be removed, putting an additional plaque in place acknowledging her problematic language would be the ideal next step.
On March 23, students and faculty filled Rockwell 362 at the first coalition meeting, where speakers explained the history of the plaque and the motivation behind advocating for its removal.
One of the speakers at the event was Oneniotekówa Maracle ’25, a Native American student whose first name means The Great Standing Rock. A member of the Mohawk Nation, Maracle is originally from the Mohawk Territory of Tyendinaga and currently resides in the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne. In his slides, Maracle detailed his objections to the plaque’s presence on campus because of his personal connection to the events it recounts.
“The people General Sullivan sought to completely destroy were/are the Haudenosaunee (People of The Longhouse),” the slides read. “The Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy, consist of 6 nations… We are living, breathing people who still exist in modern society.
The meeting included members from a variety of different organizations and groups on campus who had an interest in removing the plaque and going further with Native American activism.
Haber-Fawcett said members were building on the movement’s pre-existing momentum to bring all of these groups together in the same room.
Schaus echoed that sentiment.
“It was kind of just the ripple effect of seeing what other courses and people have knowledge and experience about it,” Schaus said. “We’re not associated with any particular club or department, we’re not exclusively students or exclusively faculty, but it’s just this coalition of people who are knowledgeable and passionate about creating institutional change.”
The coalition highlighted the power of language in discussing historical events and their impacts. Diacik said she first heard about the plaque from visiting professor of environmental studies Paul Guernsey, who brought it up in his program.
“This plaque was discussed in the course as it depicts active ecocide against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy which was executed by General Sullivan on orders from Washington,” Guernsey said.
Guernsey described the overall goal of the campaign, which was to eradicate indigenous populations for the benefit of their colonizers.
“It wasn’t just war,” Guernsey said. “It was actually intended to fundamentally cleanse the landscape of indigenous peoples to eradicate them, destroy their villages, destroy their cultures, destroy all of their relationships, their social relationships, their ecological relationships.
The coalition believes that removing the plaque, while necessary, is only a symbolic first step and not a sufficient decolonization tool.
“Of course the plaque really hurts by existing,” Guernsey said. “But…simply deleting it does nothing to fix this story.”
Diacik and Landon wrote their letter after initially thinking about drafting a land acknowledgment. Similar to Guernsey, Diacik said she realized it was performative action to simply acknowledge the wrong without taking action to change it.
“What does it matter to say ‘we respect you’ if all the actions we show are the opposite?” Diacik asked.
For her, this belief extends to Lafayette’s follow-up to its core values, which include diversity and inclusion.
With this in mind, the coalition meeting included a discussion of action points that are currently being solidified and fleshed out. Some goals include forming a Native Studies department, requiring Lenni Lenape history to be taught to students, giving free tuition to all Lenni Lenape students, and reinvesting the endowment to avoid fossil fuels.
Maracle explained that a department dedicated to Indigenous studies would be beneficial in terms of resources and education, both for him and for the community in general.
“I just feel like there aren’t a lot of resources for me here, being like the only Indigenous student in Lafayette that I know…I don’t think there are any other Mohawk students or natives in Lafayette,” Maracle said. .
Guernsey said community-building can be difficult when there isn’t dedicated space solely for a specific group, such as Native American students or faculty members on campus.
“Part of the problem with not having an Indigenous studies program or department is that Indigenous students and Indigenous faculty…have no way to be visible,” Guernsey said.
Maracle detailed the range and diversity of the different indigenous groups.
“The people of the land we live on, the people of Lenape, [are] completely different from my people,” Maracle said. “There are even things for me to learn in the native studies programs because I really only know the Mohawk stuff, the Haudenosaunee stuff, because that’s who I am.
Maracle said many people don’t have an accurate understanding of what Native American culture is and how it works.
“That was one of the main reasons for me,” Maracle said. “Join [the coalition] also, to bring more knowledge about what Native Americans are, how we still live in today’s society, because I feel like that’s also considered an extinct people.
The coalition also values structuring its own longevity. Since students leave school after graduation, any effort to bring about long-term change by creating a department or reshaping the curriculum would require an ongoing effort from new members each year.