In the last two weeks of the semester, graffiti with phrases referencing Indigenous land rights appeared around campus. The sentence “‘American Rent Is Due’” was spray painted in red on the canvas of a large tent on Battell Beach on May 19. The next week on May 27, the phrase “Land Back” was spray painted in red on the sidewalk at the base of Mead Chapel.
“Land Back” is the name of a political movement that calls for “the reclamation of everything stolen from the original Peoples” — including land, language, ceremony, medicine and kinship — according to the organization’s manifesto.
The first phrase is associated with a mural project on the Navajo Nation called the “Painted Desert Project.” A group of artists painted “American rent is due” across the back of an abandoned motel in Arizona as part of the project.
The Vermont government continues to grapple with policies surrounding Abenaki land rights and recognition like offering free hunting and fishing licenses, putting Abenaki place names on state park signs and apologizing for forced sterilization programs.
In 2019, Middlebury issued a formal land acknowledgement recognizing that the college sits on Abenaki land. The statement is read aloud at major Middlebury ceremonies, including commencement. The college has also worked with local Indigenous people to create certain initiatives, such as offering an Abenaki language program at Middlebury Language schools and allowing access to college lands to collect food and medicine.
Brad Lambert, the college stone mason, was alerted to the graffiti in front of Mead Chapel early in the morning of May 27 and quickly removed it. He noticed many similarities between the two graffiti incidents and strongly believes that they are related. He also noted that the graffiti may not have ever reached its intended audience.
“Not a lot of the student body ends up seeing this [graffiti]. Typically it’s cleaned up before the students are even awake,” Lambert said. “Their message really isn’t getting across to a lot of people.”
Although he did not remove it himself, Lambert said that graffiti on the tent on Battell Beach was more difficult to take down since it was on canvas.
Lambert and other members of facilities are frustrated with graffiti, especially since it can be very damaging to the old stonework around campus. Lambert also noted how these incidents were very inconvenient while staff was busy preparing for commencement.
“It [vandalism] just wastes our time, especially around commencement,” he said. “We’re working overtime, trying to make this campus look awesome for the student body, then we have to break away and go clean graffiti. We just don’t have time for that.”
Public Safety is investigating the incidents. In an email to The Campus, Interim Director of Public Safety Dan Gaiotti encouraged students to reach out with information.