Native Tribe Speak to BU About Renaming Myles Standish Hall
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
On Mar. 26, representatives of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag spoke at a Kilachand Honors College co-curricular event about the ongoing effort to rename Myles Standish Hall. Postdoctoral Associate Travis Franks invited Council member Thomas Green and Sagamore (Chief) Faries Gray of the Massachusett tribe to speak.
The event came about after years of activist efforts to remove the name “Myles Standish” from the East Campus dormitory. This event had the goal of spreading additional awareness about the movement, which has primarily coalesced around a petition to Boston University President Robert Brown. The petitions’ supporters argue that Myles Standish, as the military leader of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, participated in the massacre of the indigenous Massachusett and therefore should not be honored by having his name attached to a building.
In an effort to demonstrate the egregious actions of Standish, Gray shared the story of the “peace summit.” In 1623, Wituwamat, the Massachusett indigenous leader, and other top officials of the Massachusett tribe were invited to negotiate with Myles Standish to ease tensions. While it is unknown precisely what happened next, Standish likely used a substance (whether alcohol or otherwise) to inebriate the indigenous delegation and decapitated them. Standish then brought their heads back to Plymouth and placed them on pikes. Despite the Pilgrims expressing disgust for his actions and expelling Standish from the colony, they kept the heads outside the colony's walls there as a deterrent for other indigenous tribes. Because of these actions, Gray called Standish a "terrorist", with the implication that keeping the name of Standish on a University residence is glorifying a terrorist.
The issue of Myles Standish as a controversial historical figure is not new to Boston University or the state of Massachusetts. The current seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts features the disembodied hand of Standish holding a sword over the head of an indigenous person. In January 2021, state lawmakers voted to create a commission to redesign the seal in a victory to indigenous activist groups, including the Massachusett Tribe, who had been vocal advocates for altering the offensive design. The following September, a petition sponsored by the Massachusett tribe was published alongside an article written by Dr. Franks that advocated for the renaming of Myles Standish Hall to Wituwamat Memorial Hall.
After accruing around 900 signatures, Dr. Franks and Mr. Green presented the petition to President Brown, who refused the name change in an email linked here, arguing that to “remove his name from the residence hall would discount his significant role in our history.” President Brown cited his knowledge of Standish’s role in the massacre at Wessagut but concluded that Standish was still an important figure in the founding of Massachusetts and the United States and should be remembered. In response to the rejection, Gray said if President Brown truly understands the history and continues to honor Standish, “to us, he is a colonizer.” The event organizers at Kilachand reached out to President Brown to invite him to speak on behalf of the university, but he was out of town and unable to attend.
While the history of Standish’s name may be difficult to grapple with, the representatives of the Massachusett tribe advocated for a simple yet challenging path towards countering colonial logic—education. Their presentation at Kilachand hopefully marks the start of broader awareness about the atrocities surrounding the name of Myles Standish Hall.