Champlain College debates the legacy of French explorer and campus namesake

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – A large, bronze statue of Samuel de Champlain has been on the Champlain College campus since 2009. But some student leaders are now questioning whether such a prominent commemoration of the school’s namesake is appropriate.

Critics say they want de Champlain’s statue removed over concerns that his legacy includes suppressing the indigenous people he encountered when he explored the region in the 17th century. While the French colonist made alliances with several local tribes, he was involved in several battles with competing tribes and killed two Iroquois chiefs.

The statue’s removal has been a topic of growing interest on campus since the start of the fall semester. It was first proposed by Jayy Covert, director of diversity and engagement for the Student Government Association at Champlain College.

“This isn’t just about the removal of a statue,” Covert said. “This is not just about the statue itself. It’s about a larger conversation around colonialism.”

On Wednesday night, at a campus forum — held, appropriately enough, in the Champlain Room — Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation said removing the statue could create a backlash that ends up hurting the Abernaki.

” You don’t have to tear something down to build something up,” said Stevens, a Champlain College graduate. “We’ve struggled for so long that what you provide here is an opportunity for us to make a better way for our children and our grandchildren.”

In a recent campus survey, nearly 58 percent of respondents said they opposed removing the statue. But the survey also found that strudents wabnt to honor indigeous people as well.

“A lot of them were in favor of honoring the Abenaki,” Covert said, “but not necessarily in favor of the exact ways the proposals are outlined.”

Interim Champlain College President Laurie Quinn said she appreciates the students’ determination to discuss the statue.

“A vibrant college like ours welcomes thoughtful dialogue on controversial issues,” Quinn said. “I’m proud that our students led those discussions this evening, and I look forward to remaining engaged with students and all those who care about Champlain College as we review together College symbols and traditions, hearing all voices.”

Quinn added that Champlain College has no ‘predetermined outcome’ in the debate

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