Nuclear Princeton fuels vital conversations about the ongoing histories and experiences of Natives as they articulate with the history of Princeton University. This project complements the work that librarian emeritus Alfred L. Bush has done as part of the Princeton & Slavery Project on Native students who have attended Princeton which he has published in his article, "Indians Slavery, and Princeton."
Native students have been attending Princeton since 1762, less than 20 years after Princeton's founding as the College of New Jersey in 1746. American Indians "alone represented the 'other' at Princeton" Bush asserts in his piece. Despite this early commitment to American Indian education, Princeton has fallen far behind its peer institutions in supporting and bringing Native students to campus. Fewer then 10 students currently compose the student group Natives at Princeton.
While much remains to be known about the experience of Natives students at Princeton, almost nothing is understood about another aspect of Native-Princeton relations: the relations between Princeton scientists and Native Nations.
Nuclear Princeton seeks to excavate, analyze, and bring attention to these hidden histories. It reveals, among other things, that the development of nuclear science at Princeton and Princeton's reputation as a top research institution was made possible through the systematic exploitation of Native lands and bodies.
For the nuclear weapons development in which Princeton scientists played a key role, uranium mining poisoned Navajo and Pueblo communities, among others, leaving scars and toxic runoff on tribal lands. Plutonium production for the Manhattan Project at the Hanford site displaced the Wanapum Tribe, Nez Perce, the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and left their homelands as one of the most contaminated sites on the planet.
Nuclear Princeton proclaims the necessity of acknowledging these and other consequences of nuclear science and of the actions taken by Princeton scientists on Native homelands and peoples. It also recognizes that Native perspectives of these events are vital. Due to the particular positioning of Natives in the history and development of nuclear science, Natives have gained tremendous insight into how science functions and the politics that undergird it, including the potential of science for the abuse of disempowered populations.
Nuclear Princeton places Princeton scientists at the center of phenomenal, groundbreaking scientific advancement while promoting understandings of these accomplishments as having been made possible by events and processes that are underacknowledged. Institutionalized secrecy, environmental degradation, cultural disruptions, and the deaths of Natives enabled Princeton scientists to "advance" science and their careers, which, in turn, bolstered the reputation of the university. Facilitating the work of Princeton scientists and the ability of Princeton to gain legitimacy as an academic leader were the mobilization of racialized others to mine and refine natural resources, build and maintain nuclear infrastructures, and endure their toxic aftermaths.
This project brings into relief three of the most important current issues in Indian Country: sovereignty, education, and environmental health. Nuclear Princeton illustrates the specific ways by which settler-colonial assaults on Indigenous communities did not end with the so-called "winning" of the west, but rather these assaults are ongoing and fraught with violence. In the name of "advancing" science, the sovereignty of Native Nations was violated, Native lives were devalued and disrespected, and environmental injustices were perpetrated upon Native peoples. Nuclear Princeton works toward making accountable the individuals and institutions, which include Princeton scientists and Princeton itself, for this damage.
Issues of environmental racism are just one example of the ongoing settler-colonial assaults against our lands. Our communities are consistently used as dumping grounds for toxics, are riddled with industrial facilities and contamination, and drilled and mined for natural resources. These assaults leave our bodies and lands forever poisoned.
Our identity as six of just a handful of Native students at Princeton foregrounds the reality that Princeton is not doing nearly enough to make a Princeton education accessible, desirable, and feasible for Native students. In collaboration with Native at Princeton, this project strives to make the university and its education more just and inclusive.