Photo: Kalen Goodluck/High Country News

Land-Grab Universities

Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone

Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system.

High Country News, April 2020 issue

Editor's Note

Lost and found

Tristan Ahtone

This feature is the result of a comprehensive investigation, one that reveals how land taken from tribal nations was turned into seed money for higher education in the United States.

The land-grant universities still profiting off Indigenous homelands

Kalen Goodluck, Tristan Ahtone and Robert Lee

There are at least 16 land-grant universities making money from the expropriated Indigenous lands they retained from the Morrill Act.

High Country News, August 2020


Other Coverage of Land-Grant Universities


About this Project


This unique database was created through extensive reporting and research into primary source materials, including land patent records, congressional documents, historical bulletins, historical maps, archival and print resources at the National Archives, state repositories and special collections at universities and more. Information for the database was extracted programmatically where possible, primarily from the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office database, but in some cases it was transcribed manually from print records, microfilm and microfiche reproductions, or poor-quality digital images.


Methodology and Bibliography

How we investigated the land-grant university system

Robert Lee, High Country News, March 30, 2020

Further reading on HCN’s land-grants university investigation

Robert Lee, High Country News, March 30, 2020

Get the Data

This database can be downloaded as CSV and shapefiles. It is licensed under the Open Database License and the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.
If you re-publish this data or draw on it as a source for publication, cite as: Robert Lee, “Morrill Act of 1862 Indigenous Land Parcels Database,” High Country News, March 2020.

Credits and Acknowledgements


Land Acknowledgement

The Land-Grab Universities team gratefully acknowledges the Wabanaki, Massachusett, Lenape, Piscataway, Nanticoke, Powhatan, Kickapoo, Wichita, Nʉmʉnʉʉ, Cáuigú, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱, Niimiipuu, Palus, Ktunaxa, Schitsu'umsh, and dxʷdəwʔabš peoples, on whose traditional territories this story was created.



Reporting, Research and Graphics

  • Robert Lee
  • Tristan Ahtone
  • Margaret Pearce


  • Kalen Goodluck

Web App Design and Editorial Direction

Web App Development

Logo Design

Additional Research Support and Consulting

  • Lynn Dombek
  • Gwen Westerman
  • Jennifer LaFleur
  • Elena Saavedra Buckley
  • Jessica Kutz
  • Carl Segerstrom

  • Keriann Conroy
  • Nick Estes
  • Anna V. Smith
  • Annabella Farmer
  • Tovah Strong

High Country News
Editor in Chief

Brian Calvert

Digital Editor

Gretchen King

Associate Editor

Tristan Ahtone


Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

  • Marina Walker Guevara
  • Steve Sapienza
  • Leilani Rania Ganser
  • Dan McCarey/Maptian


  • Mikel Maron

Fund for Investigative Journalism

  • Ana Arana

Milton Fund, Harvard University

Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, Stanford University

  • Erik Steiner



Help us further our reporting on land grant universities by filling out this secure form.

We invite feedback if you see omissions, errors or miscalculations. Since no other database of its kind exists—location and financial analysis linked to approximately 80,000 individual land parcels distributed through a Civil War-era law—we are committed to making it publicly available and as robust as possible.

The database administrator can be contacted at: