A By-gone Life at Haskell

I used to work at the Cultural Center and Museum at Haskell Indian Nations University.  I had worked with the Archives since I was an undergrad….a long time ago. My job consisted of making sure the research projects were completed; being a docent to museum patrons; and giving AMAZING tours to visitors.  I say amazing for a reason.

Most first time visitors to campus have no idea of the historic significance of the ground they are walking on.  I start most tours by allowing visitors to look at the beautiful exhibit in the gallery called, “Honoring our Children through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration.”

Haskell Cultural Center & Museum

Next, we begin the journey back to a time before the doors opened at Haskell.  We learn to understand WHY our door were opened in the first place…as a response to the “Indian problem.”  I go on to tell them how our earliest students arrived at our doorstep…ripped from their families’ arms and thrust into a foreign world – alone.   When our students arrived on campus, they were not allowed to speak their tribal language, wear their traditional clothing, or fraternize with their siblings.  The youngest student was 3 years old – three. years. old. We then examine the starchy diet of mush, potatoes and gravy…every day.  It’s amazing how our students were being taught the art of farming…their goods sold or given to the local Lawrence community.

An unknowing  local community that celebrated with a parade the day that the City learned of their successful bid to land the NEW US Industrial Training School for Indians. It would be located on the 900+ acres that the school’s namesake, Kansas Senator Dudley C. Haskell had acquired.  It all seemed fitting, after all, the town’s founding “Free State” principles included provisions entitling all its citizens to fair education.

We move onto learn how families hunted for information for their children.  Many times, they searched without response from school or government authorities.  If they were lucky, they would be notified of their child’s progress, or death.  Students at the school had questions about the mysterious deaths…that went unanswered, as well.

Haskell Institute, circa 1889.

Before the turn of the century, the school raised the age limit.  The young were too fragile and died too easily.

The majority of students acclimated to life at Haskell.  They engaged in their classes.  Their bodies adjusted to the diet.  The found a fondness in the lush green campus that sits in the shadow of the Ivory Hallowed Halls of KU.  This became home.  Home became Haskell.  Mutual love and surrender.

Over the years, thousands of students filled the campus with dreams learning trades and skills to engage in a quickly changing world.

 

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