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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Thrown back on a Thursday

I worked at Haskell Indian Nations University during the 75th Anniversary of the Haskell Arch.  There had been a lot of fanfare leading up to the celebratory anniversary.

My office was in the Cultural Center and Museum.  For years, I had worked closely with the Haskell Archives.  I had examined photos of famous campus people, famous Indigenous leaders and just about every building on campus.

I remember spending a great deal of time examining the intricate details on one particular photo of the Haskell Arch from the grand celebration in 1926.  The details were amazing.

Haskell Arch, courtesy of Haskell Cultural Center &  Museum

Haskell Arch, courtesy of Haskell Cultural Center & Museum

At the time, I had been in charge of major events on campus, like Commencement and Convocation.  As I studies the image, I imagined what the those little people must’ve been talking about and what they were feeling.  I imagined a bit of anxiety mixed with a healthy dose of excitement.

I knew we were planning on having a celebration in commemoration of the 75 anniversary, but I had not been part of the planning process.  I was excited to see what they had in store.

Each and every morning, I drove by the Haskell Arch.  If I wasn’t rushed, I’d glance over…but most of the time, I knew what was there and I just sped past without much acknowledgement.

One particular morning I was driving onto campus and came to a screeching halt.  My peripheral vision signaled something out of the ordinary.  After I stopped I turned slowly to my left to see the image below.

Haskel Arch, 2001.  Courtesy of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum.

Haskel Arch, 2001. Courtesy of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum.

Oh boy, did I have to readjust my vision and thoughts.  Just a few days before I had been staring at the 75-year old black and white image.  On this day, I was face-to-face with a historical recreation.  Chills coursed throughout my body.  I sat for a moment to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind.  Yes, in the middle of the street.  But, I wasn’t the only one.  Another car had pulled over well behind me in equal amazement.

It. was. real.

Later in the day the long draping flags went up.  It was a magnificent sight. We were witnessing history.  Literally!

All throughout that day, from the little window of my office at the Cultural Center, the past and present were visibly one.

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