by Lindsay Klatt
As an employee of the American Indian College Fund, I recently visited Haskell Indian Nations University. This trip reminded me of the sense of pride I get from working for the Native community and it will continuously ignite my passion for working at the Fund on a daily basis.
All of the tribal colleges we support at the Fund are examples of self determination and are beacons of hope for the future of the American Indian community. But Haskell holds a special significance because of its history, its present state, and its future.
Haskell was established in 1884 for the reform and forced assimilation of American Indian children who were taken from their families and forced to become more like whites. They were forced to abandon their culture, their language and ultimately their own hopes and dreams for the future because their path was decided for them.
Over the years, Haskell changed dramatically. It advanced from a trade school to a high school, a junior college and is now an accredited university offering associates’ and bachelors’ degrees to students who are enrolled tribal members. Rather than assimilating Native students into mainstream culture, Haskell now embraces and teaches Native culture. Students who study here are taught about their Native roots and cultural identity is incorporated into every aspect of their education and future plans. American Indians have taken an institution rooted in negativity that was first designed to erase Native cultures and changed it into a shining symbol of strength designed to preserve and continue their heritage and traditions.
As a result, Haskell students have thrived as scholars and athletes, proving what can be accomplished with a tribally influenced education. They are qualifying for nationals in cross country running and are competing in award-winning basketball and football teams. They are scholars with breakthrough ideas and projects, such as digitizing the Trail of Tears and designing an Apple application that will translate a historic walking tour narrated in a Native language.
Haskell also has an amazing staff of dedicated educators and employees whose passion for these students is both remarkable and infectious. They eat, sleep and breathe the welfare of their students and the improvement and continuation of the university. This is no easy feat and there are always new challenges and temporary roadblocks, but with students and staff so deeply rooted in this cause, the future can only look bright. This school and the magnificent people involved are examples of what can happen when the seeds of self-determination are planted and the care is taken to let this beautiful creation flourish.