Cultural Center to Showcase Tribal College’s HistoryLAWRENCE, Kan.
Reminders of Haskell Indian Nations University’s origins as a boarding school to educate and assimilate tribal children greeted visitors at the formal opening of its new Museum and Cultural Center.
The $1.1 million center is one of about 30 such facilities being built at tribal colleges across the United States. The campaign is a project of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
The center, which celebrated its formal opening last month, will serve as a showcase for Haskell’s 118-year history.
The inaugural exhibit, “Honoring Our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration,” showed the harsh conditions the young boarders experienced.
The school opened in 1884 as the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School with the goal of stripping American Indian students of their tribal identities and preparing them for off-reservation jobs. The training school evolved over the years into a high school, a trade school, a junior college and, in 1993, a four-year college.
Casey Douma, student body president, praised the exhibit. She said it’s important for people to understand the historical role that Haskell and other schools like it filled.
“When people of Lawrence want to know about Haskell, they have to learn its past,” he says. “It was a place of assimilation.”
The collection includes a hefty padlock used to confine children who ran away or accidentally slipped back into their native tongues. And most visitors listened to a recording of the names and ages of those first students.
A display of letters children sent back to their families touched Barb Cornelius. She remembered writing similar letters to her parents when she was a kindergartner at a boarding school in New Mexico.
“It’s one of those experiences that my sister and I always talk about,” says Cornelius, now a student and staff member at Haskell. “And reading those letters was really sad. Sometimes you don’t think about things in your childhood until something triggers it.”
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