Haskell Indian Nations University students, faculty and staff have the capacity to collect oral histories of local Native American people who endured boarding schools.
“What I’d like to recommend is that we think about ways to build partnerships, to build collaborations, so that we can truly honor Indian boarding school history but do it right here in our own backyard – in Lawrence, Kansas,” said Dan Wildcat, Indigenous and American Indian Studies professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, during a presentation Wednesday.
Wildcat (Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma) gave a virtual presentation where he shared the latest on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a U.S. Department of the Interior comprehensive report on the legacy of Indian boarding schools.
His presentation, “Next Steps with Dr. Dan Wildcat: Recognizing the History of Federal Indian Boarding Schools and Moving Forward,” was in honor of National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools in the United States on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Wildcat was excited to share that the Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced a grant to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, an organization addressing trauma caused by boarding schools. The $3.7 million grant will fund an oral history project that documents generations of Native American children who endured boarding schools and their stories.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” Wildcat said. “It’s crucial we get this kind of work done.”
Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was responsible for initiating the comprehensive report. And Haskell, which was formerly the United States Indian Industrial Training School, has the capacity to contribute to that work locally, Wildcat said.
Over the years, Wildcat said he has met several Haskell community members whose parents or grandparents personally survived boarding schools.
Now, he said he’s hopeful this will be the perfect time for Haskell alumni to “be a part of this living history that we need to create about the boarding schools.”
Haskell’s Indigenous and American Indian Studies program recently sent a letter to Haaland telling her its students and professors would like to serve as leaders in her work. Wildcat said although Haaland hasn’t directly responded yet, he knows she cares about the university.
As similar conversations between former boarding schools and sovereign nations happen nationally, Wildcat said he believes Haskell has been in discussion with at least one tribal nation about potentially returning their relatives who are currently buried at Haskell Cemetery.
During Haaland’s visit to Haskell to speak at its 2022 spring commencement ceremony, Wildcat joined her on tours of Haskell Cemetery and the Medicine Wheel. Those were the two places she requested to see, and they left her in awe, he said.
Not enough people have appreciated the gem that Haskell is, not only to Lawrence, Wildcat said.
He said local allies can visit and support Haskell Cultural Center and Museum, which is in need of expansion and funding, and offer more community partnerships to support Haskell in its future efforts.
“I think the most unrecognized treasure in this whole region is Haskell Indian Nations University,” Wildcat said.
“Here we have a leading, a living institution that tells that whole history and tells it into the present. We are embracing Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous knowledge, our own tribal intellectual heritages that we can draw on and incorporate in the education program here at Haskell.”