Group to begin project to clean headstones at Haskell cemetery

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Moss and lichen are beginning to eat away at the marble headstone markers of the children buried at Haskell Indian Nations University. 

The headstones’ erosion makes their engravings difficult to read, but they will soon be cleaned with care. Courtney King, in partnership with Travis Campbell of the Haskell Cultural Center and Lisa LaRue-Baker of 785 Arts, are embarking on a project to restore the children’s headstones.

The team plans to begin cleaning in the spring when the weather is warmer — beginning during freezing temperatures could damage the headstones further. 

“It’s needed to be done for many years,” King said.

King, who graduated from Haskell this fall, transitioned from the lead student researcher at the Haskell Greenhouse to a lab and field research assistant at Haskell this past week. She is currently collecting the necessary data on the children’s headstones, such as their location and condition. Some headstones are also sinking into the ground; some are missing entirely.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Multiple graves are missing headstones at Haskell.

Cleaning the children’s headstones is for more than just aesthetics. Through records and oral histories, the team intends to learn about each child buried at Haskell. 

“This history that hasn’t been told enough,” and by cleaning the headstones and learning about the children, they hope to bring to light  “the sad, historical traumas in this country. They need to be told,” King said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

At least 103 children are buried in the campus cemetery.

Haskell was founded in 1884 as the United States Indian Industrial Training School during the assimilation era of federal Indian policy. The Indigenous children forced to attend the institution were managed militaristically with the goal of eradicating their culture to assimilate them into the dominant society.

The institution stopped assimilating children after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and became Haskell Indian Junior College in 1970. In 1993, the school became Haskell Indian Nations University, and it is now a place of cultural empowerment, built up from a place of literal and cultural death.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times At least 103 children are buried in the cemetery at Haskell Indian Nations University.

The cemetery is a place of deep significance for the local Indigenous community. King wants to assure the community that the offerings left at the cemetery will not be removed. “We are only looking to clean the headstones … Anything that is currently there is staying.”

“We are going to be approaching this with the utmost respect and treating this space as sacred as it is.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Offerings left at the cemetery will not be removed.

King also said that she hopes to replace the old, faded sign that currently stands outside the gates with one that shares the history of the cemetery.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A faded and damaged sign is displayed outside the cemetery gates.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
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Note: A misspelled name in this post has been corrected.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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