LAWRENCE, Kan. - Hundreds gathered in Lawrence during the last week of January to celebrate the inauguration of Dr. Karen Gayton Swisher as the first woman president of Haskell Indian Nations University.
The week-long celebration was proclaimed "Inauguration Week" by the mayor of Lawrence and supporters of Swisher came from near and far to show their support.
Swisher, born and raised on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, came to Haskell in 1996 to head the teacher education program. The Kansas Association named her Native American Educator of the Year for Native American Education in 1998 and she was acclaimed National Indian Educator of the Year by the National Indian Education Association in 1997.
Luncheons and dinners turned into old home week for Swisher as she caught up with former friends and students. Many former students and their parents came from near and far to help usher Swisher officially into her new office.
The list of those who attended the various functions included former Haskell presidents. Dr. Gerald Gipp and Dr. Bob Martin and Marie Galluzzi-Potter, widow of Wallace Galluzzi, (the first president of Haskell) offered congratulations. Chancellor Dr. Robert Hemenway was evidence of the support of nearby University of Kansas.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe not only footed the bill for the inauguration, but made sure its members were present to let their tribal member know just how great they thought her achievement was.
Councilwoman Reva Gates and others braved winter storms and drove all night just to make sure they were at the celebration. "We were driving down the road, tossing chicken bones," Gates said, laughing. "We wanted to make sure we got here!"
A bus full of students and tribal members also came from Standing Rock.
Community support for Swisher was strong. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce sponsored an invitation-only event at Stidham Student Union on the Haskell campus. The Thunderbird Theatre group performed and local government officials spoke of the city's pride in having the nation's only four-year, intertribal Native American university within its city limits and their hopes for an even better future relationship with the school.
More than 300 people braved frigid wind chills to attend a pre-inaugural banquet. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and Haskell Board of Regents and others, presented Swisher with items ranging from a candle holder made from part of the staircase of the old infirmary - from the Haskell Alumni Association - to a star quilt from Cheyenne River Sioux Si Tanka tribal college.
A banquet presentation which chronicled Swisher's life from the barren plains of North Dakota to her selection as Haskell president, evoked both laughter and tears. Following the presentation, co-workers and fellow Northern State University alumni, Dr. George Godfrey and Esther Geary, unveiled the official presidential portrait of Swisher. It will now hang in the President's Room on campus, joining the portraits of Galluzzi, Gipp and Martin.
The last day of the celebration included the actual inauguration ceremony and an evening pow wow.
Flags from all 50 states, borrowed from Fort Leavenworth, lined the stage. The ceremony was a mix of pomp and circumstance and tradition, and included a naming ceremony in which Standing Rock Sioux tribal member Isaac Dog Eagle announced that Swisher is known as "Woman who brings joy to the world."
Regent Ruben McCloskey presented Swisher with a silver medallion bearing a chief's head, a gift from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and made by Goldmakers in Lawrence for the occasion.
As speaker after speaker talked about the rich history of Haskell and its growth from an Indian training center to its unique status, Swisher was visibly moved by her part in that growth.
Bill Mehojah, director of Indian Education Programs, concluded his speech and turned to Swisher and hugged her as she came forward to address the large crowd.
Following the inaugural address, Lakota Thunder sang an honor song as the group stepped down and walked through the crowd.
On the final evening, at a pow wow in her honor, Swisher acknowledged all of those who had come to support her and helped with her inauguration at a giveaway. Visibly tired but happy, she moved through the crowds to shake hands and thank those who had come from across Indian country.