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Haskell Cultural Center rises

LAWRENCE, Kan. - The dream of one woman to see cultural centers built of logs at each tribal college across the nation is yet one step closer to reality.

On July 27, Gail Bruce, dreamer and a founding member of the board of the American Indian College Fund stood amid rising cypress log walls at Haskell Indian Nations University as another part of her dream was blessed by Bobby Henry, Seminole Nation of Florida, and dedicated by university officials.

The seed idea for the cultural centers came to Bruce as she sat snug in her own log home in Massachusetts.

"I came up with this dream. I had no idea what my dream was going to entail. To see this building go up at Haskell is a dream come true. We're making a big difference in Indian country," Bruce said.

The cultural center here is the 24th of 29 such structures being built throughout Indian country. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the National Museum for the American Indian, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Association of Home Builders Log Homes Council and private and public donations are funding the centers.

Haskell has the only one constructed from cypress logs donated by a company in Florida.

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Thus Haskell officials said it was important to have members of the Seminole Nation present at the dedication, not only because the building materials came from their home, but because of tribal support given to the project.

When the 6,000-square-foot new Cultural Center at Haskell is completed it will not only house the university's collection of archives, but will be a museum, research center and a visitors center as well. Outside the building a memorial wall to Native American veterans and a sculpture garden are also planned.

The lower level of the center will house the university's archives and will be climate controlled thanks to donations from the Carrier Corporation. It will be the first time that the college will have a place to house such documents. Archivist Bobbi Rahder has been compiling the documents for several years in order to prevent the loss of the valuable documents and pictures that represent Haskell's past. Before her efforts many photographs and documents were simply thrown away by former employees who didn't realize their significance.

Bruce, the woman whose idea has become a reality, spoke to those who attended the dedication. "It's a chance for tribal colleges to get their language back and preserve their culture and the identity of their people," Bruce said. "These schools are the most important thing that is happening in Indian Country."

Haskell's President Dr. Karen Swisher sees the new cultural center as an asset not only to Haskell but to the community as well. "We hope to share the museum with the community because it is the city of the arts," Swisher said. "It is a historic day in our development."

The building is expected to be finished and ready for occupancy in the fall of 2001, with a formal dedication set during the 2002 spring graduation at the university.

One of Haskell's most ardent supporters, Joan Finney could not be there to be a part of the celebration. Finney, former Kansas governor, laid battling cancer in a Topeka hospital. But before she died the day after the dedication, she asked that all flowers and memorials for her, be sent instead to help the cultural center at Haskell.