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Haskell University Deserves Better

I want to lodge a grievance, not to appoint blame, but to encourage a solution to nothing less than a national disgrace: The lack of deserved financial investment Haskell Indian Nations University receives. Let me be clear Haskell is overall exceptional because of her people: students, faculty, staff and administration. This grievance is not directed at Haskell but it is about Haskell’s financial situation.

The chronic underfunding of Haskell is a national disgrace. The decay and disrepair of the physical infrastructure will lead any reasonable observer to the same conclusion: the de facto national tribal college in the United States, serving all enrolled members of the 567 federally recognized American Indian nations and incorporated Alaska Native villages, deserves funding at a level befitting the national treasure it is.

Haskell represents the trials, tribulations and resilience of American Indians over the past 150 years and Alaska Natives for nearly as long. Since 1884 Haskell has borne witness to a compelling history: from the devastating and miraculous stories of the early Indian boarding school days to modern success stories of Indian leadership.

Haskell has endured many hardships. She stands like a grand old lady forgotten, neglected and disrespected. However, there has never been a better time for hope.

A new visionary campus masterplan is almost complete. The campus that we - the United States of America and our tribal nations - require and deserve will cost at least one hundred million dollars to build. There will be fitting homes for a business and tribal management professional school, the environmental science program, a research center, interdisciplinary programs that will be models of project-based learning and exercises of Indigenuity, and new spaces for students that strengthen Haskell’s learning-community character.

We must enact this education vision for our tribal nations and youth for a host of reasons. First, the historic 118-year-old Hiawatha Hall stands at the center of campus in its current state as an uninhabitable boarded-up HAZMAT site. A beautiful building that should be a shining star for the campus has stood unusable for over a decade - a wasted space and a disgrace.

Haskell’s baccalaureate environmental science program is located in the sixty-year-old Sequoyah Hall, where classes are held in remodeled, but still inadequate, high school labs and classrooms. Imagine a baccalaureate science program where: storage space for equipment and supplies is inadequate, no student study or team project work areas exist, and faculty lack their own office/research spaces. Such is the case at Haskell.

In addition to the inadequacy of Sequoyah Hall, Pontiac Hall and Minoka Hall currently serve multipurpose functions, but are so decrepit that the cost-effectiveness of renovation compared to new construction is debatable. This is to say nothing of the inadequacy of the instructional spaces in the School of Business (Blue Eagle Hall) and Parker Hall the home to both the Indigenous and American Indian Studies program and School of Education, which offer baccalaureate degrees.

A simple tour of Haskell will confirm to anyone who has been at one of the other premier colleges and universities in the United States that the key feature separating Haskell from them is resources. Something is dreadfully wrong when Haskell stands in such a rightfully proud, but beleaguered state. It is time to make Haskell shine.

Lest any of this be misconstrued to suggest that those of us working at Haskell Indian Nations University are standing around passively waiting for “manna from heaven”, we are not. Everything from renovated classrooms, equipment (including state of the art information technology) to over 200 undergraduate research opportunities in the past decade have been funded because Haskell faculty, staff and sometimes junior administrators write for competitive grants to enhance our campus and the student experience at Haskell.

A worthy grievance always suggests a remedy. The good news is we can make this disgraceful situation right. Members of the Kansas congressional delegation, both Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, and Representative Lynn Jenkins, are ready to advocate for the federal support Haskell deserves. The Haskell Foundation, an autonomous 501c3 non-profit, stands ready to receive funds from individuals, large philanthropic funds and our own tribal nations to support a university capital campaign.

Haskell’s chronic underfunding constitutes a moral stain upon nations that claim an abiding respect for justice and history. Failure to redress this grievance would speak volumes about the character of both the United States of America and our own tribal nations. Most importantly, failure would disgrace the living legacy of the thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives whose lives have been positively touched, changed and sometimes transformed by this national treasure.

It is time to invest in the living history that is Haskell Indian Nations University. We deserve a national tribal university that shines like a beacon from the heart of our land – Indian Country.

Daniel R. Wildcat is a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation. He is director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Center and member of the Indigenous & American Indian Studies Program at Haskell Indian Nations University. Dr. Wildcat has been an invited speaker on American Indian worldviews at many institutions of higher education. In 1994 he helped form a partnership with the Hazardous Substance Research Center at Kansas State University to create the Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Center. In 1996 Dr. Wildcat helped plan and organize an American Indian educational program to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Dr. Wildcat helped plan and design a four-part video series entitled All Things Are Connected: The Circle of Life (1997), which dealt with land, air, water and biological issues related Native nations. His recent activities have revolved around forming the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group: a tribal college-centered network of individuals and organizations working on climate change issues. In 2008 he helped organize the Planning for Seven Generations climate change conference sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He co-chaired with Winona La Duke the national Native Peoples-Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop at the Mystic Lake Hotel &Casino, November 18-21, 2009.He is the author and/or editor of Power and Place: Indian Education In America (2001), with Vine Deloria, Jr.; Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria’s Legacy on Intellectual America (2006), with Steve Pavlik. His most recent book, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge (2001), suggests current global climate change issues will require the exercise of indigenous ingenuity – indigenuity.