LAWRENCE, Kan. - February 2 is looking more and more like a red-letter day for Indian country. Tribal representatives from across the nation will converge on Lawrence to join in the inaugural celebration of Haskell Indian Nations University's new president, Dr. Karen Swisher.
The inauguration is sponsored by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota. "We are proud of her," said Reva Gates, a tribal council member. "She is a highly educated member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and we are very proud of her and want to support her.
"The whole council is going down to support our enrolled member," Gates said. "We have a big Greyhound we are taking full of students and enrolled members who want to go. We are going to show up full force to support her."
The tribal council reportedly donated more than $20,000 to pay for the gala at Haskell. Asked why the tribe picked up the tab, Gates said simply, "We should."
Swisher was not only raised on the Standing Rock reservation, she also taught school and was the principal at one of the schools.
"Everybody knows her, Gates said. "She has taught our children. We can't wait to show her our support and that we are proud of her."
The neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe also plans to honor Swisher. "She is not only from a neighboring reservation, but she is an old schoolmate of either Dr. Traversie or Dr. Jewett," Col. Tommy Harper, criminal justice program director of Si Tanka College said.
"We have all known her for years. We should support Haskell. Dean of Students Esther Geary is there and she is a member of our tribe and we support our people," Harper said. Geary has been in charge of the inaugural committee at Haskell.
Harper said the tribe expected to formally send five members to honor Swisher. "This is a tremendous honor for her to be named as the president of HINU and it is very well-deserved."
Swisher said she is overwhelmed by the support throughout Indian country. "I think this sounds like a great celebration. I just wish I wasn't at the center of it."
Committee members report the response from the hundreds who were invited has been good. Swisher sees that response disproving an old myth.
"They say that Indians are jealous of one another and don't support one another and someone who is well-educated. This is a demonstration of that not happening. I've always felt accepted with my tribe and I understand that tribes from throughout North and South Dakota are coming."
The festivities will begin Jan. 28 with a reception and continue throughout the week. On Jan. 31, the Thunderbird Theatre will perform in a production sponsored by the Lawrence Community and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
Many activities are planned and will culminate with a pow wow sponsored by the inauguration committee in Coffin Sports Complex.
Esther Geary and Dr. George Godfrey head up the inauguration committee. Like Swisher, they are alumni of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. Serving with them are Freda Tapedo, Sharyn Chino, Barbara Cunningham, Ellen Allen, Marilyn Bread, Carol Bowen, Manny King, Carlene Morris, Victoria Dunne, Dr. Reeze Hanson, Cecil Dawes, Marilyn Nichols, Jeff Weinberg, E.J. BlueEarth, Wilbur Pleets and Terry Yellowfat.
"It wouldn't have been possible to do this without their help and support," said of her committee and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.