It has taken Henrietta Mann nearly half a century to fulfill a childhood desire to move to Lawrence, to become a part of the government-funded Indian school here that she heard so much about as a youngster and that she had hoped to attend.
Friends and cousins in Oklahoma had spoken of the wonderful educational experience at Haskell Institute, the high school predecessor of today's Haskell Indian Junior College. But Mann's parents had other plans for their daughter. So the girl who in 1986 would become the first Indian woman to head the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs' Indian Education Program instead stayed at home and went to public school in Hammon, Okla. She graduated from high school in 1951.
This year, Henri Mann has finally gotten her chance to come to Haskell. She is spending an academic year at Haskell as a visiting professor.
``This is my yearlong giveaway to Indian people, to remind them that it is very beautiful to be an Indian,'' said the 59-year-old University of Montana professor of Native American Studies.
Mann brings to the school the broad background of an academic who has been a part of the growth of Native American studies at universities around the nation. She brings the prominence of a vocal advocate for Native American religious rights, including the right to use peyote and eagle feathers in religious ceremonies. And she brings the cultural knowledge of a full-blooded Cheyenne from Oklahoma.
The message she is trying to convey to students enrolled in her course on contemporary Indian issues is that of an energetic elder who possesses the wisdom of experience and who also has an eye fixed on the future.
``It's my first all-Indian class, and they are beautiful young people,'' she said in an interview this week.
Mann's interests are wide ranging. Her course will explore the history of relations between Indians and the U.S. government -- a relationship based on more than 800 treaties, more than half of them ratified by the U.S. Senate and all of them, she said, broken by the U.S. government.
``There might be some minor provisions that they kept,'' she said. ``We promised to give them our land and they kept that provision.''
Mann also will discuss some of the most pressing domestic issues facing Indian people today, including alcoholism, teen-age pregnancy, suicide, poverty and unemployment rates that reach 85 percent on some reservations.
``We are the extreme,'' she said. ``I think many of the reservations are analogous to Third World, developing countries.
``Tribes want to be self-sufficient. But the kind of technical assistance and money needed to go into the reservations has not been forthcoming.''
Mann said the U.S. government should have long ago instituted a rebuilding and investment program for Native American lands and peoples, as it did for Germany after World War II.
``Maybe there are some youth who have succumbed to that feeling of alienation and hopelessness, and that's reflected in the suicide rate. Nevertheless, Indian values survive. They are still being taught, they are still there. The strength of Indian spiritual ways has helped them to survive. ''
Last year, Rolling Stone magazine named Mann one of the top 10 professors in the nation. The American Indian Heritage foundation awarded her the National American Indian of the Year award in 1988.
Mann hopes that all Americans can learn and build from the experiences of the past -- including Indian experiences that textbooks have glossed over.
``I wish we would realize as Indians and non-Indians that we have a common destiny and look to the lasting values that sustain us. There are so many issues that confront us. We are taught to always look for the good in other people, and that should still be.''