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Archive for Sunday, December 19, 1999

December 19, 1999

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A $50,000 National Park Service grant is helping Haskell Indian Nations University preserve its history.

Haskell Indian Nations University's transformation from the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School in 1884 to a university offering four-year degrees is told through thousands of photographs, yearbooks, scraps of paper and government documents.

Bobbi Rahder literally wades through boxes of such documents at Haskell as she excavates the past for future generations who want to know about American Indian education, culture and history. As an archivist at the university, she is trying to complete a puzzle, finding a piece here, another there.

Over the years, the boxes accumulated in closets and storerooms across campus and the scattershot availability hindered Haskell's ability to inform students and others about the university.

"The library has tried to keep files to answer questions about Haskell's history," Rahder said.

As the archiving continues, the picture becomes clearer, with everything finding a place, from a 20-year-old school pageant program to a baker's hand-written supply list from earlier this century. When Rahder's mission is complete, no longer will researchers call Kansas University for information about Haskell.

"Now Haskell can be explaining its own story and people won't go elsewhere for it," Rahder said.

A home for history

Rahder joined Haskell five years ago to catalog 809 glass-plate negatives featuring American Indians in their tribal clothing. The pictures were taken by Frank A. Rinehart in 1898 at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition and U.S. Indian Congress. New prints from some of the plates are on display at Tommaney Hall, which houses the university's library.

While she was documenting the historic Rinehart negatives, Rahder said, she began to learn more about Haskell. The first students were forced to attend because the government hoped to assimilate American Indians to the white culture. Now, all classes reflect a tribal viewpoint to some degree.

"As I was working with (the Rinehart negatives) I realized Haskell has this incredible history," she said. "It's amazing to me that the American Indian people have survived and prospered, after all they went through and what was done to them."

The university's goal is to build a log cabin on campus to house the Haskell Cultural Center, which will include a museum, research facility and archives collections. A construction date hasn't been set, but donations and grants are coming from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other sources. According to plans, it will be near Pushmataha Hall, south of the intersection at 23rd Street and Barker Avenue.

Putting the grant to work

With the help of a $50,000 "Save America's Treasures" grant from the National Park Service, Rahder and two student interns are sifting through the archives that will fill the cultural center.

The grant, to be matched with preservation funds from the American Indian College Fund, will:

  • Hire an art conservator to advise Haskell staff on how to preserve campus murals.
  • Pay for shelves, file cabinets, a digital camcorder and videotapes.
  • Allow staff to microfilm the Indian Leader, the Haskell yearbook and newspaper.
  • Allow Haskell to establish a disaster recovery plan if art and other valuable materials are in danger.

"Haskell is a microcosm of how American Indian education has changed over the years, and part of Haskell's goal is to become a national center for educating people about that," Rahder said.

Misty Ortiz, a Haskell student working toward a degree in computer information systems, began working with Rahder two years ago. Ortiz has helped document some of the more than 10,000 Haskell photographs and has given tours of the Rinehart exhibit at the campus library.

"I don't think I would have learned half as much about Haskell without this," Ortiz said. "It's really interesting, because a lot of my friends have research papers to do, and they choose Haskell as a subject. It's really easy to help them out."

More tribes across the country are establishing museums and resource centers, Rahder said, and Haskell plans to teach a tribal archiving class to promote preservation efforts. At the same time, former students are also donating items to Haskell.

"Every time they send something over, we end up learning a little bit more," Ortiz said.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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