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Archive for Thursday, October 28, 1999

Wetlands Preservation Organization statement

Dead end, dead wrong!! You still don’t get it

October 28, 1999

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— Over the years we have endured the Lawrence Journal World's negative news articles on the SLT and Haskell. Over the past six years the reporters have consistently distorted facts and misconstrued the meaning of the federal regulations to confuse the public when writing about the SLT and Haskell. Articles have caused confusion and misperceptions, while editorials carry a tone of racism and condescension. The editorials appearing in the LJW have led to misunderstandings about Haskell and the Indian community in Lawrence. In addition, the editorials have, in the past, incited animal poaching, the killing of beavers, birds and muskrats; and have led to damage to structures and the boardwalk in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. It is no wonder that everyday the Indian Community faces racism from small segments of the surrounding community when their opinions and perceptions are based on these biased, one-sided, narrow-minded articles and editorials.

Haskell is not just students, staff, and faculty of the university. It is a viable and permanent Indian community embedded in the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the State of Kansas. Haskell opened in 1884 as a governmental boarding school where Native American children were forcibly taken to be assimilated and "civilized" by the U.S. Government for "our own good." Since that opening day of Haskell one hundred fifteen years ago, we have lived here, suffered here, grown here, have died and are buried here. We are part of this community, and many of us call Lawrence home, we pay taxes and have fought for America when her freedom and sovereignty were threatened. We don't need a lecture from the Lawrence Journal World about how to be cooperative citizens. However, we need to have a responsible newspaper to report facts, not make news.

The statement in the Journal World Editorial, "several sweat lodges, also added to the landscape after the trafficway had been planned," is wrong. The Sweat Lodges have been constructed throughout the Haskell-Baker wetlands and used by students and staff at Haskell since the 1920's. They would have been at Haskell long before then if the Bureau of Indian Affairs had allowed them. Most people don't remember, but the government banned traditional spiritual practices and Indian peoples have slowly regained their rights, which were only partially restored in 1978.

The editorial also mentions that the medicine wheel was built "after the SLT route was determined." This statement implies that Haskell tried to use the Medicine Wheel as a ruse to stall the trafficway. Not surprisingly, the real reason for the Medicine Wheel was ignored. We are not afraid to tell the reason for the Medicine Wheel. It was dedicated in 1992 as a symbol of good faith and healing from the Indian Community to the people of Lawrence on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Western Hemisphere.

The editorial also states, "individuals and groups opposed to the trafficway used various tactics to stall the effort." If "stall" means wanting to participate in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, then it's correct, but if "stall" means wanting to obstruct the process, it's dead wrong. All we have asked the county, state, and federal agencies is to be included in the process and be allowed to present our concerns about the trafficway. In 1993 they showed a more belligerent attitude to us, telling us they would approach members of the U.S. Congress to cut our funding unless we backed down and let the road go through, but we held firm to our beliefs. The belligerent attitude of the various agencies and officials slowly escalated into a showing of complete indifference to our concerns and accusing the students of using deliberate stalling tactics. Throughout the history of dialogue between the county and students, we have been honest and cooperative, something we can't credit to the other side. We have been outright lied to by Douglas County officials, state agencies and others. We freely admit that the only evidence we informed the county that we would not share is the location of unmarked burials of Haskell students in the wetlands. These Indian children should not and will not be disturbed.

The only hard evidence about what happened at Haskell during the planning phase of the SLT is found in a letter dated June 8, 1987 from Haskell's Facility Manager to the Haskell President. This letter summarizes a meeting held with Richard Prankartz (the State of Kansas Historic Preservation Officer) and states, "the Kansas Department of Transportation must clear the bypass (if proposed) through the boundaries of Haskell Indian Junior College with Mr. Prankartz and Haskell." This didn't happen; the Kansas Department of Transportation, Douglas County officials or the Corps of Engineers did not contact Haskell about the 31st Street alignment. The former Facility Manager informed us five years ago that a few weeks after he wrote this letter the state and county stated that the trafficway would not effect Haskell, therefore, there was no need to get Haskell's approval. He stated that he believed that the county was trying to pull a fast one over Haskell. Someone, somewhere decided that Haskell would not be a part of the process.

In fact, the only evidence of participation from the public record that we have concerns the former president of Haskell who attended an early public meeting about the proposed Massachusetts Street connector to the Trafficway. If Haskell was treated like KU, Douglas County would have consulted with us and changed the alignment accordingly before it spent millions of dollars on land, the western portion of the SLT, and litigation costs. Additionally, inclusion of Haskell in the process at the beginning would not have led to the animosity that some segments of the Douglas County community has towards Haskell and all Indian people.

The original Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in 1987 mentions Haskell in one small paragraph and stated that Haskell has an annual spring powwow. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement of 1987 was mailed to Haskell and was found in 1995 in the files of the ex-president. The cover of the document is stamped "Confidential" in bring red ink. The meaning of the "Confidential" file can only be understood by those who know the history of this project and have knowledge of the individuals who worked on the SLT for the state and county. Since Haskell is a government run school, the Department of Interior (DOI), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the tribes needed to be contacted. The agencies have treated Haskell as if it were a private run school, that the president is the only one that needs to be contacted about affairs concerning the school. In reality, it is the DOI, BIA and the tribes that run Haskell. The DOI, BIA, nor the tribes were contacted. Again, someone somewhere decided that Haskell would not be a part of the process.

We know that if Haskell students and alumni were contacted by the agencies at the start of the project they would have been informed about the rich history of Haskell, the spiritual significance of the wetlands and other areas of campus used by the students, staff, faculty and Indian community. Thus, making the acquisition of consultants unnecessary. Instead, the agencies decided to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer's dollars to hire a group of consultants that could not comprehend the Native American views of the land use, environment, or spirituality. These consultants strove to quantify Native spirituality with numbers and graphs. Numbers and graphs can not define spirituality.

If the Journal World is into blaming, it's best to look at the individuals who wrote the environmental impact statements for the county, the attorneys who became middlemen, and at FHWA and KDOT. The sponsor of the SLT, Douglas County failed to consult with the necessary agencies, which was due either to ignorance or poor advice from middlemen. At the recent Board of Regents meeting the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation (ACHP) and Carter & Burgess Inc. stated very clearly that the county, KDOT, and FHWA failed to address Haskell's concerns and did not consult with other federal agencies, such as ACHP. In summarizing their findings on all of the Supplemental EIS's studies, they stated that the studies were incomplete and very confusing to follow, incomplete in describing cultural and spiritual concerns, and failed to address the complete impacts. Carter & Burgess Inc. stated in the summary of their report, "Given the legal history and the complexity of the cultural and biological issues involved, it appears that the FHWA Technical Advisory 6640.8A (Guidance for Preparing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents) should be more closely followed in the preparation of the Final SEIS."

In addition, there are several Internet web sites in Lawrence that claim to have recorded the history of the SLT. One website at the Department of Public Administration at the University of Kansas that is used in KU classes claims to provide a viewpoint that balances cultural heritage, environmental concerns, and transportation needs of the community.

Instead, this site and others in the community present a biased viewpoint of the issues involved, which only serves to confuse someone genuinely interested in the issues concerning the SLT. The KU website also includes photographs of areas at Haskell sacred to Native Americans and should be removed. We want to encourage people to study the issues involving Native Americans and wetlands but we advise people wanting to know the history of the SLT to talk to the students at Haskell to check out the facts from our side. If KU wants to use the SLT and Haskell as a case study, we encourage the professors and students to come down and talk to us so they can incorporate additional information and present the facts in a fair and accurate manner.

We are seriously concerned about the safety issues for Haskell students concerning 31st Street. As it stands, there is no crosswalk, speed limit reduction or speed bumps, even though there have been many attempts over the previous years by Haskell to have these safety features added to 31st Street. The city of Lawrence claims that it is the responsibility of Douglas County. Douglas County claims that 31st Street is the responsibility of the city of Lawrence. Judge Van Bebber said that the road could be maintained only as much as it does not alter the nature of the road.

Over the last six years, Haskell students and others from the Indian community have gone out to address many community organizations, as well as, reaching out to teach the young people in our public schools about the ecological, historical and spiritual importance of the wetlands and Haskell. We invite anyone who would like to visit with Haskell students and tour the campus to contact the Wetlands Preservation Organization at Haskell through the Haskell Student Senate.

Today we are educated and very productive members of this society while we continue to practice our historical and ancestral traditions, which originated over thousands of years. We believe in standing up for what is right and fighting what is wrong, as well as, maintaining our respect for those who do not understand our relationship with our Ancestral Elders, the Environment and the Earth.

We will continue to fight for our rights to be part of the same federal processes that are applicable to all other citizens of the United States and especially as Indian People. We will also continue to fight to help ensure that your rights are not snatched away from you, as they tried to do to us. Our people have fought many uphill battles to win rights under Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, so our ancestors will not be disturbed as you would not want yours disturbed; the Native American Religious Freedom Act, so we may practice our religion as you practice yours; and the Presidential Executive Order that protects our Sacred Sites as you would want to protect your places of worship.

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