"My long-term vision is that Haskell will be the most desirable place for American Indian students to come and get their undergraduate -- and graduate -- degrees," Swisher said Friday as she was inaugurated as Haskell's first woman president.
During the next 10 years, Swisher said, the university should become a center for research and graduate programs.
That would be a big leap for the school. It became a university in 1993 and offers four four-year degrees: elementary teacher education, American Indian studies, business administration and environmental science.
Dan Wildcat, a professor of sociology at Haskell, welcomed Swisher's "challenging vision."
"It's really needed," he said. "I think part of what you expect from a leader is to establish a vision and empower everybody to be part of that vision."
Friday's inauguration, attended by about 500 people from tribes across the United States, wasn't all about policy. It was also a celebration of Haskell's history and Swisher's heritage as a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Students and dignitaries mixed academic garb with ceremonial American Indian regalia; Swisher wore a feather in her hair.
Bill Mehojah, director of the federal government's Office of Indian Education Programs, said Haskell had come a long way since it was founded as an institution to assimilate American Indian children into the dominating culture.
"It has become a sacred place, offering hope and opportunity for the Indian people," he said.
Reva Gates came from North Dakota with other members of the Standing Rock tribe -- including students of the reservation elementary school that Swisher once headed. Gates said that Swisher is a role model for children of the tribe.
"It goes to show the world an Indian woman can be highly educated and lead a university," Gates said. "We're going to support her every way we can."
The inauguration also drew two former Haskell presidents: Bob Martin and Gerald Gipp returned to witness the ceremonies.
Walter Ahhaitty, president of Haskell's student senate, said Swisher was already working well with students.
"She's very student-oriented," he said. "Her attitude is that they're here to serve us."
That service won't always be easy, Swisher said. Haskell expects a smaller-than-desired budget increase from federal authorities.
"We must learn to do more with less. But we must also take a closer look at ourselves," she said, to capitalize on Haskell's strengths. One possible solution: Increase the number of private and public sources of revenue coming into the university.
"I think the vision she shared will encourage nationwide support," Wildcat said.
After the ceremony, there was a groundbreaking for a new museum and cultural center. During the evening, a powwow at Coffin Sports Complex celebrated Haskell's new president.
-- Staff writer Joel Mathis can be reached at 832-7126.