In 1884, the Indian Industrial Training School opened its doors to 22 students as a boarding school meant to assimilate American Indians into mainstream culture.
Today, the school now known as Haskell Indian Nations University works to celebrate those same cultures.
Students, alumni and staff at Haskell took part in a healing ceremony Thursday to mark its 125th year of operation.
Songs, dances and drums marked the occasion, as attendees of the ceremony reflected back on where the institution has been and where it’s headed in the future.
Lynda Prince, a speaker at the event who traveled from Canada, brought 120 hand drums and shared her story of growing up in a boarding school, and how it made her ashamed of her culture.
She later learned to celebrate her heritage, she said, and she is now proud to wear her American Indian regalia — including a beaded dress she wore to the ceremony that weighs more than 35 pounds.
“I’m proud to be who the creator created me to be,” she said. “We should all be.”
She recognized the students at the ceremony in particular, honoring them for choosing to further their education.
“You are the new breed of warriors on the horizon,” Prince said.
Linda Sue Warner, Haskell president, said she could barely imagine what it must have been like 125 years ago on the campus.
“It’s really a commemoration and not a celebration,” Warner said of the ceremony. “It’s a testament to the resiliency of the Indian people.”
She said the school focuses on culture, though it may be difficult at times with all the different tribes that attend the school — most of which have different customs and traditions.
Still, she said, the school has come a long way from its roots.
“Instead of a place where you take the culture away, we’re really looking at a place to put the culture back in,” Warner said.