Cedric Sunray is a Kansas University graduate now living in Norman, Okla. He’s also a former student at Haskell Indian Nations University.
But he couldn’t enroll today.
That’s because a rule prevents those from his tribe, and others, from attending the school because they are not recognized by the federal government.
Haskell is a legacy for those who attend it, and for many, its free tuition offers the only chance at a college education.
“We need Haskell,” Sunray said. “We need that access.”
Stephen Prue, a Haskell spokesman, confirmed the rule.
“We here at Haskell can only accept students who are enrolled members of federally recognized tribes,” he said.
Prue said those rules are out of Haskell’s control and are determined in Washington.
A representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs could not be reached for comment. The BIA — with the Bureau of Indian Education — controls Haskell Indian Nations University.
Neither Prue nor Sunray knew exactly when the rule changed, but both said that it wasn’t always that way. Sunray said the rule used to be that a student had to be at least one-quarter American Indian by blood.
Sunray, a member of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, has documented several students from nonfederally recognized tribes who have attended Haskell at a website, helphaskell.com.
Sunray said 565 federally recognized tribes exist today. About 60 additional tribes are recognized by their state, but not by the federal government. Most of those are small, with an average of about 1,000 people per tribe, if you take out the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina, which has about 40,000 people, Sunray said.
“We’re talking about a very small number of people,” he said, but added that shouldn’t prevent them from being allowed access to schools like Haskell.
“There’s a lot of bitterness there, but, in the end, no one wants to do the right thing,” Sunray said.