After an incident about a year ago that saw gravestones yanked from their plots, Haskell Indian Nations University’s historic cemetery now has a taller, sturdier fence meant to protect the property from future vandals.
Haskell spokesman Stephen Prue said crews finished installing the 8-foot-tall wrought-iron fence about two weeks ago, replacing the older chain-link that surrounded the half-acre cemetery on Haskell’s southeastern edge.
The previous fence was only about 4 feet tall.
“We had a case of vandalism in the cemetery going back a year or a little more where an individual pulled up some of the headstones and just tossed them in the corner of the cemetery,” Prue said.
Fortunately, the university was able to restore the markers to their rightful plots, Prue said, but Haskell leaders aren’t taking chances in the future. The cemetery, located behind a small sewage plant and bordered on one side by woods, is the final resting place of more than 100 Native American children who died at Haskell between 1885 and 1943.
The cemetery serves as a reminder of Haskell’s tragic past, back when the school provided education and job training to young Native Americans while also denying students their ancestral cultures and languages. Pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis were prevalent and deadly in the school’s early days, marked by 103 nearly identical gravestones arranged in neat, orderly rows.
“It’s a historical spot on our campus and we want to ensure that it’s properly respected,” Prue said of the cemetery.
The cemetery will remain open to visitors during business hours Monday through Friday, with the new fence kept locked in the evenings and on weekends.
In his eight years at the university, Prue said, there has only been one case of vandalism at the cemetery.
“The fence that was there was definitely in need of repair anyway, so it just made sense to replace it,” he added.