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History with Blinders


Some of the pro-trafficway commentators appear to live in a world where nothing is of significance or "true" if it did not leave bones, pottery fragments, or arrowheads for the archaeologists to dig up, or written reports and correspondence for an archivist to file away.

In the pre-Haskell, and especially pre-settlement period of this area's history, the various native peoples did, without any reasonable doubt, come to the vast Wakarusa Wetlands for a wide variety of good purposes. The nearest possible village site was located slightly outside the square mile of wetland Baker restored. Its exact location has been a closely guarded secret to discourage pot hunters and other vandals. It has never been excavated. Far more relevant is the fact that these wetlands contained many of the most important medicinal and ceremonial herbs and plants used by the Kaw, their Osage neighbors, Pawnee rivals, and other Caddoan peoples who inhabited the region prior to the arrival of the tribes speaking Siouxan languages, like the Kansa Indians.

We do know that several Kaw chiefs and their major villages were named White Plume, with reference to the feathers of the snowy egret, birds that once covered the wetlands in such density that it looked like an early winter snow had fallen when they settled down for the night. Their feathers were sacred, being gathered with care to observe all the rituals required. The same was true of gathering sacred medicines, like the once abundant swamp milkweed that grew there. None of this activity left marks that archaeologists look for with their spades and sives.

We also know that in virtually every native cultural tradition across North America wetlands were treated as special places loaded with valuable gifts from the creator. The migratory birds, the fur bearing critters, the big game that was attracted to the wetland by the Wakarusa when drought eliminated other watering holes, all were part of the story of how this place already had significance in the minds of the children who were brought to Haskell from the earliest days.

Similarly, the reports written by school official, who were evaluated on their progress toward "killing the Indian to save the man", had strong disincentives to record the problems they encountered with kids who refused to have the Indian in them drained away. The wetland was their only place of refuge, but officials who sought to drain the "swamp" knew how to frame their requests to obtain the enormous funds needed. They employed a half-true spin, claiming that they wanted to create more farmland to use as an "outdoor classroom". Here they assured Washington officials, they would be able to turn "savages" into useful laborers. At the time government authorities believed Indians were less evolved, and were thus incapable of real schooling like white kids. The plan was to make them of some use to the nation by turning the girls into domestic servants and the boys into agricultural laborers. It was uncannily parallel to the way most Americans viewed wetlands as "wastelands" that should be drained to make them "useful" to a growing nation.

This side of Haskell era history of the wetlands is not written in any annual reports or correspondence back to Washington. History of that sort is blatantly warped and distorted by the agendas of those who did the reporting to higher ups.

Haskell alumni know from oral traditions passed down from their grandparents and great grandparents that in the early days one had two ways to "call home" from this boarding school. If they learned English fast enough, and could get their letter past the school censors, there was a small chance it would be read to their parents by the Indian agent back on the rez, if he approved of the content. This meant the student had to say great things about his or her treatment and education, hoping their parents could read or hear the desperation and loneliness hidden between the lines.

Or one could keep an ear open for when someone from their tribe or a related people, were camped down on the old vagabond campground on the banks of the Wakarusa, beside the swamp. Those visitors, unwelcome in town, came to beg school officials to let them see children who had sometimes been away for years, or to ask that the kid be permitted to return home for a short vacation. Students knew these campers were their best hope of getting uncensored messages carried to their loved ones.

This campground beside the swamp was also their only hope of getting any news about what was happening back on their reservations. The infamous Dawes Act, passed just three years after Haskell opened its doors, was causing tremendous misery and hopelessness in Indian Country as the government campaigned to extinguish tribal communities forever.

None of the native stories of the wetlands as a place of resistance make it into the kind of self-serving "history" that Baker University uses as propaganda to justify its collusion in the theft of so much Haskell land in the 1950s and 60s.


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