Lawrence City Commission candidates share ideas to boost support for Haskell Indian Nations University

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Candidates for the Lawrence City Commission listen to a moderator during a candidate forum, which was part of the Lead Horse Open II event at the Lied Center. Pictured here are incumbent City Commissioner Lisa Larsen, left; Mo'Ka'Quah Jones, center-left; Milton Scott, center-right; and Shawn Pearson, right.

Candidates for the Lawrence City Commission on Wednesday gave their suggestions for supporting Lawrence’s Native American community, specifically Haskell Indian Nations University.

During a candidate forum hosted by the Lead Horse Open II event at the Lied Center, seven of the eight candidates running for the three seats gave their takes on how the city could help find more funding for the school and increase its visibility in Lawrence.

One of the candidates, Ma’Ko’Quah Jones, was once a student at Haskell, and she said many students graduating from Haskell were leaving Lawrence to take jobs in other cities. She suggested building relationships between Haskell and local businesses that could provide internships and entry-level jobs for graduates.

“That’s a way of maintaining our knowledge and the talent we are producing in our Lawrence community,” she said.

While federal funding is a major issue for the university, Jones said it was not the only source of funding, and that she’d like the city and the university’s fundraising arm to work together on the issue. She also said that there was a lack of understanding in the community about the university, and that the city could come up with ways to educate the public on the role the university plays.

Meanwhile, incumbent candidates Lisa Larsen and Stuart Boley both said the city should strongly advocate for more federal funding for Haskell.

Larsen said the city needed to listen to the university’s leaders and find out what could be improved and where they needed help. And Boley said that the city had invited U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary — to visit Lawrence and Haskell. He said such a visit might open the door to more assistance from the federal level.

“This is a historic opportunity with Secretary Haaland,” he said. “The opportunities for funding may be really good right now.”

Bart Littlejohn said that while efforts to secure federal funding would be important, the city might also consider providing some of its own money to the university.

“We all know how much you fund things equals how much you intend to support it,” Littlejohn said. “If we really want to support it, we should put our money where our mouth is.”

He also said he wanted to do more outreach to educate Lawrence residents about Haskell and the Native American community.

Shawn Pearson said he too believed that there needed to be a mix of efforts on the federal and local levels, and that there should be more cooperation between the city and Haskell leadership.

Milton Scott said the city could look to its partnerships with other organizations to help Haskell grow. He said a model might be how the local chamber of commerce, which receives city funding, has worked with the University of Kansas.

And Chris Flowers said that ultimately, the key to keeping Haskell strong would be to find ways to increase its enrollment and to break down barriers that students faced. He said one such barrier is city police “cracking down” on college drinking.

“We need more people to be coming to Haskell,” he said. “Remove any barriers that are stopping students from coming here.”

One candidate, Amber Sellers, did not appear at the forum.

The City Commission primary will be Aug. 3, and the general election will be Nov. 2. Advance voting has already begun in the primary, which will trim the field to six candidates.

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