“Hope is Ceremony”: What a Tribal College Community Can Teach Us about Hope in the Face of Ecological & Cultural Crises
Haley Rains (Muscogee Creek)
Ph.D. Candidate, Native American Studies; University of California, Davis
Haskell Indian Nations University, originally called the United States Indian Industrial Training School, was founded in 1884 in Lawrence, Kansas. It was an Indian boarding school operated by the US Federal Government designed to forcibly assimilate Native American children into Western culture. Haskell, like the hundreds of other Indian boarding schools constructed by the US Federal Government in the mid-19th century, was designed to “Kill the Indian, save the man” (Richard Henry Pratt). Today, Haskell is a four-year university that serves students who represent more than 150 different tribes, each tribe possessing its own distinct culture, language, and history. Each Haskell student embodies a rich, unique personal story, and collectively, these stories have shaped Haskell’s history. By celebrating tribal resistance, redefinition, sovereignty, cultural survivance, and hope – in all of its diversity, color, and vibrancy – the Haskell community collectively remembers and grieves the school’s traumatic past while reflecting on the impact that Western policies, religion, and development have had (and continue to have) on traditional Indigenous cultures and sacred tribal lands. In this series of photographs, which I captured during my time as a Haskell student, I reflect on the question of what it means to grieve the past (and present) while cultivating hope for the future.
In order of appearance:
Haskell Cemetery, 2016: An inconspicuous cemetery sits in the southeastern corner of the Haskell Indian Nations University campus. Surrounded by a tall, black metal fence, four long rows of small, white, weathered headstones emerge from the vivid green and yellow grass.
Headstone and Trinkets, 2016: On the headstones are trinkets, tobacco, and other little, sacred offerings left by visitors. A small, dirty blue teddy bear sits propped up against a gray and rust-colored headstone.
Infant, 2016: The word “INFANT” is engraved boldly at the top of a weathered headstone partially covered by an overgrown shrub. It is an unusual sight. Not many universities have graveyards on their campuses, but Haskell is not a typical university.
The Seeker, 2018: A Muscogee (Creek) man overlooks the sacred Wakarusa Wetlands, where countless Native American children perished when they ran away from Haskell during its boarding school years.
The Sun Sets on the Wakarusa Wetlands, 2018: The Haskell community considers the Wakarusa Wetlands sacred because this location is the final resting place of countless Native American children.
A Bridge Over Wetlands, 2018: Local Indigenous community members gather here to reflect on Haskell’s tragic past and work to collectively heal from the intergenerational trauma caused by the US Federal Government’s Indian Removal and Assimilation policies.
Water Protector (Sumer Mohsen - Comanche), 2018: In the late 90s and early 2000s, Haskell students and administrators tried to halt the development of a four-lane, closed-access trafficway across the sacred Wakarusa wetlands by conducting sacred ceremonies and staging protests.
A Good Ceremony, 2016: Tragically, the Haskell community was unsuccessful in its attempt to halt the construction of the trafficway; however, it continues to hold ceremonies to honor the sacred land and grieve the losses of those who perished there.
Here He Found Himself, 2016: Haskell holds powwows multiple times a year. Tribal members from across the country travel to Lawrence, Kansas to participate in these events.
Time Immemorial, 2016: Natives and non-Natives alike attend these events and pay respect to the memory of those who perished during the boarding school era.
Powwow Baby, 2017: Many view these powwows as opportunities to both remember the past and collectively heal from it.
Dolls (created by Marty McKinney), 2017: These large events also include moments of prayer, dance competitions, and displays of Native American art and jewelry.
Dream Catchers, 2016: Dozens of Native American vendors sell handmade food, artwork, and clothing and share their tribal histories with those who stop to visit with them.
He Wore Some Feathers, 2016: Haskell’s history is undeniably tragic, but its community is committed to honoring the strength and resiliency of Haskell students (past and present) through remembrance and celebration.
Hope is Ceremony (Sequoia Obe), 2016: Haskell is also committed to instilling in its community a sense of tribal pride, self-determination, and above all else – hope.