Brown Quarterly - Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1996)

Haskell: Its History and Its Future

Dr. Bob Martin

For centuries before European contact, Native American communities were thriving, dynamic, distinct societies woven together by a powerful institutional fabric of language, religion, government, and education. These societal structures helped the tribes maintain a strong sense of history and identity, whose backbone was traditional education which ensured that skills and knowledge would be transmitted from one generation to the next. Pedagogical methods included storytelling and group and experiential learning, all of which were integrated into the daily life of the child and were learner-centered. As a result, many of these societies made substantial achievements in math, science and the humanities. Essential characteristics of this successful education were relevancy, participation and control by Native American peoples.

Since the arrival of the Europeans in 1492, Native American communities have been confronted with education systems that were oppressive and culturally irrelevant. Curriculum failed to reflect Native languages, values, and customs and often presented negative Native images. At various times, schools made a conscious, vigorous effort to extinguish anything Native American including culture, language, religion and dress. Indeed, assimilation was the ultimate goal of the schools. The lack of culturally appropriate curriculum and deliberate efforts to assimilate Native Americans were tantamount to cultural genocide. Not surprisingly, Native students have had difficulty maintaining their cultural values within the dominant society. Tragically, schools were destructive to the identities of Native children (Reyhner, 1988).

Throughout the history of European colonialism and American expansion, Native youth have been subjected to "educational remedies" ranging from assimilation tactics and linguistic genocide to weak, underfunded contemporary programs which treat symptoms rather than problems. Since Native Americans comprise less than 1 per cent of the U.S. population, they have often been overlooked when government allocates funding, develops programs or collects data on minority groups (Skinner, 1991).

Improved education for Native people will enable them to achieve equal political status within American society and will protect them against complete acculturation. Thus, only with the best possible education will Native Americans be able to maintain their values while coexisting in mainstream society (Native American Congress of Indian Education, 1991).


Two recent federal government reports --Indian Nations at Risk: an Educational Strategy for Action (1991) and The Final Report of the White House on Indian Education (1992)-- documented the failure of schools to address the needs of Native students and recommended that they provide them with culturally relevant education. The Indian Nations at Risk Task Force Report described the status of education for Native children in the United States based on the testimony of hundreds of Native American parents, school board members, educators and students. It asserted that Native communities were nations at risk because U.S. schools have discouraged the use of indigenous cultures and languages, hence weakening them. Historically, problems associated with the education of Native Americans have been reflected in the highest dropout rates of any racial or ethnic group; low expectations; relegation to low academic tracts; and blatant and subtle racism.

A premise of both of these reports is that the United States has a responsibility to assist tribal governments and Native communities to preserve and protect their cultures. Hence, the reports emphasize the importance of culturally relevant education, the implementation of which should be a priority for all schools serving Native Americans.

In addition, the reports reaffirmed the significant role in Native American education of sovereignty and self-determination which are the basis for American Indian cultural identity. Therefore, Native communities must be involved in the governance of schools so that they can articulate their own educational vision which will point the way toward developing curriculum materials that are culturally relevant (White House Conference on Indian Education, 1992). Haskell Indian Nations University is an important resource for achieving this goal


Located on the southern edge of Lawrence, Kansas, Haskell serves all federally recognized tribes. More than 160 tribes from 36 states are represented within the student body. Enrollment in the fall of 1996 is approximately 890 full time equivalency students. The history and advancement of Haskell demonstrate how the goals of educating Native Americans have changed from advocating assimilation to promoting sovereignty and self-determination.

Founded in 1884 as the United Stated Indian Industrial Training School, Haskell provided agricultural education in grades one through five. Ten years later, the school expanded its academic training beyond the eighth grade. By 1927, the secondary curriculum had been accredited and the school began offering post secondary courses. The high school program was gradually phased out with the last class graduating in 1965. Since then, Haskell has offered only college level programs.

 In October 1993, Haskell changed its name from Haskell Indian Junior College to Haskell Indian Nations University after receiving accreditation to offer a bachelor of science degree in elementary teacher education. Haskell is fully accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and offers programs in four degrees: associate of arts, associate of sciences, associate of applied sciences and the aforementioned bachelor of science degree in elementary education.

The elementary teacher education program was conceptualized and developed over a period of four years by Haskell faculty and staff with advice and consultation from Native and non-Native educators from colleges, universities, schools and agencies involved in Indian education. The program is based on the fact that education for Natives has not been effective. The elementary teacher education curriculum is an attempt to use the current reports, research, experience and rich wisdom of Native and non-Native educators as a basis for developing an innovative program for preparing Indian teachers to instruct from a uniquely Native perspective.

In addition, several baccalaureate programs are being developed including Native studies, environmental science and engineering, natural resources management, and business. Haskell's vision is to become a center for Native education, research and cultural programs that increase knowledge and support the educational needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The baccalaureate programs currently in development will move Haskell in the direction of achieving this vision.

Principles of sovereignty of tribal nations and self-determination provide the foundation of Haskell's programs and substantially contribute to its uniqueness. Haskell provides a truly indigenous approach by strengthening the understanding of Native principles, fostering an appreciation for the rich cultural diversity of Native life and addressing the development of the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical aspects common to all people.

Dr. Bob Martin is the President of Haskell Indian Nations University.


  • Bopp, J., M. Bopp and P. Lane. Discussion Paper Four: The transforming power of a New Vision. Paper presented at the Four Worlds Development Project, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1984.
  • Harvey, K. "History and Social Studies Curricula in Elementary and Secondary Schools," Indian Nations at Risk: Solutions for the 1990's. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1991.
  • Houser, S. "Underfunded Miracles: Tribal Colleges," Indian Nations at Risk: Solutions for the 1990's. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1991.
  • Indian Nations at Risk Task Force. Indian Nations at Risk: An Educational Strategy for Action Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1991.
  • McKenna, F.R. "The Myth of Multiculturalism and the Reality of the American Indian in Contemporary America," Journal of American Indian Education (1981) vol. 21:1, 1-9.
  • Reyhner, J. "Learning from the History of Indian Education." In H. Gilliland and J. Reyhner (eds.) Teaching the Native American. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1988.
  • Skinner, L. "Teaching through Traditions: Incorporative Native Languages and Cultures into Curricula," Indian Nations at Risk: Solutions for the 1990's. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1991.
  • White House Conference on Indian Education Task Force, Final Report of the White House Conference on Indian Education. Washington, DC, White House Conference on Indian Education Task Force, 1992.

FREE STUFF!: For information on Haskell write Haskell Indian Nations University, Office of the President, 155 Indian Avenue, Lawrence, KS 66046-4800.