Haskell’s Color Guard: a Treasured Gem in Indian Country

Published May 17, 2017

LAWRENCE, KANSAS – The Haskell Veterans Association is the only known multi tribal color guard in Indian Country. The Haskell Veterans Association is a non-sanctioned club on campus run by five men who all served in one of the five branches of the United States military. They help bring in the flags that represent our country and Kansas more specifically and as well as the soldiers who never made it home from their war. Some of them are Haskell employees while some are Haskell alumni and still live in the Lawrence community.

The mission of the group is simple: “To serve Haskell, as well as the community and other tribes that may need us and be a representative for the school.” It’s clear that if someone need a color guard, then this group will always be there to help when called upon.

The Haskell Veterans Association have been a part of Haskell’s history since 1994 when a group of five Haskell students wanted to form a club that featured and highlighted some of our students who were veterans. “It was just something to represent Haskell as a group and we’ve been going ever since”, founding member Al Redbird Jr says. And Since the beginning, the Color Guard has always been humble in its numbers. Currently there are three remaining founding members of the color guard as well as two other members who have been active in the club for some time.

Before 1994, there were other military style organizations that the cam- pus has seen. According to a page on our Haskell main website, Haskell housed the only Indian cavalry in the National Guard with a total of 415 soldiers. Our famous Haskell arch is dedicated to Native American veterans across Indian Country, but especially to those 415 soldiers here. “During WWI, we had a lot of students leave and go into the war and some of them didn’t came back”, says Al Redbird Jr. Many Native American men and women left to help the war effort, even leaving their education.

The Haskell Veterans Association keeps their schedule pretty busy. They travel all over to invited powwows and events that the group is requested to be at. Some events to name would be our Haskell athletic games, events at KU such as their athletic games, other universities around Kansas and Missouri, the Nelson Atkins Museum to help with their Native American Heritage Month, and large powwows such as the Denver March Powwow in Denver, CO, various veterans parades in the greater midwest put on by tribes and other associations and also two military bases in Kansas, Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth for their Native American Heritage month celebrations. “When KU won the national championship in 2008, they asked us to lead the parade.” That parade was the celebratory parade that Lawrence hosted for the 2008 men’s basketball team that brought the Naismith trophy back to the city where it’s thought basketball was invented.

One highlight that they shared was when the state of Kansas recognized the four tribes within Kansas for Native American Heritage Month, the state also wanted the color guard from Haskell to be represented as well. They felt so proud and honored that the state invited them to visit the capital and be presented with a plaque that dedicates that specific day to the groups that participated.

The Veterans Association has no current Haskell students a part of their group now. When questioned about that, Redbird says, “Past students got to be busy with school and classes; I don’t know why we don’t get more participation from students. I wish we would though.” The group always has a table set up at our annual Haskell Highlight Nights but when they try to reach out to the students who sign their signup list, those students decide to not join the club. When asked about if they worry about the future of their organization, another member, Jay Crawford said that in the past and how it’s been in the past is that when one person leaves, another person steps up and joins. “When one generation goes, another generation will step up.”

The group fundraises every year to repair or upgrade their uniforms and to help cover costs when traveling. They also help give back to Haskell students who served in the armed forces. This past Christmas, the group chose to sponsor gifts to Keli Warrior, a Haskell senior in our American Indian Studies program. Warrior was expecting her daughter during Christmas time. “The Haskell Color guard reaching out to me and giving me things to support me and my daughter was so caring and heartfelt. It touched me because they look at me as their sister in arms. They did their time in the service and they still uphold the camaraderie. They really do have a special place in my heart. They’ve supported me since I stepped on campus in 2013. It means a lot to have support especially from people who have been in your shoes.” Warrior is a Specialist in the US Army National guard and has been for the past four years.

The group seems to really be influential on representing Haskell and taking a lot of pride in that. “It’s a wonderful experience because here you’re really a color guard. We’re all different tribes. We’re not in one tribe there’s a difference when tribes have their own color guard and they represent them but here we’re all from different tribes and that’s what makes us so unique and also since we represent Haskell”, explains Crawford.

With three original founding members left of the group, they don’t really have plans to have a reunion of some form in the future. They said one of the two others has passed on and the other lives in Hawaii. But none of the current members sees themselves leaving the group anytime soon.

Thursday, May 11th 2017, the group held an annual auction and dinner feed to help fundraise for their summer travels. It will be held at the Eagles Lodge on West 6th Street. One of the large items that is set to be auctioned off is a large drum from a few decades ago that has the Haskell “Indian head” painted on it.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Indian Leader,  the newspaper of Haskell Indian Nations University. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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