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Opinion. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, a shift occurred in mainstream attitudes about race and some of the dark eras in our country’s history. During the aftermath, statues of wayward explorer Christopher Columbus were toppled and Indigenous communities moved to rename the federal holiday that honored him.  

Floyd’s death also triggered large corporations to pull back advertising support for the NFL football franchise that for years had adamantly refused to drop the racist “R-word” as its team’s name. The threat of lost sponsorship dollars encouraged the team to change its name to the Washington Commanders.

In November 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) declared the word “squaw” to be derogatory and racist.

"Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said.

To accomplish the removal of the derogatory term, Haaland issued Secretarial Order 3404, formally identified the term “squaw” as derogatory and created a federal task force to find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term. 

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” Haaland said at the time. “We are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The Army is also following that path. A name-changing effort is underway among Army bases that were named for Confederate officers during the build up of the U.S. military and during World War I to appease support from local politicians in the deep South. These Confederate officers had fought against the North during the Civil War in their defense of slavery.

On Thursday, June 1, Fort Bragg officially became Fort Liberty in North Carolina. 

Southern Eastern General Contracting, Inc., owned and operated by Ralph Locklear, a citizen of the Lumbee Tribe, won a federal contract to replace the name on several signs on the Army base. 

“When I learned about the history of our Lumbee people and the Confederates, I saw this as an olive branch of sorts by the government to help right an injustice that was done to our Lumbee people during those times,” Locklear said to Native News Online. “It meant a lot for the federal government to choose our company to head up this project. And, I am proud we finished early and within budget.”

With all the name changes in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, now is time to pose the question: Should Haskell Indian Nations University drop the Haskell name?

Upon examination of the school’s origin and namesake, it may well be. 

Dudley C. Haskell fought during the Civil War in the Union Army in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and in the Indian Territory. Some 20 years later, Haskell served in Congress as a representative from Kansas. While in Congress, he served as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for two years. During this time, he supported legislation to establish off-reservation Indian boarding schools in Kansas, Nebraska and in Indian Territory to be modeled after the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 

One of the Indian boarding schools was established in his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. It opened in 1884 under the name of United States Indian Industrial Training School with an enrollment of 22 Native American students. Within a semester the enrollment grew to 400 Native students from various tribes from various points of the country.

The school was soon renamed in 1887 to Haskell Institute to honor Haskell, who died unexpectedly in late 1883.

In the early 1930s, industrial training became an important part of the school’s curriculum. By 1935, Haskell became known for post high school vocational training. In 1965, Haskell graduated its last high school class.

During the early 1970s, the school began offering a junior college curriculum and was known as Haskell Indian Junior College. 1999, the U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs approved a change in the name, which became the “Haskell Indian Nations University.”

Some notable Native Americans who have attended Haskell are Olympic great Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox/Potawatomi), Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. (Oneida), and Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk), a Democrat serving Kansas’ third congressional district. 

With the current reexamination of names on public buildings and geographic locations, dropping Haskell’s name seems like a question we should be considering. 

Should a school with a vast history and hopeful future of educating future generations of Native Americans use the name of a man who served in the Army in Indian Territory and supported the federal government’s failed Indian boarding school experiment?

Some people, including alumni, believe it may be time to put a Native American name on the university. Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall, a design anthropologist, researcher, and dean at Ontario College of Design, who happens to be black, maintains it is time to put Indigenous people first if we are serious about the decolonization argument.

There are notable Native Americans who are worthy of such honor. Haskell alumni and Olympian Billy Mills (Lakota) comes to my mind immediately. Since winning an Olympic gold medal some 58 years ago, Mills has remained relevant as an author, businessman and philanthropist. His Running Strong non-profit has inspired, uplifted and funded Native youths to help them fulfill their dreams. That’s also the point of higher education isn’t it? 

Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].