by Stephen Lindsley
In 1884 the United States Indian Industrial Training School was founded in Lawrence, Kansas as a small boarding school for American Indians. With humble beginnings as an elementary trade school, the new institution grew rapidly, both in enrollment and programs offered. Soon, a “normal school” was added to train teachers to serve in local communities, and the commercial department opened in 1895, providing secretarial and commercial training. These programs expanded through the early 20th century, and vocational training was added in the 70’s, followed by a post-secondary junior college. A full four-year college program began at Haskell in the early ‘90s. As Indian gaming has begun to grow in prominence across the country in the last decade, many Haskell graduates have been able to find jobs in their own communities, or move to another part of the country for the first time because of these opportunities.
In 1993, the school became officially known as Haskell Indian Nations University, and today Haskell hosts approximately 900 students per semester, currently representing 136 different tribes from 36 states, with an adjunct and full-time faculty nearing 100, plus 100 more staff. There are five baccalaureate programs offered: Bachelor of Art degrees are awarded in several different American Indian Studies programs, and B.S. degrees are offered in environmental science, business administration, business management, or associate of science elementary. The eight associates degree programs include both associate of arts and associate of science options.
Administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the Department of the Interior, all the programs at Haskell are provided tuition-free to certified members of American Indian nations. Currently, Haskell offers the only government–funded American Indian education program in the country. Students pay only a student fee that includes book rental, activity fee, and door fee. There are more than 20 student organizations on campus, and the athletic programs are strong and popular.
Prairie Band tribal member Jerry Tuckwin is one of five generations of Tuckwins associated with Haskell. His father was there from 1907 to 1910, and Jerry himself went to high school at Haskell, before earning his undergraduate degree from Wichita State University and later a Masters in Education Administration from the University of Arizona. After a stint in the Air Force before and during the Vietnam War, where he served in a reconnaissance unit, Tuckwin became a teacher, mentor and athletic director at the University.
Now retired from teaching at the University, Tuckwin now continues to find ways to benefit the school through the Haskell Foundation, which was created in the 1970s to generate development capital for University expansion and improvements. His own experience at Haskell taught Tuckwin its value, not just as an opportunity for education, but also as a means of personal and cultural growth. “When I was there I met other kids from tribes all over the country whose lifestyles, social situations and religious backgrounds were very different from mine. That was a true learning experience,” he says.
The Haskell Foundation grew slowly at first, and then experienced growing pains in the 1980s, when outside mismanagement led to financial difficulties, which have taken many years to resolve. However, with Tuckwin’s help, the foundation is emerging once more, after more than two decades of inactivity. “Our goal,” says Tuckwin, “is to be able to use these fundraising efforts to help the University add new faculty, student internships, and a six-week summer school. These are the most important short-term needs.”
Jerry Tuckwin is optimistic about the Haskell Foundation and its mission to support the place where he learned as a boy and taught as a man. The Haskell Indian Nations University is unlike any other school in the country, and it serves an important purpose. The Haskell Foundation also serves an important purpose – the chance to provide future students and faculty with even greater resources than are available today, because the next generation of Haskell graduates will certainly be larger, and better prepared, than the last.