Haaland, National Leaders Stress Importance of History and Representation at Haskell Opening Ceremony – The Lawrence Times

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland called the graduates who attended Friday morning’s commencement ceremony at Haskell Indian Nations University “a dream of our ancestors.”

Over 60 students attended the event, with family and friends filling the stands at the Coffin Sports Complex. The ceremony was also broadcast live on Facebook by the university’s newspaper, the Haskell Indian Leader.

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Haaland gave the keynote address after short introductions from Tony Dearman, Director of Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.

Members of the Haskell administration joined degree-granting dignitaries on the platform. Among them were interim president Julia Good Fox and Frank Arpan, who ran for vice president of academics, although his appointment was not officially announced by the university on Friday morning.

Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times US Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks to Haskell graduates.

Haaland, who is a member of Pueblo de Laguna, became the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary when she was appointed in March 2021.

“Each of you is a dream our ancestors had when they fought famine and drought, displacement and the terrible assimilation policies of centuries past,” she said. “We need more people who understand struggle, who understand perseverance and know what it means to be fierce in the face of difficulty, who have resilience and power in their veins, who can devote themselves entirely to work than they do and be a moral compass for leadership in our country. We need you.”

The ceremony was the first the university held in person after more than two years of online classes and distance learning at Haskell.

Dearman congratulated the students on their “day of celebration” and asked them not to be afraid as they moved through the world.

“We are all proud of you. Always be proud of who you are and where you come from,” he said. “You have to move forward with confidence and never be afraid of making a mistake or worrying about failure. What you learn from your mistakes is what makes the difference.

Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Haskell graduates listen to speakers at the start.

In her speech, Newland acknowledged what the students had endured during the pandemic.

“We know the pandemic has made your journey through Haskell very difficult,” he said. “It makes today’s graduation a little bit more special.”

Newland also discussed a report on Native American boarding schools that was released Wednesday by the Department of the Interior. The report found that more than 500 students nationwide died in the schools between 1869 and 1969. Haskell opened in 1884 as the United States Indian Industrial Training School for children in grades 1 to 1. the fifth year. The school became a secondary school in the 1920s and, in 1970, a junior college. The university was established in 1993.

Today, Haskell maintains a cemetery housing more than 100 boarders who died between 1885 and 1943. Newland said it’s important for graduates to remember this history as they reflect on their own.

Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, addresses the graduating class of Haskell Indian Nations University.

“Despite Haskell’s dark origins, today’s Haskell has empowered countless Native people across Indian Country to build a better future for their communities and for generations to come,” he said. “You are all now part of the legacy of this institution and of the graduates who have gone before you who have gone out into the world to serve their people, their country and the world. Remember the dreams you had here and be ready to do them.

Haaland, who detailed her journey from a drifting high school graduate to a single mother and law school graduate, also spoke about the importance of remembering that Haskell grew from a tool to divide Indigenous families. and assimilate their children to an institution. that produces leaders.

She called the intergenerational trauma caused by boarding schools “heartbreaking and undeniable”.

“I look at the name of this university and I can’t help but think that we are on the campus of a man who has sought to assimilate us,” Haaland said. “Like many of you, I come from ancestors who endured federal residential school assimilation policies led by the same department I now lead. The traumas of the past need to be shed light. Step by step, we are moving towards healing.

Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Class members of Haskell Indian Nations University listen to Deb Haaland speak at the start.

Graduate Nizhoni Thomas is a member of the Navajo Nation who came to Haskell from Flagstaff, Arizona. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and hopes to one day open her own daycare.

Thomas was a member of the basketball team that competed in the national championship tournament this spring. After two years away from campus life, she was glad to have the opportunity to end her career at Haskell in person.

“It’s exciting to come back after two years of connecting online,” she said. “It was especially nice to have a degree.”

Lydia Dean, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is the third of three sisters to graduate from Haskell. A brother was also present. Dean earned his associate’s degree in social work and received a full scholarship to study the Choctaw language at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Her father, Albert Dean, said it was important to establish a tradition of education and to be a mentor to young people who might not see a clear path in education.

“It’s been a family affair, for sure,” he said. “It’s important to demonstrate what is possible. I am very proud, very grateful and very grateful for all the opportunities at Haskell.

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Haaland also expressed the importance of setting an example and becoming a leader.

She told graduates they couldn’t sit on the sidelines because they had the potential to change the world.

“Representation matters,” Haaland said. “You matter. Today I challenge each of you to use your education to build a better world for those who come after you and for those whose voices are drowned out by the noise. Leave the ladder behind for that the next generation climbs is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the protection of cultures and traditions for future generations.

“We come from people who have survived insurmountable hardships. This is not something to be taken lightly. »

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Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Rebecca Villalobos, president of the Student Government Association, addresses the Haskell graduating class.
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Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Rhonda LeValdo introduces Deb Haaland.
Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, greets attendees as she prepares to speak at the opening of Haskell Indian Nations University on May 13, 2022.

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Carter Gaskins/The Lawrence Times Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, speaks at the opening of Haskell Indian Nations University on May 13, 2022.
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Andrea Albright (she/her), journalist, can be contacted at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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