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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

 

September 22, 2001 - Issue 45

 
 

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 Program Seeks to Build Bridges Between Seniors, American Indians

 
 

 by Dave Ranney Lawrence Journal World-September 19, 2001

 
 

Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo
Jay Mule performs during the Lawrence Senior Center's American Indian Day activities. Douglas County Senior Services sponsored Tuesday's activities.

 
Lawrence, KS - Now in her 70s, Barbara Bertrand remembers being a first-year clerk in the Woolworth's store in downtown Lawrence.

"It was 1946 and I was 16 years old," she said. "And in those days, the girls from Haskell came in on one Saturday, the boys came the next Saturday. They were not allowed to be downtown together, and as I recall, they had to be back at Haskell fairly early in the afternoon."

Bertrand's recollection was part of a daylong discussion Tuesday aimed at building bridges of understanding between Lawrence-area senior citizens and the city's American Indian community. The dialogue was sponsored by Douglas County Senior Services.

"For years and years, I was always horrified at the things that were said and done to the Native Americans," said Bertrand, who grew up in Lawrence.

But 1946 was an improvement over earlier times, said Steve Jansen, director of the Watkins Community Museum of History.

"In the 1930s and into the 1940s, the police would pick up Haskell students and take them back to campus. They were not to be downtown at all," Jansen said.

For longer than anyone wants to remember, Jansen said, attitudes toward Haskell were built on ignorance.

"When Haskell was founded, the basic premise at the time was 'My God, you mean (Indians) can learn?'" Jansen said. "Native Americans were not seen as people, they were seen as animals that happened to be very intelligent. Nobody thought they had a culture."

Historically, these attitudes have been slow to change, Jansen said.

And they're still changing, said Haskell professor Dan Wildcat.

"In spite of all that's been done to them we've gone from policies of 'Let's kill them,' to 'Let's move them,' to 'OK, let's educate them' native peoples are still here," Wildcat said. "And their cultures remain incredibly dynamic and vital.

"That's not to say they haven't changed or that all changes have been good," he said. "But an awareness is there."

Wildcat said today's Haskell students will be more active and effective than their predecessors in bettering their communities, without sacrificing their culture.

"With this generation, there is no reason to feel less than prideful about their heritage," he said.

"And now they are gaining the tools they need to lead their own communities."

About 20 people, most of them senior citizens, attended the forum, which closed with a demonstration of Indian dance and music.

"I thought it was wonderful," said Bobbie Figgins, who moved to Lawrence 50 years ago. "More people need to hear this."

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