Indigenous & Immigrant Voices in Lawrence, KS

Prometheus Radio - Posted on 20 April 2010

Indigenous & Immigrant Voices in Lawrence, KS

Lawrence, Kansas is home to the only remaining four-year, Federal Inter-tribal University in the Country: Haskell Indian Nations University.  Haskell was originally an "Indian boarding school" where children were snatched from their families- often sent off in train cars to Lawrence, where they were forced to cut their hair, beaten for speaking their own languages, and forced to assimilate to a white Christian culture.

Haskell transitioned from boarding school, to vocational school to Junior College and was eventually converted in 1993 to a University for indigenous people (who have tribal membership within a federally recognized tribe.)  Haskell is like no other place; it is one of the most international universities, pulling in indigenous folks from Alaska, the Southwest, many from Oklahoma- and throughout the United States.  The legacy of the boarding school lives on in markers that exist throughout the campus.  Just southeast of the main buildings on campus there is a cemetery, marking the graves of over 100 children who died or were killed during their tenure at Haskell boarding school.  The graves say their christian names, their indigenous nations, and the estimated years of their lives.  However, there were many more children that disappeared from Haskell. Many had fled or died trying to escape, and others were potentially killed.  The wetlands adjacent to Haskell is a sacred place- it is a burial ground for the children that fled, a place where families set up camp to be close to their stolen children, and a unique eco-system bringing incredible biodiversity to the region.  The Wetlands Protection Organization is working to defend the wetlands from the construction of a road that has been proposed for many years.

There are a handful of eager students at Haskell who would really like to start a radio station so that different student clubs could share information, coordinate efforts, organize, and have an outlet for the diverse indigenous communities represented at Haskell.  We met with members of the Indian Leader, the longest running native-run newspaper in the country- to discuss how media can be used as a tool to give a genuine voice to the student body.  At Haskell, all staff are employees of the Bureau of Indian Education- and therefore work for the Federal Government.  Many students discussed a strong need for a student voice that can challenge the corruption of the current administration.

Co-founding members of the Seventh Generation of Indigenous Visionaries- a group of Haskell students who went to Palestine on an indigenous delegation- attended our presentation and announced that they would be organizing the Indigenous Media & Technology track at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, June 18-20.  Palabra Radio also offered a short presentation in support of the Four Winds cultural center- a rebirth of an indigenous community space in Lawrence (formerly the Pelathe Center) which had actually applied for a Low Power FM radio license in 2000- but were rejected.

Recently, a Full Power Radio License was awarded to Lawrence Freenet, a group that provides affordable and some free wifi to residents of the city.  They are hoping to launch their station sometime in the next year and will have a focus on some Americana and local music but also community public affairs programming.
In a workshop on participatory communication, we met with 23 women and 2 men from countries throughout Latin America.  We enjoyed working with this incredible group of people to explore what kinds of issues are impacting immigrant and latino communities in Lawrence and how more organizing and communication could help to resolve these issues.  A highlight in the workshop was the reflections expressed after we showed a clip depicting the women's take-over of the media in Oaxaca in 2006, in the movie "Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad."  Many of the women discussed the incredible transformative power of media- and how different Lawrence would look if immigrant and latina women had a stronger voice in the community.

Following the workshop, we were thrilled and entertained by the fabulous Circus Express- performed by a dear friend and supporter.