Haskell’s Cultural Center & Museum is located on campus at the Haskell Indian Nations University, and tells the full, and often cruel, story of Haskell’s painful past. Opened in 2002, the center features the permanent exhibit Honoring Our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration, featuring artifacts, photos and letters from the school’s early days. Among the artifacts currently on display is a heavy lock and key from the small on site jail used to punish unruly students. Soon, perhaps, the handcuffs will be included among these artifacts, adding their own chilling testimony regarding the practices used by early educators to 'kill the Indian and save the child.'
Not much is known about the diminutive little handcuffs, which were donated to the Cultural Center in 1989 by a non-Indian man who described their use to Bobbi Rahder, former director of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum. “He told us they were used to restrain captured Indian children who were being taken to boarding schools,” says Rahder. The middle-age white man said his father had the handcuffs for years but that he no longer wanted to have them in his possession. “He seemed relieved to get rid of them,” Rahder recalls. I made many phone calls, but was unable to track down the man, who is said to have lived in Lawrence. According to Rahder, he failed to respond to messages they had left him over the years, and he has not been seen at Haskell since the day he brought the handcuffs to the Cultural Center. “It was all very vague. He didn’t tell us how his father came to have the handcuffs. He just showed up one day and donated them to the Center."
Mysterious donations are common at the Cultural Center. The handcuffs, however, were much different, “I was shocked and afraid to touch them." A number of elders and leaders, conducted a modest ceremony the next day at the school’s medicine fire. Women from the Creek and Choctaw Nations, provided a tiny handmade quilt in which the handcuffs were reverently wrapped before being stored in the Cultural Center’s archives. The handcuffs remained in storage there for more than 20 years.
Although the Cultural Center displays a number of artifacts related to the harsh treatment of early Indian students at Haskell, the handcuffs were simply too painful to be addressed. Elders blessed the handcuffs and were further advised to put them away. The handcuffs languished in the archives of the center until this past summer.
As word of the handcuffs began to leak out over the past few years, students and faculty began discussing the importance of acknowledging their existence and putting them on display. For whatever reason, no one at the school has been willing to take the lead in the handling of this powerful artifact, but with the approval of Haskell administration, it was agreed to unwrap them for ICTMN.
The tiny handcuffs are a tangible example of the painful history between Native people and the U.S. The history of our genocide has been forever swept under the rug by the mainstream. People need to see the impact that these policies had on us. If those handcuffs could talk, they would tell some terrible chilling stories.
Steve Prue, spokesman for Haskell, says "there are no immediate plans regarding how the handcuffs will be presented to the public, nor how or even if they will ever be displayed." He does agree with the students that the handcuffs are an appropriate item and should be included in displays of other Haskell artifacts at the Cultural Center. “It’s good to have these sorts of things on display in the Cultural Center,” he says.
“They tell the REAL story of who truly paid the price for us to be here today.” There is no doubt, to any compassionate reader with a heart of this horrid and unspeakable history, just as to who were the REAL savages were.