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Inter-tribalism, sporting legends and warrior culture: The unifying role of sports at Haskell Indian Nations University
Haskell Indian Nations University was created as a boarding school for Native American children and gradually transformed from an institution aimed at forcefully assimilating Indigenous children into American society, to one promoting Indigenous sovereignty. As an inter-tribal university, it helps Native students cushion the blow resulting from moving from the reservation to off-reservation communities. Sports continues to play an important role in this process as it helps create a feeling of unity, or even an inter-tribal Haskell identity. Since its beginning, seen as an efficient assimilating tool, sports has held an important place at the institution, with its athletic program creating nationally and internationally-renown football and basketball players, as well as track and field athletes. Thus, paradoxically, sports has also built pride in the students’ Native American identity. Famous Haskell athletes, including Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills, continue to serve as role models for the Haskell community today and the school’s sports legacy is invoked as part of its unique history and inspiration for its current athletes and students. Simultaneously, elements of the Lakota Indian ‘warrior culture’ (including its ‘warrior’ language) have been recently purposefully used to build unity at Haskell during sports events. Indeed, many Haskell athletes, spectators and other students have embraced it as part of their Native American culture, although they might come from tribes that do not share a similar tradition. As such, it has become something the community can relate to, and as something that distinguishes them from non-Native teams during sports events.