Twenty-two American Indian children entered the doors of a new school in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1884 to begin an educational program that focused on agricultural education in grades one through five. Today, Haskell continues to serve the educational needs of American Indian and Alaska Native people from across the United States. For more than 117 years, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been sending their children to Haskell, and Haskell has responded by offering innovative curricula oriented toward American Indian/Alaska Native cultures.
The doors to Haskell officially opened under the name of the United States Indian Industrial Training School. Enrollment quickly increased from its original 22 to over 400 students within one semester's time. The early trades for boys included tailoring, wagon making, blacksmithing, harness making, painting, shoe making, and farming. Girls studied cooking, sewing and homemaking. Most of the students' food was produced on the Haskell farm, and students were expected to participate in various industrial duties.
Ten years passed before the school expanded its academic training beyond the elementary grades. A "normal school" was added because teachers were needed in the students' home communities. The commercial department (the predecessor of the business department) opened in 1895 with five typewriters. It is believed that the first touch-typing class in Kansas was taught at Haskell.
By 1927, high school classes were accredited by the state of Kansas, and Haskell began offering post high school courses in a variety of areas. Part of Haskell's attraction was not only its post high school curriculum but also its success in athletics. Haskell football teams in the early 1900's to the 1930's are legendary. And even after the 1930's, when the emphasis on football began to decrease, athletics remained a high priority to Haskell students and alumni. Today, Haskell continues to pay tribute to great athletes by serving as the home of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.
Industrial training became an important part of the curriculum in the early 1930's, and by 1935 Haskell began to evolve into a post high school, vocational-technical institution. Gradually, the secondary program was phased out, and the last high school class graduated in 1965.
In 1970, Haskell began offering a junior college curriculum and became Haskell Indian Junior College. In 1992, after a period of planning for the 21st century, the National Haskell Board of Regents recommended a new name to reflect its vision for Haskell as a national center for Indian education, research, and cultural preservation. In 1993, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (U. S. Department of the Interior) approved the change, and Haskell became "Haskell Indian Nations University."
Today, Haskell has an average enrollment of over 1000 students each semester. Students represent federally recognized tribes from across the United States and are as culturally diverse as imaginable. Students select programs that will prepare them to enter baccalaureate programs in elementary teacher education, American Indian studies, business administration, and environmental science; to transfer to another baccalaureate degree-granting institution; or to enter directly into employment. Haskell continues to integrate American Indian/Alaska Native culture into all its curricula. This focus of the curriculum, besides its intertribal constituency and federal support through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, makes Haskell unique and provides exciting challenges as Haskell moves into the 21st century.