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Breaking the mold

University of Montana holds groundbreaking for Native American Center

Facility will be the first built on a campus in the country

MISSOULA, Mont. - ''Over 40 years ago, the Kyi-Yo Native American Student Association started their group,'' said Dustin Whitford, Chippewa Cree and president of the University of Montana's Kyi-Yo Native American Association.

Kyi-Yo means ''grizzly bear'' in the Blackfeet language. The group has been holding formal annual conference meetings at the university since 1968.

''It's because of them that we're able to have a Native American studies department, and I'm very honored to be here, standing in front of all of you as the president this year, being able to be a part of this groundbreaking ceremony,'' Whitford continued. ''So with that, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for being here.''

Those were the first words spoken at a ceremony for UM's new Native American studies building that began and ended with the Yamncut drum group's songs. Yamncut is Salish for ''gathering place,'' and approximately 150 people gathered for the morning ceremony April 19.

''Two years ago, spiritual leaders from the Montana tribes gathered on the campus to consecrate this ground as the site for our Native American Center,'' UM President George Dennison said.

''With this ceremony today, and the construction of the center to follow, the University of Montana reaffirms and underscores its commitment to work hand in hand with the Montana Indian community to assure the meaningful and responsive education of all Montanans,'' Dennison said.

The Montana Indian Education for All Act, or House Bill 528, set a nationwide precedent for American Indian education back in 1998. It stated: ''Every Montanan ... whether Indian or non-Indian, be encouraged to learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner.''

The 19,900-square-foot building will certainly help accommodate the state's teachers learning to teach about Montana's original inhabitants.

In a statement, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said the building will ''supply a bridge for those of both American Indian and other cultures to explore the best that each has to offer.''

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., spoke of how UM's Native American Center building would be the first one located directly on an actual campus.

''It's not in Connecticut, it's not in New Mexico; it's here in Montana - at the University of Montana. I think we can be very proud of that,'' Baucus said. ''We in Montana lead in a lot of ways, and clearly, this is another.''

The center itself was designed to represent all 12 tribes in Montana, featuring a 12-sided center with a lodgepole to represent each tribe in the main gathering area. The building's design will include details such as beadwork patterns on the bricks that are actual patterns used by local tribes. In addition, there will be eight large tribal seals representing each of the seven Montana reservations and the Little Shell Tribe (which has no reservation) on the outside of the building.

Chief architect of the building, Daniel Glenn, Crow, explained that the building will be Leadership Energy and Environmental Design-certified, meaning that it will be approved by the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to using recycled products wherever possible and utilizing solar panels, the building will use native plants from each reservation in the gardens that will take less moisture to water.

''I like to describe my style as 'red and green,''' Glenn said. ''Red because it represents Indian culture, and green because of the environmentally responsive designs.''

Glenn's unique, futuristic, ''bold, Native American design'' will be sure to stand out from the box-styled campus buildings surrounding it. Glenn said he collaborated closely with all the tribes for two years to come up with the end design.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Gregory Cajete, Santa Clara Pueblo. He spoke of the importance of maintaining communal ties, and how the new building would help do just that.

''What Native studies communities also do is that they form the foundation for leadership. And indeed, in many ways, Native studies learning communities today are creating a new leadership for Native country.

''Native studies programs are about helping students find their face, which is really their sense of identity - who they are, knowing their history and understanding their past, their present and their prospects for the future,'' he said.

Tribal delegates spoke on behalf of each of the Montana reservations, including Earl Old Person, Blackfeet, who said he first recalled being at that same gathering spot some 60 years earlier, when he showed some whites how to build a tipi before being shipped off to France in World War II. He also told how he was one of the original UM Kyi-Yo members in the 1950s, before they had more formal meetings.

Small pouches of tobacco were handed to attendees prior to the ceremony, and a plot of sod unearthed so that people could put the tobacco offering in it before it was covered over again in an emotional prayer ceremony led by Antoine ''Tony'' Incashola, Salish.

''We leave an offering. We leave our hopes and our prayers for future generations, because we don't take without putting back,'' he said. ''So before we take this piece of ground for the future generation, we want to put back. And that's what we're going to do with the tobacco, to put our offerings and prayers and our hopes for the future generations.''