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Institute of American Indian Arts Celebrates 50 Years and Bestows Two Honorary Doctorates

The Institute of American Indian Arts will celebrate 50 years at its 2012 commencement with a Native American author, artist and musician.
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To help celebrate a milestone at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), the institute will bestow two honorary doctorates and welcome Santee Sioux actor and musician John Trudell to campus May 11 to deliver the commencement address.

This is the first year since the institute started bestowing the honor three years ago that two candidates for honorary doctorates have been chosen. This year’s honorees are Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday, who earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for House Made of Dawn, and Luiseño artist James Luna, who has been challenging perceptions and expectations of Native American people for three decades.

“Both are very strong, very well known and very successful,” IAIA President Robert Martin said in a release. “Mr. Momaday is an award-winning author who has taught here and Mr. Luna is a cutting-edge artist. As we celebrate our 50th, this is a real opportunity to present dynamic role models to our graduating students.”

Luna said he’s grateful, but he’s not sure he deserves such an honor.

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“I don't do this art thing to get wealthy. I don't do it for just me and I don't do it for awards. But every so often someone out there thinks we are deserving of what we do. And what we can do just blows my socks offs because it feels great to be acknowledged and have someone say you've done something important,” Luna said in the IAIA release.

There are 48 students graduating on May 11 and they chose Trudell to deliver their commencement address. He served as spokesman for the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969-1971 and later joined the American Indian Movement (AIM) and served as its chairman from 1973-1979. He’s also a musician and actor. He was in Thunderheart, Smoke Signals and Dreamkeeper.

“Exploring the power of our intelligence through imagination and the arts is a necessary reality for Native peoples today, as it is through this reality that we recognize our identity as a people,” Trudell said in the release. “One of the values of learning at IAIA is that it gives young people ways to express our culture through the arts in this contemporary world.

The institute will also be honoring three valedictorians: Jamie Figueroa, an enrolled member of the Taino Tribe in Puerto Rico; Blue Tarpalechee, Muscogee (Creek); and Brian Fleetwood.

The 2012 commencement will take place May 11 at 11 a.m. and be streamed live over the Internet. For more information visit