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MSU Hosts Ground Blessing Of New American Indian Hall

Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana State University will host a public ground blessing ceremony for the new American Indian Hall in Bozeman this Friday. Walter Fleming, Department Head and Professor of Native American Studies, says the new hall will be something of a homecoming.

“This valley was the home for a lot of different tribes, and so what we’re trying to do is create a coming home with the building to create a nice, comfortable place for them to feel welcomed,” says Fleming.

The American Indian Student Center is currently located in the basement of Wilson Hall. It opened in 1974 when fewer than 25 students identified as American Indian. Today, nearly 800 Native American students are enrolled at MSU.

The new building is intended to better serve more than 1,000 American Indian students expected by the fall of 2020, and act as a bridge to other cultures on campus. In addition to housing the Department of Native American Studies offices, the American Indian Hall will include three classrooms and an auditorium, as well as space for counseling and tutoring.

“We want to provide services to those students so that they are retained and graduate, and the building just allows us to better do that,” Fleming says.

The building will be certified LEED Platinum with solar panels and geothermal energy, a green roof and other energy-saving elements while maintaining an organic feel with wood and stone. It’s structure will be based on a feather design.

“And that represents the eagle, which a lot of tribes consider to be a sacred bird because it carries messages to the supernatural," says Fleming.

The idea for the hall was proposed in 2005 by architect Dennis Sun Rhodes, an MSU graduate and Northern Arapahoe tribal member, and his friend, well-known artist Jim Dolan.

“For the last 14 years, we’ve been trying to make that dream come to reality," says Fleming. "Recently we received a generous gift from several donors, which allows us to actually move forward to constructing the building.”

The ground blessing ceremony will take place at 3:00 pm on the lawn south of Hannon Hall. It will include a prayer from Henrietta Mann, MSU professor emeritus of Native American studies and Cheyenne prayer woman, followed by a traditional smudging ceremony and a round dance.

The new building is slated to open in the fall of 2021. The University of Montana in Missoula opened the Payne Family Native American Center in 2010.