Several hundred people attended a ground blessing ceremony last Friday for the new American Indian Hall at Montana State University in Bozeman.
As snow fell on the future site of the American Indian Hall, about 300 people gathered in a tent to celebrate a project almost 15 years in the making. MSU President Waded Cruzado said the building is a promise kept and a dream fulfilled.
"We celebrate with joy, with songs, knowing that for generations to come students from tribes across Montana and throughout the world will come here, right here, and call this place home," said Cruzado.
The American Indian student population at MSU has grown from fewer than 25 students in 1970s to nearly 800. They represent all tribal nations in Montana, plus 40 tribes from other states.
"We will construct a building that meets the educational needs of our students and speaks to the legacy of indigenous peoples of Montana," Cruzado said. "A visible statement, a metaphor of our institutional values, this building will be open to and welcome peoples of all ethnicities, ages, origins and cultures."
The new LEED Platinum building will house the Native American Studies Department, classrooms and an auditorium. It will also provide services such as tutoring and advising, and space for native ceremonies and culture — including a room for Elders to give counsel and a drum room for practicing and storing instruments.
Connie Brownotter of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation is a student and representative of MSU’s American Indian Council.
"Soon, our diverse and beautiful family will be gathered in those spaces, sharing ideas, celebrating culture and supporting each other through the highs and lows of life. Soon, this family will find comfort, healing and comradery in the shelter of these walls. Soon, this family will make a home away from home," Brownotter said.
In a way, this building represents a homecoming. Salish Pend d’Oreille elder Tony Incashola likened it to a circle, saying this land used to be the ancestral hunting grounds and crossroads for many different tribes.
“Everything is a circle. Life is a circle. Our sun is in a circle. Our family is a circle. Everything. The more we come together, the stronger that circle will be for our children and our grandchildren," Incashola said.
Incashola led the crowd out of the tent for a ceremonial smudging and ground blessing. After making the land sacred, he said it was time to celebrate with a victory song by the MSU Bobcat Singers drum group.
Construction for the American Indian Hall is slated to begin this spring and open in the fall of 2021. The $20 million facility is funded in large part by the Kendeda Fund with support from the student association.