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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Payne Family Native American Center Opens On UM Campus
by Travis Coleman - Great Falls (MT) Tribune Staff Writer

MISSOULA — There is finally a place for Native American students to call their own on the University of Montana campus.

Hundreds of tribal and state leaders joined students and alumni to celebrate the formal dedication of the Payne Family Native American Center on Thursday. The $8.6 million facility located on the UM Oval will house the Native American Studies Department, along with student services and campus programs for Native Americans.

Having all of this under one roof is especially useful, officials said, given that for years classes and support services were spread throughout the campus, making college life more difficult for Native American students.

"Some of them would never find us," said Fredricka Hunter, American Indian Student Services director.

Those days are gone with the completion of the 30,000-square-foot center that was a decade in the making. UM officials say the center is the first building of its kind on any university campus in the nation.

The day began with a "coming home" walk. The balance of the day featured tours, festivities, a lunch and ceremonies, along with the formal dedication.

There also was a blessing of the Bonnie HeavyRunner Memorial Gathering Space. HeavyRunner was a Blackfeet woman who was a trailblazer at the university's Native American Studies Department and was instrumental in the creation of the center. She died of cancer in 1997.

The center was called many things by keynote speakers, students and university officials Thursday.

Elouise Cobell of Browning, a Blackfeet woman most famous for her long-running trust reform lawsuit against the federal government, said the center is a bridge between the Native American world and the nonNative American world.

Other speakers called the center an inspiration, a place for future tribal leaders to write the blueprint of Indian reservations and a new standard for buildings serving Native American students.

"It exemplifies pride in our Native culture and community," said Dustin Monroe, a 28-year-old business student from Browning.

Applied health sciences student Bruce Grant said the center shows that the university cares about Native American students. Grant said that in the past students felt overlooked at times.

"It feels like we're a part of the university," said Grant, 27, of Missoula. "It makes Native students feel welcome on campus."

Grant called the department's old facility a "little shanty shack" that was so cramped, Native American studies classes had to be taught in other buildings. That facility was actually an old house, he added.

Construction on the new building began in April 2008. Private donations made up most of the center's funding, with UM alum and Missoula businessman Terry Payne providing funding when financial support lagged. Donations also came from Cobell and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, among others.

The center has 12 sides, representing the 12 tribes of Montana. The seals of Montana's seven reservation-based tribes, along with the landless Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians, are carved into the building. The tribes' flags are flown along the main entrance to the building.

Elements of Native American culture surround the center, from an oval-shaped storytelling space to the center's native herb gardens.

The center's entrance leads to a circular lobby, with a canted roof and a skylight made to capture the first rays of the daylight. At night, the building's fiberglass panel recreates the glow of a teepee with an internal campfire. The building's lead architect, Daniel Glenn of the Crow Tribe, based his design on Salish teepees. Inside, the classrooms are state-of-the-art.

The center is the first building in the Montana University System to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certified, with dozens of environmentally friendly features.

Hunter hopes the center will help recruit students from throughout the state and beyond. She said people at universities in Arizona and Utah already are taking note of the Payne Family Native American Center.

"You get the sense that this is a going to go on a very different level," said Cris Stainbrook, a representative with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, which was a lead donor for the project.

Hunter believes the center will help retain students by giving them a place to see other Native Americans, which can be crucial for students from the reservation who can feel lost sometimes on the campus.

Hunter said Native American enrollment at UM is growing, and the excitement surrounding the Payne center is a part of that.

"Native students have a place on campus," she said.

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