UW to open American Indian Center

Mar 30, 2017 From the University of Wyoming and the Associated Press

By July of this year, the facility that currently houses the University of Wyoming Honors Program will become the new American Indian Center.

The facility is meant to encourage all UW students, especially American Indians, to achieve success and optimize their college experience.

It will honor American Indian heritage and demonstrate respect for native cultures, traditions, laws and diverse expressions of sovereignty, UW said in a press release.

Officials also hope the center will create a community atmosphere and help with student recruitment and retention. UW's vice president of student affairs Sara Axelson told the UW Board of Trustees that native student retention for fall 2015-2016 was about 50 percent.

Former board member and project coordinator James Trosper says the center could help reshape young natives' opinions of higher education. It is part of UW president Laurie Nichols' plan to increase the numbers of American Indian students, including members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation, who enroll in and graduate from UW.

Trosper says the center is needed to help boost graduation rates among Wind River Indian Reservation students. The underrepresentation of natives students in higher education is a complex issue involving several factors, such as lack of financial support and campus resources, cultural beliefs, social stigmas and stereotypes, many of which are intertwined with the tragic history of colonization and native boarding schools and their effect on the native view of the educational system, he says.

"Many individuals may not trust institutions of education due to the history of boarding schools, in which many Native American students suffered abuse and were forced to abandon their traditional values and adhere to white culture," Trosper says. "Native American students who attend the University of Wyoming have overcome many obstacles to get to that point. We, at UW, should do everything possible to support this population to be successful. An American Indian Center will help Native American students who come from a collectivistic worldview build a sense of community."

The center, located on the corner of 10th and Ivinson streets, will be a "living-learning community" that provides study and technology space while also facilitating appreciation for diverse communities, UW American Indian studies director Caskey Russell says.

UW, the American Indian Studies (AIS) program and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute will work to provide opportunities for culturally appropriate research and education building for American Indian students and their families, as well as a place that respectfully represents tribal peoples, particularly those of the Northern Plains, and acknowledges their cultures, histories, contemporary lives and contributions to the world.

Classes, lectures, research, performances, exhibitions, meetings, collaborative work, traditional meals and traditions of native peoples will be celebrated in the facility. The multipurpose center will serve a variety of educational and cultural functions, and will reflect ancient histories, values and protocols while honoring the responsibilities and privileges of hospitality and spiritual engagement.

"The American Indian Center will strengthen the representation of American Indians in the university and will contribute to UW's cultural and ethnic diversification," Nichols says. "It confirms UW's support for its native students and their families, and UW's recognition of its tribal nation partners in the region. It will be visible evidence of UW's interest in admitting and retaining American Indian students."

Nichols has made it a priority to reach out to residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation. In the first year of her presidency, Nichols has traveled to the reservation three times to meet with Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal leaders and residents. She also has visited nearly all of the reservation schools at least once.

"I have greatly enjoyed my interactions with the leaders and people of Wind River," Nichols says. "We have a great opportunity to strengthen the university's relationship with the Wyoming tribes and others, including growing our Native American student enrollment."

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