A children’s space in which native tales will be told, a salmon pit for special ceremonies and a gathering space for small powwows are just a fraction of the areas planned in the new Native American Center.
“The center is for both native students and the non-native community interested in learning about the native culture,” said Rose Hill, coordinator of the Native American Student Services.
The purpose of the center is to help strengthen the cultural connection of Native American students on campus. Hill said that many native students come from very rural places; the center will help those students find a home away from home. By making a smooth transition for Native American students the hope is to increase enrollment, retention and graduate rates.
According to Burt Ewart, a program manager for the Native American Center, the center will create a meeting space for all community members. The center has a meeting space for students to gather and relax, have symposiums, mini-powwows and graduation ceremonies for Native American students.
“Native American graduating students will be able to inscribe their mark, they can put a physical mark on this campus before they leave,” Ewart said.
There are 198 Native American students at Portland State.
The center will also provide office space for the student offices for United Indian Students in Higher Education (UISHE) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).
The center has been a vision for the university since 1995. Construction is not to begin until the middle of next year. Ewart said the goal is to have the center in operation by Fall 2003.
This center is a $3.5 million project. Ewart said it has been funded from a combination of gifts, grants and bonds. Hill concurred that they are “closing in on the fundraising aspect.” It takes a certain amount of time to make a vision a reality, according to Hill.
“It shows how you can take a really positive idea and put your best effort toward it even if it takes six years, it can be a reality,” Hill said.
Hill stressed that this endeavor is a very student driven initiative. She said from the beginning there was support from the top of administration at Portland State down.
The architect Don Stastney worked with the Native American students in 1996 for six months on the design of the building. Hill said the design really reflects what the students wanted.
There are reoccurring circular designs to represent the shape of teepees. The actual frame of the building is meant to symbolize the image of a whale. Hill said the center design is very organic.
There will be an ecological roof with native plants and shrubbery. The center will also have a library resource room and fireplace.
The space for the project is the land next to the tennis courts, by Shattuck Hall. Currently, teepee poles stand there now. In keeping with tradition the tribal elders have blessed the land.