PSU Native American center celebrates 15th anniversary

Portland State students, alumni, faculty and community members gathered on Nov. 13 in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Native American Student and Community Center to share their stories of identity and cultural connection in the Nimiipuutimt gathering area.

The celebration opened with a traditional Native American song performed by the Bulls and Bears powwow drum group, followed by an invocation from PSU graduate student and NASCC team member Reid Gustafson.

“Today we honor the traditional and ancestral homelands we stand on,” Gustafson said, listing indigenous nations of the Portland area and Columbia River. “It is important to acknowledge the ancestors of this place and to recognize that we are here because of the sacrifices forced upon them.”

Since its founding in 2003, NASCC has provided a place for native and indigenous students to connect with their heritage and find a home at PSU.

“The idea, concept and intentionality of creating this space…this home away from home, [has become] this sanctuary for these students,” said PSU alum and Native American Student Services Retention Coordinator Trevino Brings Plenty.

“People come and visit from other campuses, other parts of the country, other parts of the world,” said Judy Bluehorse-Skelton, PSU alum and professor of indigenous nations studies. “Indigenous people…they always comment [they don’t] have anything like this, that this [center] is incredible.”

The latest data shows PSU has the highest number of enrolled Native American and Pacific Islander students of any major Oregon university.

PSU now offers an undergraduate degree in indigenous nations and Native American studies, and is the first of any university in Oregon to do so.

Another PSU alum, Jade Unger, spoke on behalf of Asa Wright, who was unable to attend the celebration.

“I had the honor of grass dancing on the ground blessings and then again on the groundbreaking,” read Unger from Wright’s speech. “This building has always been home.”

After hearing students’ desire for a native studies program, Wright worked on petitioning the university. “I heard from the university that there was no need,” her speech continued, “I started a petition to show there was a need.” Wright’s petition gained over 2,000 signatures.

Former student and CEO of Pound 4 Pound Construction Havea Fuapau represented the Pacific Islander Club, which shares the NASCC. Fuapau played a role in revitalizing the Pacific Islander Club with Jon Joiner, the Multicultural Center coordinator at the time.

PSU alum and former Native American Student Services Coordinator Rose Hill shared her experience and efforts in addressing the dropout rate of Native American Students in the early ‘90s.

“It was like a revolving door,” Hill said. “We wanted to affect change, social change. The building wasn’t even an idea yet. We were thinking about how to support the students, how are we going to help students so they don’t drop out…and actually graduate.”

“I am so proud of these accomplishments,”  Wright stated. “I am so proud of this center, this community and watching the next generation find themselves in these walls.”