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Home Away From Home

September 6, 2019
person helping food onto a plate
Sharing meals is one activity that students enjoy at the center, and recently graduated student Cyrille Mitchell loved bringing items to potlucks hosted by Keepers of the Fire.

UW’s Native American Center and program offer community, outreach and education. 

By Micaela Myers 

In a red building on the southwest corner of campus, University of Wyoming students from all different majors are learning Arapaho in an intimate classroom. Elsewhere in the building, a Native American student meets with her adviser. Other students use the computers or share a meal. Visitors learn about Native American culture and enjoy the artwork and photographs that adorn the walls. UW’s Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center brings all this together and provides a home base for students and faculty in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program.

 

Community at the Center

“It’s been my second home,” says Cyrille Mitchell of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon, who graduated this spring with her degree in psychology. “There aren’t too many Native students on campus. We can come here—we can laugh and joke.”

Northern Arapaho tribal member Mia Holt of Lander, who graduated this spring with a dual major in Native American and indigenous studies and physiology, agrees: “It’s so nice having the center. We get to see Reinette (program adviser) and Angela (program director) every day to answer questions or concerns we might have.”

Both students interned at the center and attended the Keepers of the Fire meetings there. Keepers of the Fire is a recognized student organization that maintains and supports American Indian culture and promotes better understanding among Native American people and those of other ethnicities.

large red-painted house

Holt says, “It’s nice because when I started here, I didn’t have a Native American adviser, so I didn’t know about things going on on campus. Now that we have Reinette here, she helps get the students involved.”

For Holt, this included leading a Service, Leadership and Community Engagement Alternative Break trip to New Mexico over spring break to learn about immigration issues and meet immigrants firsthand. “It was really life-changing for me,” she says.

In addition to encouraging cross-campus involvement, Program Adviser Reinette Tendore aims to support students and foster that strong sense of community. “We try to have an event at the center at least every other week,” she says. These can include financial aid and scholarship information, semester check-ins and shared meals, depending on what students need.

“Community is our big thing here at the center—building a community for these students so that, when they leave home, they have a home away from home,” she says. “We are here to provide the support. They know they can find us here.”

Alumnus Jordan Dresser believes the center, which opened on the corner of 10th and Ivinson streets in 2017, was long overdue, given that Wyoming is home to one of the largest reservations in the nation. “It will be a lifelong resource, and I’m excited it’s there,” he says. “It’s something we can all be proud of as alumni, as tribal members and as Wyoming residents.”

He encourages people from all walks of life to visit the center: “You don’t have to be Native to use the center. Go there and meet different people. Go and explore the tribal people. You’ll have a cultural exchange there. Everyone is welcome. You’re going to see that we’re just like a lot of you. We’re getting our education. We’re striving for a better quality of life, and I think it’s moments like that that are going to make this world a better place.”

 

Native American and  Indigenous Studies

The Native American and Indigenous Studies program was formerly called the American Indian Studies Program, but the name change offers a more inclusive and up-to-date reflection of the program while honoring the work the program does in New Zealand, Australia and south of the border.

The program offers academic courses to all interested students—including a major and a minor. It also provides outreach to the larger Wyoming community.

“We do a lot of discussions on politics, law, medicine, art, literature—it’s incredibly multidisciplinary,” says Director Angela Jaime. “The students get a wide variety of influence by Native people and communities from across the country and even globally.”

group of people in front of a house-like shelter
Every other year, Native American and Indigenous Studies Director Angela Jaime (back row, right) leads a two-week study-abroad trip to New Zealand, where students gain understanding of the Maori culture. Photo courtesy of Angela Jaime

Every other year, Jaime directs a two-week study-abroad trip to New Zealand where students gain understanding of the Maori culture with a focus on immersion schools. Before the trip, students complete three intensive weekends preparing. The trip starts in at Auckland and ends in Wellington.

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at UW is growing, thanks in large part to the increased sense of community and support brought about by the center and program adviser position. This year, the first Native American freshmen interest group (FIG) was created. A FIG is a living and learning community that takes three or four sections of linked courses for a semester and occupies a floor in one of the residence halls, in this case dedicated to Native American students. This will add to the sense of community and include additional programming for students.

Jaime’s goals for the future include a class where students will dedicate their time to planning and hosting a powwow in Laramie. Through the process, students will learn leadership, organization, networking, budgeting and more, all the while creating an event that will grow outreach and community.

She also hopes to create an indigenous language center at UW. “Our dream is creating a center that would grow into many different languages and serve predominantly the Rocky Mountain region,” Jaime says. The focus would be on revitalizing and reawakening indigenous languages.

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