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UW Native American Ceremony Canceled, Summer Student Institute to be Virtual

April 21, 2021
row of people wrapped in colorful blankets
Even though UW’s Native American and Indigenous Studies spring graduation ceremony has been canceled, graduating students will still receive traditional gifts, such as Native blankets. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming’s Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) spring graduation ceremony has been canceled, while the Native American Summer Institute (NASI) will be offered virtually to high school students.

Both events have been changed for the safety of all families and students involved.

Plans are to recognize Native graduates for their achievements and excellence throughout the academic year, including giving each student gifts from NAIS and UW’s Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC). Blankets are from the Native-owned company Eighth Generation.

“While this saddens everyone involved in the program and the NAERCC, the program has deemed the threat to the Wind River Reservation elders and culture bearers -- who often play a central role in graduation -- too great to justify holding graduation on campus,” says Caskey Russell, NAIS director. “The pandemic has hit our Native communities hard. The mortality rate among Native Americans is much higher than any other group in America. It is not inconceivable that holding the NAIS graduation this year could potentially spread COVID-19.”

For more information, email Russell at

This summer’s Native high school institute is June 7-11. NASI, a summer pre-college program, is designed to familiarize Native American high school students from the Wind River Indian Reservation and surrounding communities to the UW campus and to the town of Laramie. NASI also collaborates with other teams to host an advanced health track for college students, specifically from Central Wyoming College. The advanced health track will have a more hands-on experience on the Wind River Indian Reservation this summer.

“NASI is going virtual for the first time in five years, but we are excited to provide a virtual NASI pre-college experience for our Native American high school participants and teams,” says Reinette Tendore, director of the NAERCC and Native American Program adviser. “By going virtual, it now allows us the opportunity to reach more Native American high school students from other Native communities in our region -- that is what I am most excited about.”

The virtual program is new for her team this summer, Tendore adds, but the team is looking forward to a new experience as well.

“It also allows for the advanced health track to do more of the sessions on the reservation and reach more of our Native students as well,” Tendore says.

Each day of the summer institute -- for up to three hours -- activities for all students will be offered, including workshop sessions, team-building activities and engagement, virtual learning skills and cultural activities. A special evening with a cultural guest speaker will be open to NASI participants and their families.

Current Native American high school students can apply for NASI at For the NASI advanced health track registration for college students, email Jill Fabricius Keith at or Tarissa Spoonhunter at

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