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History in the making

Posted May 16 2010 12:00am

Thursday I witnessed the beginning of a new chapter at the University of Montana as the Payne Family Native American Center was dedicated. This beautiful facility will house the Native American Studies (NAS) program and is the first building of it's kind in the nation.

The new Native American Center has a few features that stood out to me. They include
+The Bonnie HeavyRunner gathering space, a stunning atrium that is the centerpiece of the building.

+Native designs from each of Montana's tribes are inscribed throughout the flooring of the building.

+The Payne Center is the first completely green (LEED certified) building on the UM campus.

+The landscaping uses a combination of native grasses, plants, and flowers that require little water.

+Outside the center are the flags of each Montana tribe and a storytelling area where the oral traditions of the first Montanans can flourish.

I have no native blood in me but seeing the faces of those in attendance at the dedication filled me with hope for the future. This country to put it bluntly has screwed over it's indigenous peoples and treated them like second class citizens for centuries. These wrongs sadly can't be undone but things like the Payne Center can start giving appreciation and respect back to our native brothers and sisters.

As a student journalist, I want to have a basic understanding of the issues related to Montana's first peoples. I'll get a start on that this fall when I take my first Native American Studies (NAS) course. The course will deal with issues Montana Indians have dealt with since the reservation era began. I'm expecting this to be a rigorous class that will benefit me greatly in the future. If this class turns out to be as interesting as I think, there may be more NAS classes in my future.

I failed to mention this but at the Payne Center dedication a very famous Montanan was in attendance. Joe Medicine Crow was born in Lodge Grass Montana and his deeds in WWII earned him the distinction of being the last Plains Indian War Chief. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom (highest civilian honor) by President Obama in 2009. Below is on clip on Joe Medicine Crow from the Ken Burns documentary The War.

I’ll have a post Wednesday on my final photojournalism project and a summary of the semester gone by.

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