Large crowds turned out for the grand opening of the new Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center on the University of Wyoming campus. Eastern Shoshone elder Stanford Devinney blessed the new center with a prayer while the building received a cedaring ceremony from Northern Arapaho elder Crawford White.
State Representative and Navajo tribal member Affie Ellis presided over the event and UW President Laurie Nichols and U.S. Senator Mike Enzi addressed the audience, among many others, including U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney who said the center will help Native students feel welcome away from home.
“How important it is that we make sure that we don't force our Native American kids to choose between honoring their culture and honoring their heritage and also looking toward the future,” Cheney said.
Eastern Shoshone member George Abeyta is a teacher and coach at Fort Washakie high school, a UW alum and an Eagle Spirit drummer who performed at the ceremony.
“This is a long time coming,” said Abeyta. “We've been fighting for this for over 100 years. It should have been here with Old Main,” one of the older buildings on the UW campus.
Chief Washakie's great-grandson John Washakie agreed, saying education of his tribe was a priority all the way back to the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 when it was mentioned in three different articles.
“To paraphrase what my great-grandfather Chief Washakie said, I fought for our land, our water, our way of life. But now education is what is needed to protect them,” said Washakie.
Eastern Shoshone tribal Chairman Clint Wagon said, when he was a student at UW, the only place for Native students was in the American Indian Studies office. Governor Matt Mead made a strong statement of welcome in hopes of bringing of UW's Native enrollment, which has been declining for years.
“Today with this center we hopefully send a message loud and clear to all Native Americans, we want you at the University of Wyoming,” said Mead. “We want you at the University of Wyoming because through your history, your culture, your language you offer a wonderful education to all UW students."
The night wrapped up with a dinner and a demonstration of Native American powwow dance styles.