On March 29, 2019, Montana State University and the Native American Council of Elders initiated construction on the new American Indian Building with a special ground blessing ceremony. The project took 14 years to reach its funding goal of $20 million, with large gaps of time between donations.
“It’s been a difficult road,” said Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University. “It has been plagued with doubt as to whether or not we would be able to accomplish this goal. So, today is an incredible day of celebration.”
The ceremony began with a prayer by Dr. Henrietta Mann, Emeritus Professor of MSU, and letters of support were read from Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester. The crowd was large and emotional. As the snow fell outside and the attendees huddled together in the white tent, there was a true feeling of community amongst the crowd.
When the prayers and speeches were done, the crowd moved outside and formed a massive circle around the snow covered grounds. Tony Incashola from the Council of Elders performed the sacred blessing, one that was allowed to be photographed and recorded due to the historic nature of the occasion.
The blessing was accompanied by drumming and singing provided by The Bobcat Singers. Flags representing the various Native American nations of Montana were planted in the grounds. It was like a miniature powwow. The crowd finished off the celebration with a traditional circle dance. Singing, dancing, and celebration surrounded the now blessed grounds.
Planning and Design
With the ground blessing complete, the time for construction has arrived. The building will be located at the eastern end of MSU Bozeman Campus’s Malon Centennial Mall, between Hannon and Roberts Hall. The plans for the building are uniquely designed to be a community center that is memorable and welcoming to all.
“First of all, we want it to be a very beautiful building. Something that will call to faculty, student, and visitors and neighbors to come and enter and learn more about the first peoples’ cultures,” President Cruzado said.
The building will be roughly 28,000 square feet in size, and will primarily consist of classrooms and an auditorium for lectures. The classrooms will hold more than 150 students at a time. Additional rooms for tutoring, counseling, and advising are included in the designs.
The building will be the home of the MSU Native Studies program, and will also host classes from all of the different colleges in MSU as a way to encourage community and integration between all students and faculty.
“They can come, take classes there and not only learn about calculus, or physics, or engineering, but also have a cultural experience by getting to know Native American individuals who will be working there,” Cruzado said. “We envision it as an opportunity for the community to be enriched.”
On the same weekend as the ground blessing, MSU hosted the 44th Annual American Indian Council Powwow in the Brick Breeden Field House. The Powwow was dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
One such Powwow attendee, Bree Deputee, is a prime example of how the American Indian building is redefining future possibilities for all. Bree Deputee is the President of MSU’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness group. Their mission is to raise awareness for the epidemic of Native American women that go missing, are found dead, and/or go unrecorded, usually without justice for what happens to them.
MSU’s MMIWG Awareness group provides support groups and information for the public. Being a new organization, less than one year old, their resources are limited. Their ambitions are to empower women through self defense classes, seminars on recognizing and handling abuse, connecting with other campuses, and more support resources. The new American Indian Building will be an incredible blessing to their efforts.
“I’m super excited for the Native Building,” Deputee said. “People still don’t know when we meet, where we meet, what we’re doing. [The building] would definitely encourage more people to join and be more active regularly.”
The building opens in fall 2021. The building cannot come soon enough for Bree, who said “It’s gonna be a while, but it’s coming and that’s all that matters.”
Dawson Demontiney, a Project Engineer and a Senior at MSU, made the American Indian Building his passion project when he arrived at MSU in 2015. His close and personal experience with this project chronicles the struggle.
When Demontiney started asking about the American Indian Building in 2016, he was told that the project was “dead in the water” after 12 years of no progress. Dawson refused to let the project die. He partnered with Mary Jane McGarity, Development Vice President of MSU. Together they organized prayer ceremonies to bless their efforts and raise awareness for the project. Dawson gave presentations to potential donors, and in total his efforts helped raise $4 million in donations.
No one could be more joyful than Dawson that this project has finally been brought to fruition, but he raised valid concerns about the contractors responsible for the American Indian Building’s construction.
“[MSU] picked Swank Enterprises,” Demontiney said. “And all I could think about was that Swank built the Gym that fell down over here [referring to the two recently collapsed roofs at MSU’s Fitness Center]… Swank built a clinic on my reservation which ripped in half … That took 6 years to rebuild. How did these guys get this?”
Despite his concerns, Dawson remains hopeful. “I’ve always told people that this is gonna be a home away from home,” Dawson said. “To go to a college that represents Native Americans and gives them a home and has their best interests at hand – that’s my goal for that building. “
Feather of the Future
When the American Indian Building was first proposed in 2005, the initial design for this building was provided by Danny Sun-Rhoades, MSU alumni and an enrolled member of the Northern Arapahoe Tribe. Now, 14 years later, his design has been finished and implemented by ThinkOne Architects who paid respect to Sun-Rhoades by sticking to the spirit of his design. A key element of Sun-Rhoades’ design is the symbolic feather-shaped roof. The feather is a symbol of legacy and the future to Native Americans. A fitting motif for a building that will pave the way towards a brighter future for so many people once it opens in the fall of 2021.