This weekend, more than 70 members of the Yale community and relatives of Henry Roe Cloud 1910 gathered at a conference in honor of the alum a century after he became the first Native American to attend Yale.
The conference, which was the third Henry Roe Cloud Conference since the first was held in 2005, included panels, a reception at the Yale College Dean’s house on Prospect Street and a gala dinner at the Quinnipiack Club. The conference stirred up both celebration and discussion about the history and needs of the Native American community at Yale. One of the most pressing needs for Native American students, said Dean of the Native American Cultural Center Theodore Van Alst in one of the panels, is their own physical space independent of the Asian American Cultural Center. Currently, the two centers share a house at 295 Crown St.
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“It is something that I think could help Yale to stay true to its identity, and also help us,” Van Alst said during a presentation on the NACC at a panel Saturday afternoon, titled “Keeping the Legacy, Looking Ahead.”
In an interview Saturday afternoon, Reyna Ramirez, granddaugther of Henry Roe Cloud and an assistant professor of American studies at University of California, Santa Cruz, said the best way for Yale to honor her ancestor’s legacy is to provide more support for its Native American students. Ramirez said the University should name one of the new residential colleges after Henry Roe Cloud, as well as provide more funding and a dedicated physical space for the NACC.
The launch of the Yale University Press’ new Henry Roe Cloud Series on American Indians and Modernity was also announced during the panel by Ned Blackhawk, professor of history and American studies, and Christopher Rogers, editorial director of the Press. Blackhawk said the idea for the series, which will publish one new title per year, came out of the “pressing concern” that American Indian studies are given more attention at public universities. Private universities, he said, “have not treated the studies of Native Americans as seriously” despite their “vast resources.”
Speakers also addressed the need for a more direct way to locate the academic resources Yale does have related to Native American history and culture. At the panel, Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, assistant professor of American studies and history and Christine DeLucia GRD ’13, an American studies doctoral candidate, presented the beta version of a new website that promotes some of Yale’s American Indian collections at institutions like the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Yale University Art Gallery. The site shows researchers where to find and how to access these resources — but as Mt. Pleasant pointed out, there is no way to keep a complete directory of Yale’s holdings as the University’s collections are constantly growing.
Mt. Pleasant and alum Patricia Nez Henderson MPH ’94 MED ’00, the first Native American woman to graduate from the Yale School of Medicine, were bestowed with, respectively, the Association of Native Americans at Yale Community Award and the Wa-Na-Xi-Lay Hunkah (Henry Roe Cloud) Native Alumni Achievement Award — known as the Henry Roe Cloud medals — at the gala dinner Saturday night.
“I was elated but also frustrated that it had taken so long to get a female Native [American] through that system,” said Henderson of her accomplishments at the medical school.
At the gala dinner Saturday night, Henderson was cited for her efforts to raise awareness about the damaging effects of tobacco among Native American tribes, while Mt. Pleasant was singled out for her work to increase to the visibility of the Native American community and its history at Yale. Yale College Dean Mary Miller addressed the audience at the dinner, after Chief of the Mohegan Tribe Lynn Malerba gave the event a traditional tribal blessing.
The last Henry Roe Cloud conference was held in 2008. The first recipients of the Henry Roe Cloud medals were Sterling Professor Emeritus of History and former Yale president Howard Lamar GRD ’51 and Sam Deloria ’64, president of the board of directors of the American Indian Law Center and founder of the Commission on State-Tribal Relations.