Native American community celebrates history, new house

This weekend, Native American students, faculty, staff members and alumni gathered at the newly established house of the Native American Cultural Center.

The fourth Henry Roe Cloud Conference — which is held once every two or three years and hosted by the NACC to celebrate Native American history and legacy on campus — took place from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. Consisting of panel discussions, performances and a gala dinner, the conference invited many Native American members of the Yale community back to campus to see the organization’s new house, which opened earlier this semester and is located at 26 High St.

Elizabeth Reese ’11, a conference panelist and current Harvard Law School student, told the News that seeing the new house was “something beyond our dreams.”

“This building belongs to a lot of people,” she said. “Many generations of Native Yalies made [the establishment of] this house possible.”

On Friday, the celebrations kicked off with the grand opening and official dedication of the new NACC house. University President Peter Salovey spoke outside the building about the history of Native Americans at Yale and the University’s commitment to the Native American community.

The outdoor ceremony also featured a performance of two honor songs — one written specifically to commemorate the opening of the house — by the Blue Feather Drum Group, a Native American musical group on campus. Afterward, the audience moved inside for a short reception and exploration of the newly renovated building. Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, several of the cultural house deans and many other administrators and faculty members attended the event.

“Today was a wonderful day that reflects the broad base of support that Natives have [at Yale],” said Director of the NACC Theodore Van Alst, adding that he was amazed and grateful to see so many students, alumni, professors and community members present at the conference.

Many of the conference’s speakers, panelists and honorees emphasized their pride in how far the community has come and how actively Native American students at Yale advocate for change and growth.

At an alumni panel discussion on Saturday afternoon, John Bathke ’93, who founded the Association of Native Americans at Yale (ANAAY), said he remembers feeling like a visitor at Yale when the NACC did not exist.

Linc Kesler ’71, who returned to the University for the first time in over 40 years, said he had to become friends with minorities of other cultures when he was on campus because he did not know any other Native American students at Yale. While he said that this gave him a “good understanding of forming alliances across groups,” he still felt uncomfortable and lonely.

“You’re giving me a way to reconcile with my Yale identity,” Kesler said. “This is giving me a different way to look at my life that I really value and appreciate.”

But alumni also said to current students and audience members that there is still much to be accomplished within the community.

Maya Bernadett ’08 said that there are infinite opportunities to grow as a community, citing the campus’s small number of Native American groups — four — as a possible place to start. Stephen Pitti, master of Ezra Stiles College, said that the community should also consider pushing for more Native American faculty members. Other students brought up connecting with alumni and graduate students, organizing service projects to give back to their respective communities and diversifying admissions so that Native Americans from more varied regions of the country could be recruited as students.

Dinee Dorame ’15 and Reed Bobroff ’16, co-presidents of ANAAY, said that being able to meet with so many Native American alumni for the first time was the most important benefit of the conference, as the alumni provided a cohesive timeline of Native American history at Yale.

“[Meeting the alumni] allowed us a whole lot of opportunities to think about the future,” Bobroff said. “Now, we are able to redefine the mission of the NACC and [other Native American] student organizations and what it means to be a Native student at Yale.”

Student participants all said that meeting with alumni was the most crucial part of the conference. Naivasha Harris ’16 said the conference was the first time that she has been able to interact with Native American alumni, and Tanner Allread ’16 called the conference informative and inspiring.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come and how hard everyone has worked,” Allread said.

Recipients of awards at the concluding gala included Gentry, Miller, Salovey and Kesler.

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