Connor Arakaki, Contributing Photographer

This weekend, hundreds of Native and Indigenous students, faculty and alumni attended Yale’s sixth Henry Roe Cloud Conference — a celebration of Native and Indigenous excellence that is hosted every four years. 

The conference, which began in 2005, is named for Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), who graduated from Yale College in 1910 with a double major in psychology and philosophy and earned a master’s degree in anthropology from the University in 1914. With his Yale degree, Roe Cloud became a pioneer of Native American education and advocacy. The conference dedicates him as a standard bearer for current and future Native and Indigenous students of Yale to emulate. 

This year marked the sixth Henry Roe Cloud Conference, which also fell on the 10-year anniversary of the Native American Cultural Center’s founding. The two-day conference celebrated the NACC’s history — particularly, the emergence of Yale’s Native and Indigenous community over the past decade — through academic and community panels, an archive gallery and performing arts showcases.

On Friday morning, Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American Studies Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone), alumna Meghanlata Gupta ’21 LAW ’25 (Ojibwe) and co-president of the Native and Indigenous Students at Yale Mara Gutierrez ’25 (Diné/Navajo Nation) spoke at a panel on the importance of Indigenous Studies at Yale. 

Gupta, who graduated from Yale College with a degree in ethnicity, race and migration and is currently a second-year student at the Yale Law School, said that her undergraduate grounding in Indigenous studies, now applied in a legal context, has been “empowering.”

“Knowing and understanding Native history to a rigorous level is really important for vindicating our rights and ways of life in the present day, so I think that history becomes an integral part of our ability to survive across generations and to pass down knowledge,” Gupta said at the panel.

At the panel, Blackhawk — the first and only tenured Native American in the University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences — spoke on the current institutional barriers to creating a Native and Indigenous studies certificate or major. Blackhawk said he believes that with higher numbers of Native and Indigenous tenured faculty in Yale College and senior faculty within the sciences, there could be “a lot of strength” to create a standalone major or certificate — especially with administrative support and commitment. All current Native and Indigenous faculty at Yale College teach in the ER&M, English, history and American studies majors.

In the afternoon, alumna Haylee Makana Kushi ’18 (Kanaka Maoli), the first Native Hawaiian president of the Native and Indigenous Student Association at Yale, Mikiala Ng ’24 (Kanaka Maoli), Jairus Rhoades ’26 (American Samoan) and Dane Keahi ’27 (Kanaka Maoli) spoke at a panel on the recent growth and lasting presence of Pasifika students in the University. 

During the panel, all four Pasifika students expressed gratitude to the NACC for being a space that evolved to support globally Indigenous communities such as those within Oceania. 

“For Native Hawaiians and for students from the Indigenous Pacific more broadly, the NACC was an amazing space that really welcomed me,” Kushi said at the panel. “I would have struggled to make it through, and perhaps would have transferred had the NACC not been there.” 

Five years after Kushi’s graduation, Kushi said, the NACC remains a place where the presence of Pasifika students is legitimized and recognized. 

Ng specifically credited the NACC for being the home base for the Indigenous Peoples of Oceania, a student organization created for Pasifika students now that there is a critical mass within the University community.

“The NACC has ensured that our community spans more than Native Hawaiians, but to Pasifika communities,” Ng said at the panel. “In my senior year at Yale now, I’m so honored and so excited that [the] IPO is here and thriving.”

On Saturday, the conference kicked off with another panel featuring current NACC Dean Matthew Makomenaw (Odawa Tribe), former NACC Dean Kelly Fayard (Poarch Band of Creek Indians), ER&M Assistant Professor Tarren Andrews (Confederated Salish/Kootenai Tribes) and former Native admissions officer and alumna Dinée Dorame ’15 (Navajo Nation). In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the NACC, the panel discussed the milestones of the cultural house’s history, such as the official construction of the center, the mobilizing of Native students in intersectional issues such as the renaming of Calhoun College and the creation of the ER&M program.

The panel was followed with a performance by the Yale Guild of Carillonneurs of “Into the Glittering World” by Connor Chee (Diné) at Harkness Tower. Later in the evening, a reception honored the conference’s awardees for the Community Ally Award, Distinguished Alumna Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award — George Miles ’74 GRD ’75 GRD ’77, Raina Thiele ’05 (Dena’ina Athabascan/Yup’ik) and Robert Warrior DIV ’88 (Osage), respectively. 

Miles, the lead curator of the Western Americana exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library was awarded the Community Ally Award for his contributions to archival work within Native American scholarship. Thiele, the Tribal Outreach leader under the Obama administration, was honored for liaising between the White House and American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes. Finally, Warrior was recognized for spearheading Native and Indigenous Studies within academia, as the first Native American president of the American Studies Association and the founding president of the Native and Indigenous Studies Association. 

For Warrior, although his studies at the Yale Divinity School were an important reckoning with the University’s colonial and missionary history, he said he also cherishes the University for providing him the academic grounding for his future scholarship.

“I really have always valued that this institution allowed myself and other Indigenous students their own intellect, and passion for learning,” Warrior told the News. “For students today, that is remembering that it’s academic excellence that brings you here, and everybody has this sort of excellence behind them.” 

In celebration of Indigenous Heritage Month, the NACC will be hosting its annual Indigenous arts night on Nov. 14.