american indian hall

The new American Indian Hall on the Montana State University campus is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

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Montana State University’s American Indian Hall plans to celebrate its grand opening this weekend with representatives from tribes around the region and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

The facility’s opening celebration at 10 a.m. on Oct 16 represents a plan that has been in the works for 17 years.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin with a procession from the 1,100-square-foot American Indian Resource Center, in the Wilson Hall basement, to the new $20 million American Indian Hall, a 31,000-square-foot building on the east side of campus.

The building is designed to serve as a home for the university’s record 811 Native American students.

“We welcome all to join us, to ‘come home’ to this beautiful space and honor all who have worked so hard to make it possible,” Walter Fleming, head of the MSU Department of Native American Studies, said in a news release.

Fleming said the opening will also celebrates the ground the new building and the university was built upon.

Bozeman and MSU were built on the ancestral lands of the Bitterroot Salish, Pend d’Oreille, Kootenai, Blackfeet, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Chippewa Cree, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre Dakota and other Indigenous nations.

Guests at the Saturday event include Haaland, who is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native American to serve as a presidential cabinet secretary, and Henrietta Mann, a tribal elder enrolled with the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and MSU professor emeritus in Native American Studies.

MSU student Georgeline Morsette, representing the university’s American Indian Council, is also scheduled also speak at the event.

Fleming, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe, said the facility was a “promise kept and a dream fulfilled.”

Construction on the hall started in 2019 but the hope of creating a designated building for MSU’s Indigenous students started more than a decade earlier when the idea was first proposed in 2004 by roommates Dennis Sun Rhodes, an MSU architecture graduate and member of the Northern Arapahoe Tribe, and sculptor Jim Dolan.

A $12 million donation in 2018 from the Kendeda Fund made the project a reality. The donation was announced during the university’s Indigenous Peoples’ day celebration. Other donors included $2 million from the Associated Students of MSU, Missoula’s Terry and Pat Payne family and Chris Scott of Billings.

Sun Rhodes is also scheduled to speak at the grand opening ceremony about his inspiration for the design of the facility.

After the ceremony’s speakers are scheduled public tours of the building, which will be home to the Department of Native American Studies offices, classrooms, tutoring, counseling and advising rooms, rooms dedicated to cultural ceremonies and a drum room.

The university’s Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer’s office will also be in the facility.

The building was designed by Bozeman’s ThinkOne Architecture, with Swank Enterprises as the general contractor.

The building is expected to open for classes in January, according to the university.

This story has been updated to correct the number of Native American students attending MSU this academic year.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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