On July 20, 2005, the Montana State University facilities committee announced that it would build a proposed $8 million Native American Student Center on the eastern edge of MSU’s Centennial Mall. The dean of MSU’s College of Letters and Science said then that the university would begin raising private donations to fund the 12,000-15,000 sq. ft. center and it was expected to be completed in 2008.
Flash forward 7 years, 3 months. A tripod sculpture, dedicated as an ode to that promise, stands silently and unashamedly atop an open green field, marking the spot where dreams may come. The mission so forcefully articulated years earlier seems to have faded into a distant mirage. Although widespread construction seems to have abounded throughout campus during the past decade, the ground dedicated with pomp and circumstance and prayers remains unbroken.
Perhaps it is time to renew and reinvigorate this dream by raising our sights and aiming for a loftier goal. Consider for a moment an International Indigenous Student Leadership Center which simultaneously acts as both a student center and an open arena for large group discussion and debate. A tri-level round room, with multiple seating on each level and swiveling chairs to accommodate small group discussion — this is a functional space designed for the exchange and development of ideas. Add to this institute a discussion host/moderator in the form of an indigenous exchange scholar from New Zealand, Tibet, Brazil, South Africa, or Ireland. This scholar could also teach a course while on campus.
7 Reasons for 7 Generations
1. An American Indian student room already exists in Wilson Hall. Therefore, there isn’t an overwhelming and immediate need to construct an exclusive, new facility.
2. Rather than simply relocating and enlarging the current student center, a new American Indian Council space should be a useful and beneficial gathering area for all MSU students — signifying a campus community disposition of respect and magnanimity.
3. An open forum arena offers a unique opportunity to strengthen and develop student and campus-wide collaborative leadership skills, as intellectual debate and discussion promotes both good citizenship and good science.
4. Beyond individual leadership growth, an open forum also moves forward the development and dissemination of key knowledge, because today’s good ideas need the time and space necessary for public consideration before they can evolve into tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.
5. MSU can gain esteem as the only public institution in the state that offers a venue especially designed for collaborative discussions and debates. Diverse groups such as MSU’s Leadership Institute, the Indian Project Directors, or the MSU Council of Elders could find a permanent home to engage in public meetings.
6. Collaboration and cooperation have never been more important than in the 21st century age of globalization. The most compelling issues that plague modern tribal communities are also endemic within non-Indian rural communities throughout the state and region. We are all in this together, and for the long haul; it’s time to start learning how to work together and build bridges into the future.
7. Indigenous peoples throughout the state, nation, and world have much to contribute to our mainstream society. Rather than focusing on the deficiencies of contemporary tribal people, we should commit our resources towards promoting their leadership abilities so that tribal communities are empowered with a new generation of capable leaders.