Four student organizations hosted a Family Culture Night at the Payne Family Native American Center on Oct. 26 as part of inauguration and Family Weekend.
The event was the first time the Black Student Union, the Pacific Islanders Club, Kyi-Yo’ (the Native American Student Association), and the American Indian Business Leaders hosted a joint event to celebrate and educate the vast expanse of cultures and backgrounds at UM.
On a predominantly white campus and in a mostly white state, the event marked the start of an important tradition at UM to make space and claim pride in cultures that have been historically ignored.
The Payne Center was packed with families and students, some even overflowing up the stairs. The event was opened by a prayer song, followed by four singers and drummers accompanying 15 Native American students as they performed traditional dances. Their intricate footwork and twirling regalia mesmerized the UM community members and families.
Three members of the Black Student Union, which is celebrating its fiftieth year at UM, performed dance, spoken word and hip-hop. Their pieces mirrored and explored personal growth, Black identity and racism. Elijah Fisher, a 22-year-old first-year theater graduate student, performed dance, poetry and music for the event.
“It is important to see people of color performing because it allows people who are watching to visualize that they can do this,” Fisher said.
One of his main goals in acting is to involve more people of color in theater. It was important for him to be involved with the event because the lack of diversity in Montana can feel isolating. The event’s audience was the largest he has ever read his poetry to, Fisher said.
“The event showcases minority groups coming together,” 22-year-old Kyi-Yo president, Alice Boyer of the Metis, Little Shell and Blackfeet tribes, said. “It is really important that we support each other,” the undergraduate philosophy and pre-law senior, added. Kyi-Yo was founded at UM in the 1950s.
The Pacific Islanders Club (UMPIC), started last year, had 23 dancers who performed multiple traditional dances, including one which told the story of the goddess of the volcano. The club works to create a safe, vibrant and sacred space for the UM community while advocating for social justice and expanding opportunities.
Ka’au Ahina, the 38-year-old year president of UMPIC, said it was important to come together with the other clubs and the Griz Ohana, the Hawaiian word for “family,” to celebrate each other’s culture and community.
“It was the best feeling to see so many Ohana.”