American Indian Heritage Week, which ran from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, concluded at UM with a sunrise ceremony in the early morning followed by a speech from President Bodnar on Friday, Sept. 27. The University hosted several events on campus to showcase Native American cultures and traditions throughout the week.
UM graduate Arleen Adams led the prayer ceremony for a handful of people, including some of her family, around the firepit outside The Payne Family Native American Center. In a tradition known as “smudging,” Adams burned the end of a piece of sweetgrass, and attendees wafted smoke from the grass toward themselves. The tradition is performed to cleanse and support the spirit, Adams’ nephew said. As the sun rose, attendees faced Mount Sentinel as Adams performed a prayer ceremony, which comes from Adams’ Bitterroot Salish ancestors.
“My dad would say … every day we have our sunrise ceremony for ourselves,” Adams said. “We always wake up and ask Creator to take care of us.”
During the ceremony, Adams thanked Creator for protection and strength and for all the education that occurs on campus. Adams then beat her elk-hide hand drum and sang, while others, including her nephew, joined in. Though organizers initially planned to raise a teepee near the firepit, the rain prevented it.
Adams graduated from UM in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies. She was among the first graduating class of students enrolled in the Native American studies program. Adams said that since graduating, she’s been invited to come back to lead the sunrise ceremony every year at UM.
Adams originally participated in the ceremony at the top of Mount Sentinel, but when the Payne Family Native American Center opened in 2009, Adams said she and others requested the campfire area. Ever since then, it has been held there.
“When we came here and asked for this building and asked for all of these things, in my mind and my heart, it’s because of this spark. It’s because of our fires we keep going,” Adams said.
After the ceremony ended, more attendees brought coffee and doughnuts over. A small group headed out to hike Mount Sentinel as the next event began.
Friday afternoon, UM President Seth Bodnar led a proclamation ceremony to celebrate the designation of American Indian Heritage Day in Missoula.
In the rotunda of the Payne Family Native American Center, Bodnar read a proclamation recognizing the presence and significance of Native Americans living in Montana. Already established in the state of Montana in 2009, Bodnar specifically declared that the fourth Friday of September will be designated as American Indian Heritage Day at UM.
“Education was taking place here long before UM existed,” Bodnar said. “And so, we recognize the long and storied history of Native Americans and we acknowledge the breadth and the depth of the contributions they’ve made to this country. We will honor these contributions in part by delivering on our promise to provide an education that recognizes the rich history and culture of our Native American friends and colleagues.”
After the proclamation, four men beat a drum and sang an honor song near the teepee, which was set up later that day. Many then went upstairs to eat at Soup Friday. Bodnar also took the opportunity to introduce a new member of the University’s faculty.
Brad Hall will be joining UM as the tribal outreach specialist. He will help UM with recruiting and connecting with tribal colleges and high schools and general high schools with native students. He will also work with those students and faculty to connect with the programs at UM.
Hall said that the proclamation was important for acknowledging indigenous people in Montana and higher education and supporting Native American students. He also said the designation of this day is the start of a visible commitment by UM to better support Native American students.
“I believe that the shift in the way the University is supporting native students will indefinitely affect how we support all students,” Hall said.
Lynell Shepherd is a freshman studying native law. In April 2019, she won Miss Kyi-Yo at the annual spring powwow at UM. Shepherd said she travels around the country representing UM at different powwows. “I think today is important because not only do we get to share our culture with other natives, we get to open it to other people who don’t really know about native culture. And they get to learn about what we do and how we run everything,” Shepherd said.