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031010 native american center two
The main entrance to the building and rotunda faces east, in the tradition of the tepees it’s designed after. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Crow author and historian Joe Medicine Crow, Blackfeet activist Elouise Cobell and Gov. Brian Schweitzer will be among the speakers Thursday at ceremonies marking the formal opening of the University of Montana's Payne Family Native American Center - the first of its kind at any American university.

The day's events, which will include many Native American traditions to honor and dedicate the new center, are open to the public and include tribal leaders and community, state and campus representatives.

"The Payne Family Native American Center underscores our commitment to serve all Montanans, not just some," UM President George M. Dennison said. "It also places the University of Montana in a unique leadership position nationally and is a source of tremendous pride for everyone involved."

The formal dedication ceremony will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the UM Oval directly in front of the center. Seating will be provided. The ceremony will begin with an opening convocation by Medicine Crow. Other speakers include Cobell, Schweitzer and UM Native American studies alumnus Jon Swan.

Student-led tours of the center will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. The new center will house UM's Department of Native American Studies, American Indian Student Services and related campus programming.

The university also will host a reception for tribal dignitaries, campus partners and donors. Terry Payne, a UM alumnus and Missoula businessman, is the center's lead donor. Other key donors include First Interstate Bank and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a nationally recognized organization headquartered outside Minneapolis.


In addition to the formal dedication ceremony, the following events are free and open to the public:

8:30 a.m.: "Coming Home" walk from the Adams Center to the center of the Oval. The public is invited to participate in or enjoy the symbolic walk, led by children from Arlee's Salish language revitalization institute. Representatives from all Montana tribes will participate. A flag song and flag-raising ceremony will be held on the Oval.

10 a.m.: Dedication of the center's Bonnie HeavyRunner Memorial Gathering Space. HeavyRunner (Blackfeet) received a juris doctor degree from UM in 1988. She served as director of the Native American Studies Program and was instrumental in the creation of the University's Department of Native American Studies. HeavyRunner lost a long battle with cancer in 1997.

11 a.m.: An event on the UM Oval to honor the artisans, craftspeople, visionaries, designers and implementers of the fine details of the center.

11:45 a.m.: Lunch on the Oval, sponsored by UM and the Crow Nation. Prepared by UM Catering Services, the menu will include buffalo soup, vegetarian soup, fry bread, and huckleberry and cherry cobbler. The Crow Nation donated the buffalo.

1 p.m.: Henry Real Bird, storyteller and Montana poet laureate, will give a presentation on the first floor of the center.

1-3 p.m.: Students will give academic presentations on the first floor of the center. A documentary by UM's Indigenous Filmmakers Club will be shown on the center's second floor.

American Sign Language interpreters and listening devices will be provided during the day's events, and the parking lot located behind and east of Main Hall has been designated for people who hold a valid disability parking permit. Those who need assistance getting to the seating area on the Oval can call 243-6131.

Event organizers recommend using public transportation to get to and from campus if possible. For those who need to drive to campus, all parking in lots that require decals on campus will be open to the public, with the exception of Quick Stop, reserved and metered spaces.

For more information, call Linda Juneau, UM tribal liaison, at 243-6093 or e-mail linda.juneau@


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