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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I take great honor and privilege in welcoming you to the dedication ceremony for the Payne Family Native American Center. I would like to extend my appreciation to all the elders and representatives of all the Montana tribes, American Indian alumni, current students, faculty, staff, administrators at UM, and community members for making their presence known here today at this historic event.

The events today are sure to evoke many emotions. My feelings and thoughts are those of gratitude. I first want to thank the ancestors of all Native American people. If it weren’t for the beauty, complexity and distinctiveness of Native American language, ceremony, and culture, we would not be gathered here today.

I would like to thank all those who had a part in the planning and construction of this beautiful new building. All the contributions made by individuals, whether financial, physical or otherwise, could be acknowledged and rewarded ten-fold with all the things that money cannot buy.

It would be an injustice to let this occasion pass by without giving all due respect and credit to the founders, faculty and students for the creation and longevity of the Native American Studies department here at the University of Montana. We, as Native American students, are thankful for the doors that have been left open. The innovative architecture, building materials and infusion of Indian art and culture are certainly befitting of one of the premiere Native American Studies programs in the country.

It is exciting to be among the first students to utilize the new building. Within its walls, technology and culture meet in symbolism that is representative of the legacy and future of Native American students. My elderly people often remind me that a degree from a university will take you a long way, but our Indian ways will take us the rest of the way. We, as modern Indian students, must strive to be well-versed, not only the western educational system, but in our culture as well.

As current Native American students, we are indebted to all those who came before us and left a trail to follow. We have a unique opportunity to help build upon the foundation of our predecessors, which we hope will make the pursuit of higher education for the next generation of students accessible and rewarding. Through our efforts at the University of Montana, we are ensuring that generations of Indian scholars are going to burst through the door that we are eagerly holding open for them.

The beauty of the building and its prominence can be a visible source of pride, recognition and belonging for Native Americans on the campus of the University of Montana. The exterior of the Payne Family Native American Center is emblazoned with the flags of all the tribes which call Montana home. As all the Indian nations of our state are represented on the outside, may it be the same on the inside. I think and hope that this building could serve as a tool of unification for all the nations represented by the whole student body. Despite any differences, we all have something important in common – we are Grizzlies.

Wabusk Ragged Robe is a member of the Gros Ventre tribe, and a Native American studies and anthropology major at the University of Montana.

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