Laramie, WY. – When James Trosper was first appointed to the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees in 2002 by then-Gov. Jim Geringer, one of the first tasks Trosper undertook was listening to the needs of students from the Wind River Indian Reservation.
From those discussions, one topic kept arising: the need for their own Native American center at UW to share community, a staple of students’ culture.
“Many Native Americans have an extended family network that is unlike the nuclear families that exist in traditional dominant culture today,” Trosper says. “In addition, the emphasis that Native Americans place on collaboration can leave them behind in a competitively charged, individualistic academic environment.”
It has been 15 years, but Trosper and the committee that was organized to help plan a Native center have finally realized their goal. Former American Indian Studies Director Judy Antell also was instrumental from the beginning to help plan and develop the Native center.
UW’s new Native American Education Research and Cultural Center (NAERCC) will have a grand opening ceremony Friday, Sept. 29, at 4 p.m. The event is open to the public.
The NAERCC, located in the facility that formerly housed UW’s Honors Program on the corner of 10th and Ivinson streets, will be a “living-learning community” that helps to support the academic achievement and personal success of Native American students while promoting traditional culture.
Trosper says the original committee accomplished a lot of work, including the creation of a project profile for a new building.
“I am glad UW President Laurie Nichols is supportive of our continuing work toward that goal,” Antell says.
State Sen. Affie Ellis, of Cheyenne, a UW graduate and one of the original Native center steering committee members, will be master of ceremonies at the ceremony. Speakers will include John Washakie, Eastern Shoshone Tribe; Burnett Whiteplume, Northern Arapaho Tribe; Vanessa Sorrels, a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate and UW Keepers of the Fire president; U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi; U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney; Gov. Matt Mead; the president of the UW Board of Trustees, John MacPherson; Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction; and Nichols.
The center is part of Nichols’ plan to increase the numbers of American Indian students, including members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation, who enroll in and graduate from UW. The center will help UW fulfill its mission of providing opportunities for personal growth, physical health and leadership development for Native American students, helping them connect their traditions and cultures to their education.
Trosper, the director of the NAERCC, says the center is needed to help boost graduation rates among Wind River Indian Reservation students. Trosper says the NAERCC will help Native American students adjust to the individualistic academic environment while maintaining the Native value system.
The NAERCC will provide: one-on-one academic, financial aid, personal and cultural guidance; strategies that promote Native American student recruitment and retention; peer mentor support; connections to resources for tutoring, child care and more; cultural events and activities; guidance to balance academic and cultural/spiritual commitments ; a computer lab; classroom space to take classes offered by the American Indian Studies program; space to study; space for Native American student organizations to meet; and an environment that promotes community.
The American Indian Studies program, the High Plains American Indian Research Institute, the student Keepers of the Fire organization and other student organizations will be housed within the new center.
During the grand opening ceremony, a memoranda signing and a gift exchange will be made among Clint Wagon, chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council; Lee Spoonhunter, Northern Arapaho Business council co-chairman; and Nichols.
An opening prayer and cedaring ceremony will be presented by Stanford Devinney, Eastern Shoshone tribal elder, and Crawford White, Northern Arapaho tribal elder. Mead also will present a gubernatorial proclamation.
After the ceremony, a dinner is planned from 5:30-6:45 p.m. on the lawn outside of Old Main, followed by a “Circle of Dance” in the UniWyo Sports Complex from 7-9 p.m. Keepers of the Fire sponsors the event.
The cultural event is an exhibition of dance and traditional regalia from Native peoples across the Northern Plains. Through performances of indigenous instruments and the vibrant dances of the Plains people, education on the modern and expanding culture of Native people will be demonstrated, Trosper says. The hoop dance is one of the most spectacular dances of the Plains tribes and will be a highlight of the performance, he adds. The hoops serve as symbols of interdependence and unity.