Native American community honors scholarship recipients

by Sam Kean

With tribal dress and solemn song, the Native American community recognized its University scholarship winners Friday night with a traditional dance of honor.
Various University and community Native American groups collaborated to host the fifth annual event at the Saint Paul Student Center’s North Star Ballroom.
The event honored 39 Native American scholarship winners and elders, as well as College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone for his support of the University’s American Indian studies department.
The event’s dance eventually came to a standstill because so many scholarship recipients crowded the floor. “It was hard to dance because there were a million people trying to shake my hand,” said aerospace engineering sophomore Eve Skoog.
The event also included a feast and a traditional powwow.
Marketing senior Jackie Blackbird said an American Indian feast “entails inviting a lot of guests to share with them. Whenever Indians have food it is for everyone.” This reflects the giving and sharing of the Indian community, she added.
Following the feast came the Grand Entry, when elders raised the American flag and the American Indian Eagle Staff and drummers played a veteran’s song to honor those who had served in wars.
The powwow included traditional tribal drum songs and dances. Dancers ranged in age from children to elders and wore traditional dress. Their outfits featured bright colors, feathers and other cultural symbols.
“The powwow represents a celebration of life,” said American Indian studies senior Vince Kurta. “It brings together many aspects of our culture with singing, dancing and the use of our language.”
American Indian Learning Resource Center director Roxanne Gould said the event blended tradition and ceremony with scholarship. The scholarships winners needed to be honored, she said, but at the same time, the winners could not have accomplished what they did without support from the community.
Laura Pawlacyk, assistant director of the American Indian Resource Center, agreed. The event made students feel connected to the community and shows them the University wants them there, she said.
If not for the American Indian community in Minnesota, said American Indian studies senior Morning Star Manning, she “would have gone home crying” to her isolated home on the border of Idaho and Nevada.
Manning played varsity volleyball at the University, but she said sports consumed too much time. After two years on the team, she quit to spend more time with the community and has had no regrets.
“It shouldn’t even be a choice between culture and volleyball,” Manning said.
In the same way, for biology sophomore Nicole Condon the community became “a home away from home.”
Of the students honored, Condon was the only one to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship, a nationwide scholarship sponsored by Bill Gates.
She said she feels she is representing her tribe by getting a degree.
“I plan to bring back what I learn to contribute and help my tribe,” she said.
Rosenstone emphasized how important Native American culture is to Minnesota’s heritage.
“I want students to learn about Native American culture and give Native American students a place where they can learn,” he said.
AIS department chair Pat Albers said Rosenstone’s commitment to the culture ensured new faculty positions, which keep the department among the strongest in the country.
Many American Indian studies students use their skills to aid their cultures after they graduate — including preserving Native American languages, some of which hover near extinction.
The annual event, named after Ethel Curry, began in 1996, shortly after her death at age 107. Curry, a 1914 University graduate in biology and mathematics, lived frugally, without a phone or television, never disclosing to neighbors the vast sums of money she had earned from investments in 3M.
Though not Native American herself, Curry left more than $1 million dollars to fund scholarships for Native American students because of friendships she had formed.
Gould said this year’s scholarship winners received over $100,000 in aid, largely because of Curry.