American Indian welcome feast honors scholarship recipients

by Tom Ford

To the steady beat of tribal drum songs, American Indian dancers dressed in traditional garb stepped around the St. Paul Student Center Friday night to celebrate philanthropy and to honor American Indian scholarship recipients.

The activities were part of the Ethel Curry Fall Welcome Feast and Powwow, held to honor University American Indian students who received scholarships as well as to honor the philanthropy of former University student Ethel Curry.

“(The powwow) is very much a community-building event,” said Roxanne Gould, director of the University’s American Indian Learning Resource Center. “It’s a very open and relaxed environment where people can enjoy the food and culture.”

The powwow, held annually since 1996, was hosted by University and community American Indian groups.

The evening began with a feast and was followed by honor songs played by drum groups and a series of social dances. About 200 people attended.

More than 50 students earning scholarships were recognized this year, eight of whom received the Ethel Curry scholarship that awards $1,500 per year for four years to incoming American Indian freshmen.

Wayne Center, a Curry scholarship winner, said the award was unexpected but that he is happy to have more money for tuition.

While attending St. Paul’s Harding High School, Center said he was active in several school and community groups, working as a tutor and mentor for American Indian children.

Center said that although his first few days at the University were intimidating because of the size of the school and classes, he is glad to have many cultural resources available, such as the AILRC.

Mike Wilson, a third-year University student, said only about 250 American Indian students are registered with the AILRC.

Wilson, one of the dancers Friday evening, said an event like this can bring together the American Indian community on campus.

“This school is so big, and we’re such a small percent of students, it’s good to see other people and something you can identify with,” he said.

Curry, for whom the event is named, graduated as a math and biology major from the University in 1914, six years before she had the right to vote.

After college, she worked for
nearly 40 years as a surgical secretary at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Although friends and relatives reportedly were not aware of her wealth and said she lived very frugally, Curry amassed a fortune after buying stock in 3M in the 1920s when the company was growing.

She died in 1995 at the age of 107 and left $1 million to the University for scholarships to American Indian students.

Though she was not American Indian, Curry grew up near a Wisconsin reservation and had American Indian friends who “inspired her to do this,” said AILRC director Gould.

“When we sing, the honor songs are not only for the students but for Ethel as well,” Gould said.