University announces American Indian plaza at stadium

University officials announced the design for the Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza at TCF Bank Stadium Monday. The Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza is a result of a $12 million gift from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community âÄî the largest private donation ever received by Gophers athletics . The plaza will feature 11 âÄúsky markers,âÄù representing each of the stateâÄôs American Indian tribes. After pledging $10 million in October 2007 toward the stadium, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota received naming and design rights for the plaza. The community has since announced an additional $2 million for plaza improvements . Located in the largest and most central entrance to the stadium, the 18-foot sky markers will include tribal flags, images and educational facts . Associate Athletics Director Phil Esten said the University will work with the tribes individually to design the markers. The incorporation of information and images from American Indian history will be part of the design, he said. âÄúAs people pass through the plaza, theyâÄôre going to have the opportunity to stop and engage with these sky markers and learn about the history of each of the individual tribes,âÄù Esten said. The plazaâÄôs name was approved at the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents Sept. 12 meeting. Regents chairwoman Patricia Simmons said the plaza will be a place people can learn from. In addition to its October donation, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota contributed $2.5 million for a scholarship endowment, which the University will match. American Indian students will be given preference for the scholarships. At the start of the 2007 school year, only 293 of the more than 32,000 undergraduates on campus were American Indians . The scholarship was a âÄúmassive giftâÄù on the part of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota, American Indian Studies professor David Wilkins said. Prior to this donation, there was not enough scholarship support for American Indian students at the University, he said. âÄúThere is a presumption that because of gaming every native student is rolling in dollars, and thatâÄôs simply not the case,âÄù he said. âÄúOnly a handful of tribes really have substantial resources that have been produced by gaming.âÄù Wilkins said he hopes other tribes with similar resources will be willing to contribute with similar scholarship gifts. The Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza is a step in the right direction, Wilkins said. He said the American Indian Studies department should have a presence in any opening ceremonies that are held.