By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RE-SERVATION - Tribal and federal officials as well as college administrators, students and community members showed up today for the official grand opening and dedication ceremony of the new Stone Child College campus on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
"There's a time or two I hardly slept, not knowing how, when and where (the campus would be built)," Stone Child president Steve Galbavy told a crowd of more than 70 people after the traditional pipe ceremony that opened the celebration this morning.
Galbavy began the event by dedicating two of the three new campus buildings. The library building was named Sitting Old Woman Hall, after the Indian name of Margaret "Peggy" Nagel, who helped found the college in 1983 and was the college's first president until her death in 1994.
The academic building was named Kennewash Hall, after a tribal chief and spiritual leader on the reservation.
The third building, the cultural center, has not yet been named.
The campus "has been a long time coming but it's here. It's at hand and (there's) nothing now but bright things for the future," Galbavy said in an interview before the ceremony.
Tribal chairman Alvin Windy Boy Sr. said the campus fulfills years of planning and dreaming.
"This is kind of a big dream long before my predecessors were in tribal government," Windy Boy said.
He emphasized the role of the college in the reservation's progress.
"Education has always been our number one priority, in light of attempting to curb unemployment and create self-esteem in our young people," Windy Boy said.
Aurene Martin, the acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the new building will improve Stone Child's ability to carry out the traditional role of tribal colleges - preparing people for employment in their local areas.
"It fosters a sense of pride and a positive attitude toward the education system itself," said Martin, who flew into Great Falls from Washington, D.C., Wednesday night. "If you feel better about where you're going to school, you feel better about going to school."
College and tribal leaders stressed that Stone Child College aims to serve students from outside the reservation as well.
Jonathan Windy Boy, a state representative, a tribal council member and also co-chair of the Stone Child College Board of Regents, said he is working to develop an alternative energy curriculum that will be able to draw students from Montana State University-Northern.
"It's the beginning of a new era," Jonathan Windy Boy said this morning before the ceremony. "Within the last five years I've seen a lot of changes here, and it's just a continuation of our past leaders' visions coming to fruition. It's exciting."
Faculty began moving offices into the new buildings last summer, and classes have been going on for weeks, but that didn't stop the college community from celebrating this morning.
"It's a very exciting time," said Erica McKeon-Hanson, who teaches science and mathematics in the college.
"I think of my students as family and this building really brings us close around this circle," she said, referring to the circular main entryway of the academic building.
There is indeed much to celebrate for a college that first got its accreditation 10 years ago, and not long before that had no place of its own, holding classes wherever there was room.
Room will be no problem now. The new college has about twice as many classrooms as the college's old home on the agency as well as more computer and science labs.
If the campus' inaugural enrollment numbers are any indication, the new facility will be more successful at attracting new students. In June, Stone Child registrar Shelley Viall said there were about 100 more students enrolled for classes than there were last summer.
Galbavy said he hopes that will continue into the fall.
In 2000, after years of advocating for construction dollars on behalf of about 30 tribal colleges in the United States, the American Indian College Fund was able to secure $30 million from the Lilly Foundation for construction. Stone Child was one of the tribal colleges that applied to AICF to get a share of the money, and was approved.
The resulting $1.1 million was a good start. Soon, long-sought-after federal funds came through, with $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Education, and nearly $1.4 million more from three other federal departments.
The 50-acre site, located about 5 miles from the agency, was granted to the college by the Chippewa Cree tribal council in 2001.
The tribe hired Bozeman-based architect Doug Morley for the project. Morley, who wrote his master's thesis on ways to integrate a traditional Indian aesthetic with modern architecture, designed the three buildings with an eye to Indian culture, giving the academic building's entryway a greater sense of circularity and incorporating features of a sun dance lodge.
"It's all pretty moving for me to be whatever part of it I am," said Morley, who emphasized the amount of community input that went into the buildings. "It's a great opportunity to do some work that's near and dear to my heart."
Two years ago, construction began on the $3.8 million project, beginning with a $275,000 cultural center, continuing with the $1.25 million library building, completed in the summer of 2002, and the final $2.3 million academic building, which was finished late this spring.
Perhaps the best evidence of the success of the new campus did not even attend the ceremony - because they were working in nearby classrooms.
Sarah Pullin, 21, a student in the computer science program at Stone Child, had no doubts about the building as she worked in one of the new computer labs.
"It's really nice. We're really lucky," she said.
When asked whether she would attend the ceremony, though, Pullin wouldn't commit.
"I might if I'm done with my work, maybe."