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NMSU celebrates Native American Cultural Center

Gov. Bill Richardson, state legislators and tribal leaders from across the state will join university leaders and students April 20 in a colorful celebration of New Mexico State University's plan to build the first campus-based Native American Cultural Center.



Native American dancer Matt Shunkamolah, an NMSU alumnus representing the Navajo, Kiowa and Osage Tribes, performs for guests at a special pre-inauguration reception held for Michael Martin at Corbett Center. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)


"It's a public celebration to let everybody know that after years of planning and advocacy, the cultural center will soon be a reality," said Donald Pepion, director of NMSU's American Indian Program. "We want the public to join us in commemorating the center's launch."

The NACC grew out of tribal requests in 2002 to provide more space and services for Native American students. When NMSU President Michael Martin took office in July 2004, he made the center a top priority.

"Our decision to build this center reflects our firm commitment to serve Native American students and to celebrate the Native American cultures of New Mexico," Martin said. "As a land-grant institution, we want to reach out to all citizens and make them a part of the NMSU community. The center will enhance our ability to do that."

Apart from celebrating the NACC's progress, the April 20 event marks the launch of fund raising efforts to gather the $2.5 million NMSU still needs to build the center, Pepion said.

The project will cost a total of $6 million. With Gov. Richardson's backing, the New Mexico Legislature approved $3.1 million this year as part of a capital outlay bond issue that will be put to voters in November. The Legislature approved $380,000 last year, which allowed NMSU to move forward on architectural planning, Pepion said.

To manage the project, NMSU hired ASCG Inc., an Anchorage, Alaska-based engineering and architectural firm wholly owned by Native Americans. ASCG will release a master plan for the center in late May based on input from Native American students and faculty at NMSU and from tribal leaders statewide, Pepion said.

"We want the building's layout and construction to reflect Native American culture," Pepion said. "Construction materials will include rock and wood to reflect Indian earth concepts."

Once built, the NACC will offer a social and academic gathering place for Native American students, which the university hopes will improve student recruitment, retention and graduation rates.
"The goal is to provide them with a facility where they can congregate and feel at home," Pepion said.

About 500 Native American students are currently enrolled at NMSU, representing about 3 percent of the 16,000 students on campus. NMSU wants to raise enrollment to about 10 percent to match the tribal population rate in New Mexico.

The new center will house NMSU's American Indian Program, which is now located in the Garcia Annex student services building. The anthropology department currently offers a minor in Native American studies, but once the NACC opens, NMSU will develop master's and doctoral programs, Pepion said.

The center will include meeting and classroom space, a computer room for students, lounges, a courtyard for cultural activities such as Native American dances, and an area for tribal art displays. It will also be a multipurpose facility for tribal organizations to meet and for guest lectures and seminars.

The celebration, to be held at NMSU's "outdoor stage" next to the Corbett Center Student Union, begins at 10:30 a.m. with Native American dances and singing by Apache tribal member Yolanda Martinez. President Martin and Gov. Richardson will speak at 11 a.m.

The three legislators who spearheaded state funding efforts - Rep. Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock), Rep. James Roger Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) and Sen. Mary Jane Garcia (D-Doņa Ana) - will join Martin and Richardson on stage to kick off the fundraising campaign by symbolically placing dollars in a Native American-made basket.

Prior to the celebration, the All Indian Pueblo Council will hold its monthly meeting at the Corbett Center.