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Native American center opens doors

The Native American Student and Community Center (NASCC) celebrated its opening with much fanfare Friday afternoon.

Several tribal leaders, politicians and students spoke about their experiences contributing to the creation of the center, and the inspiration they felt seeing it finally completed.

“Today, the dream becomes a reality,” Tom Ball, of the Oregon Social Learning Center, said. He also served as master of ceremonies for the event.

PSU President Daniel O. Bernstine announced that PSU will now offer a program in Native American studies beginning in January, which received much applause from the audience.

Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, spoke about the meaning of community.

“All of you who came together to create this center are our community,” he said.

Cheryle Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said she was happy to be a part of this day in history. “This building will serve for generations to come as a witness to the diversity we have here in Oregon,” she said.

“This house now has a voice,” architect Donald Statsny said. “It is a voice created by the vision of these students.”

Former Oregon Gov. Victor Atiyeh, state Sen. Ben Westlund and Victoria Vasques, director of the Office of Indian Education in the U.S. Department of Education, were also among those who spoke.

After the speeches, and traditional Native American dancing and drumming, the doors to the center were finally opened. Guided tours were given, and the public was given a chance to meet some of the center’s founders face-to-face.

William Elk, a former PSU student who has been involved with the NASCC since its inception, was among the contributors who fielded words of congratulation and questions from guests inside the center’s halls.

“The students of PSU should feel that they own a part of this,” Elk said, alluding to the $1 million in student fees that were allocated for the creation of the NASCC while he was speaker of the ASPSU senate in 2000.

Elk also said that he hopes the center will be a place of common ground between the Native American community and the Portland community as a whole.

Jean Vollum, a local philanthropist who gave an undisclosed large donation to get the NASCC project under way, was among the honored guests who toured the halls of the new building.

“I see it as a bridge for us to understand and to meet the Native American community on their own ground,” she said.

Vollum also said that she was inspired to donate to the NASCC because her grandfather taught at a school for children of the Nez Perce tribe, and he used to tell her stories of his experiences there when she was a child.

The celebration concluded with a huge salmon feast, where Native Americans and other Portland citizens sat together at long tables, talking about the events of the day.

The center is located at 710 S.W. Jackson St., off Broadway.