BOZEMAN — Montana State University commemorated Indigenous Peoples Day with a round dance at the American Indian Hall on campus.
Today’s celebration was sponsored by the American Indian Council featuring the council’s drum group, The Bobcat Singers. Food, fun, and dancing were on the agenda.
Walter Fleming, the department head of Native American Studies at MSU says cultural events like the round dance are meant to celebrate Native American culture while including the whole campus.
“And not to isolate Native people away from the campus community,” said Fleming. “These students represent a significant part of the MSU population.”
Brandie Dodge, Celea Whiteman RunsHim, and Maleeya Knows His Gun are MSU students and members of the American Indian Council.
“Having round dances and things like indigenous people’s day are super important,” said Knows His Gun.
The girls say they find pride in attending events like this.
“I think a majority of it is our people and how far we’ve come from a long time ago,” said Dodge. “There are still people that believe we’re not here and we’re still standing. I mean there’s a whole hall on campus right now for us.”
The American Indian Hall opened in October 2021. It is home to the Department of Native American Studies as well as the offices of American Indian and Alaskan Native Student Success Services.
Celea Whiteman RunsHim and Brandy Dodge said it feels good to know that Native American students are supported and their culture is celebrated at MSU.
“Our education is very important to us, and we hold it very dear to our hearts,” said Whiteman RunsHim.
Brandie Dodge agreed.
“I’m proud to know that there’s a lot of Native American students here on campus and they’re breaking stereotypes.”
MSU enrolled 776 American Indian/Alaska Native students this fall, the second-highest total ever seen and a number that represents 9% enrollment growth over the past five years.
Fleming has been the department head for Native American Studies at MSU for 20 years. He says the growth he’s seen over the years has been amazing.
“In the early 1960s there were only a handful of Native students at MSU,” said Fleming. “When I came here in 1979 there were 52 and we’ve since grown over the years.”
Fleming says this growth makes him excited for the future.
“It’s bringing a new energy to campus and certainly to the building and the department,” said Fleming.