Growing Native American Student Base at Yale Prompts More Space

ICTMN Staff
11/17/11
Yale Native American Cultural Center

Next fall the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) at Yale University will get its own house, instead of sharing space with the Asian American Cultural Center, like it currently does.

This move is to help NACC increase its presence on campus and to give the largest Native American class ever—roughly 40 students—at Yale space of their own.

Having its own space puts NACC on par with the other cultural centers on campus. “It’s a matter of equity—the Native American community has long been the only cultural center without its own distinct space,” said Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Tuscarora, a professor of history and American studies and member of the NACC Advisory Board. “Having autonomy over this new space will have an extraordinary impact on the development of the NACC. As everyone who has ever lived with a roommate knows, it’s hard to share space.”

Having a place of their own is important to many Native American students who have left their tribal homes behind to pursue higher education.

“I come from a very distinct background,” Chris Brown, Navajo, Class of ’15, told Christopher Peak, of Yale Daily News. “It’s complete sand and desert, painted valleys and rock walls. I live on a table-top mesa. Coming here is very different.”

Having a place to celebrate his heritage will help him on his way to academic success.

Yale Dean Mary Miller feels the new space will contribute to that, saying “strong cultural houses with robust programs contribute to and support academic success.”

Ned Blackhawk, Western Shoshone, a professor of history and American studies and member of the NACC Advisory Board, thinks the new house will enable NACC to expand its outreach and ability to hold events.

“Ideally, the new, expanded NACC can enrich Native American as well as other Yale students’ experiences through expanded outreach efforts to local, national and indeed global indigenous communities,” he said. He also hopes to add programs that can connect NACC alumni with current students.

The new center may also help to attract Native students to Yale, something the school has struggled with in the past. The school now has two Native outreach coordinators in the admissions office, and Yale uses College Horizons—a summer camp where Native students get help on writing college applications—as a way to recruit.

This is far better than recruitment efforts of the late 1980s, which had 1993 graduate John Bathke spending his freshman year spring break driving across the Navajo Nation Reservation—an area that spans three states—in his aunt’s truck.

“Yale didn’t really recruit Indians [at the time],” Bathke, founder of Association for Native American Students at Yale (ANAAY) and a student recruitment coordinator during his time at Yale, told Peak. “The only Indians that came were happenstance, ones that fell into the system.”

Native American students at Yale are looking forward to a bigger NACC presence on campus because many say other students don’t realize they are there.

“Most people don’t know we exist cause we don’t have a specific color of our skin,” Amanda Tjemsland, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe ANAAY president, told Peak.

“Since I’m not full blood, I don’t look Choctaw,” said Chelsea Wells. “People had never heard of the Choctaw Nation, so I had to explain my whole background again and again. Then my mom came, who looks very Native, and people were very confused.”

To read the history of Yale’s and New Haven, Connecticut’s relationship with Native populations, visit YaleDailyNews.com.

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