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University of Oregon Opens American Indian Longhouse on Campus

University of Oregon Opens American Indian Longhouse on Campus

Nearly 20 years after it was proposed, the University of Oregon has opened an American Indian longhouse, a community center traditional to many Native American peoples in the Pacific Northwest and around the country.

The 3,000-square-foot building stands as a symbol of two generations of effort, project leaders said.

“You can’t help but be overwhelmed just to see the structure, to see all the new faces and all the old faces,” said Jason Younker, a recent anthropology doctoral graduate who was among those who helped see the longhouse project to completion.

“It’s a place where people will achieve their academic dreams but also a place where spirit and community reside,” Younker said. “There’s no way to describe what can take place here.”

The project is part of an outreach program that began under former university President Myles Brand and championed by his successor, Dave Frohnmayer.

American Indians remain the smallest ethnic minority on campus and have the lowest college attendance rate of any racial group in the country.

The opening ceremonies for the Many Nations Longhouse included remarks from tribal elders, Frohnmayer, professor Rob Proudfoot and Gordon Bettles, a university graduate and interim steward of the longhouse. More events are planned for the building’s inaugural year.

The longhouse was designed by Johnpaul Jones, a Seattle-based architect and UO graduate who helped design the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.

It incorporates elements from traditional longhouses of the Kalapuya tribe and others, including soaring old-growth fir timbers donated by the Coquille tribe and harvested from their lands.

The wedge-shaped structure features a glass wall facing the south with entrances to the east and west. It has a large central fireplace, living sod roof and a “welcoming stone” set in the maple hardwood floor.

While the building is meant to be a gathering place for American Indian students, it’s also meant to be a bridge to other cultures, said George Wasson, a retired UO administrator.

The name — Many Nations Longhouse — not only represents its connection to the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon and the 44 whose ancestors once lived here, but also the connections American Indians have made with others.

But most of all, it will be a home for students who often struggle on a university campus far from family and tradition, Wasson said. Having a longhouse can restore a cultural connection that American Indian students miss when they leave home.

“It’s a thoughtful presence, a way of life, a way of living, a way of understanding,” he said. “It’s a world view.”

—  Associated Press

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