Native American students, staff and faculty at Oregon State University have a new home-away-from home, the new Native American Longhouse, Eena Haws, (Beaver House in Chinook jargon) nestled in a grove of trees in the heart of campus. The grand opening of the new Longhouse will take place Friday, May 17, at 4 p.m. The new building is just south of the former Longhouse, which is located at the corner of Jefferson Way and 26th Street.
The new Longhouse was designed by Jones & Jones, a Seattle architectural firm. It reflects the shape and style of a traditional Oregon Coast longhouse while respecting the multiple tribal cultures represented at OSU. It was designed and developed in collaboration with OSU Native students, who gave input and had decision-making roles throughout the entire process.
“They’re radically different designs,” than any other buildings on campus, said project manager Larrie Easterly, who is with OSU campus operations. “They are rooted in the cultures of our students.”
Huge Douglas fir beams and columns and large windows bring the outdoors inside, and artistic aspects, such as the metal beam ornaments and door artwork, reflect designs from Pacific Northwest tribes. The exterior landscaping features native plants and a thick stand of established trees that screen the south of the building from nearby structures, making it feel almost hidden in the forest.
The Longhouse is the first of four new cultural centers Jones & Jones have designed for the campus, all replacing older structures that have outlived their usefulness. The 3,700-square-foot center includes a gathering hall for up to 200 people, multi-purpose spaces for studying, relaxing and student counseling, a kitchen, lactation space, computer labs and an administrative office. A special sacred space was also built for meditation and other activities.
Additionally, the location of the former Longhouse is being transformed into an outdoor honoring circle and garden for Native visitors, including donors and alumni.
For Mariah Huhndorf, an Alaska native of Athabaskan and Yupik descent, working at the Longhouse was a family tradition. Her older brother and sister worked at the center, and when she came to campus she was quickly welcomed into the community. The Longhouse was where she met her best friend, and where she had a chance to develop leadership skills and take on new responsibilities. It’s also where she learned to appreciate the ways in which her Native background made her unique.
“People were interested in my culture and it made me more proud to be able to share it with others,” she said.
Victoria Nguyen, director of Diversity Development at OSU, said the building of new cultural centers on campus demonstrates the dedication the campus has to supporting students of color.
“Diversity is a core initiative for OSU,” Nguyen said, “and in a time of budget constraints where some diversity program (on other campuses) are being eliminated, we’re stating that we’re investing in diversity, and telling our community how important that is.”
For Nguyen, the Longhouse and the three other cultural centers offer a place where students can not only bond over shared experiences and backgrounds, but where other students can learn and gain perspective about different cultures and ways of living.
“These buildings act as a catalyst to perpetuate learning outside of the classroom,” Nguyen said. “This is a safe place for people to ask questions. It serves as a springboard to learn about other cultures.”
The Longhouse has been decorated with donated artwork from Pacific Northwest Native artists, including the centerpiece, a one-of-a-kind, 360-degree totem created by master carver Clarence Mills of Vancouver, B.C., and two assistant carvers. Mills is a member of the Haida Nation, an indigenous people located in Canada and Alaska. The work was commissioned by Oregon State University alumni Luana (’72) and Jim Whyte (’70, MS ’72), who reside in Vancouver, B.C., and have a long-standing admiration for Native American artwork. There are 13 different creatures on the pole, including a bear, a hummingbird, a frog, and of course, a beaver. (For a full story on the totem: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/lifeatosu/2012/800-year-old-fallen-cedar-tree-transformed-into-totem-pole-for-osu-longhouse/)
The original longhouse opened in 1972, in a World War II-era Quonset hut to the south of the Memorial Union. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/osuarchives/6327222541/) Linc Kesler, who is now Director of the University of British Columbia First Nations House of Learning and Senior Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs. came to OSU in the 1983 to teach early modern literature and linguistics. As the son of an Oglala-Lakota woman from South Dakota, the topic of race in general, and Native Americans in education, specifically, has always been important to Kesler. When he arrived at OSU, the Educational Opportunities Program was the only official source of support for Native students.
Kesler began working with others on campus to form the first Indian Education Office, as it was called at the time. He worked with Cassandra Manuelito-Kervliet of EOP, as well as the Oregon Indian Coalition for Post-Secondary Education. It took three years to get the idea off the ground.
“There was quite a bit of resistance, especially about committing resources, but also some support,” Kesler said. “Once it was in place, it was well supported, especially given the really great work of Cassandra as first director.”
Kesler said the success of the Indian Education Office not only benefited Native students, but led the way to other strides for diversity on campus, including other cultural centers and the eventual creation of the Ethnic Studies department, which Kesler was also involved in. It also led to a closer working relationship between Native students and other students of color.
“One very positive result that happened in this time was that some discord among Indian student groups was resolved,” he said. “A bit later, when the fate of the four cultural centers seemed in doubt, students further developed working relationships with others that were very productive.”
Kesler said that although the situation for OSU Native students has improved dramatically since he first arrived at the university, there is always more to be done.
“There is still a lot to do,” he said, “and I do think that continuous attention and work will be necessary for the foreseeable future to make further progress and to retain the gains that have been made.”
Tyler Hogan is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and grew up in Junction City. While he was able to participate in some Native youth events during high school, his real awakening to his cultural heritage and to Native activism came when he arrived at Oregon State.
“My identity development has taken place within the walls of this Longhouse,” he said. “I realized how diverse the identity of being a Native American can be. There are so many different tribes and cultures, but people want to lump it into one group.”
Hogan, who is the external coordinator for the Longhouse in addition to many other forms of student activism on campus, said that’s the Longhouse’s biggest challenge, bringing together Native students of extremely diverse backgrounds, who all have different ideas of what being ‘Native’ means.
“It’s a difficulty we face,” he said. “We take it day by day. Every new person is a new learning opportunity.”
Daniel Cardenas, a graduate teaching assistant working with the Longhouse staff, said the new Longhouse provides a home away from home for students, and a sense of community that helps them as students and individuals.
“In order for someone to the considered a truly healthy person you have to be living in wellness. You have to have a great sense of self and determination,” Cardenas said. “For some of our Native students, the deck is stacked against them. Here at the Longhouse we’re able to cover many forms of wellness (spiritual, social, etc). That has a long term benefit to OSU in terms of student retention.”
“We have students provide testimony that says if not for the cultural centers I would not have had as full or rich an experience,” Nguyen said. “Students are choosing OSU because of our cultural centers and because they can find a place where they can make a connection with other students who share their culture.”
In addition to the opening ceremony, there will be several other events taking place that week on campus. During the weekend, May 18-19, the annual OSU Klatow Eena (Go Beavers) Powwow takes place in McAlexander Fieldhouse.
~ Theresa Hogue