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April 19, 2014
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University of Montana celebrates American Indian Heritage Day

Tetona Dunlap
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University of Montana President Royce Engstrom, American Indian Heritage Day

MISSOULA — University of Montana’s President Engstrom announced that the Montana University system’s board of regents has proclaimed the fourth Friday of September, American Indian Heritage Day, at campuses across the state. 

Academic and Native American Program Liaison Salena Beaumont Hill said the campus in Missoula has celebrated this day for years but is pleased with the board of regent’s decision.

“The legislature back in the 1970s passed American Indian Heritage Day to be recognized throughout the state on the fourth Friday of September,” Hill said. “I think the state of Montana, overall, has done a ton of work on Indian Education for all issues and that is just one big sign of backing that up.”

This year, the Missoula campus celebrated American Indian Heritage Day on Friday, Sept. 23.

The day began at 7 a.m. with a Sunrise Ceremony by Arleen Adams in the Story Telling Area outside the Payne Family Native American Center, followed by a tipi rising on the Oval. Engstrom held a student open forum before his proclamation of American Indian Heritage Day in front of the center.

“That was an important step forward for the board of regents and I am happy they took that action,” Engstrom said.

Kevin Kicking Woman, a graduate student, was the master of ceremonies and student Josh Avery entertained the crowd with a flute and traditional dance performance. There was also a jingle dress and fancy dance performance from students Shawnee Skunkcap and Briana Lamb. 

Other events that celebrated the day included traditional Native American games on the Oval, an indigenous menu at the Food Zoo, student art shows and a presentation by Journalism Assistant Professor Jason Begay.

“It’s important to celebrate today, not only to make ourselves feel prouder and represent ourselves, our beauty and our soul, but to share that with others and give thanks,” Avery said.   

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Tetona Dunlap is a reporter with the Valley Journal in Ronan, Mont.