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Portland State University celebrates Native American student graduates during "Honor Day"
Author: Suzanne Pardington
Posted: June 7, 2010

Native American students draped with Pendleton blanket

Portland State University honored Native American graduates June 4 at an Honor Day ceremony with traditional blessings, drum songs, and the presentation of Pendleton blankets.

The ceremony, held annually since 1994, allows Native American students to represent their tribes and the Native American community to recognize their accomplishments, said Dean Azule, coordinator of PSU's Native American Student Support Services.

There are 336 Native American students at PSU this year, up from 224 in 1994. Azule said the steady increase in the number Native American students in undergraduate and graduate programs is encouraging.

"I want them to be one step better than the generations before them, always," Azule said.

The graduates chose special people in their lives to drape them with blankets at the ceremony, a tradition marking life milestones such as birth, marriage and death. Participants were also encouraged to make speeches, which were often emotional.

The guest speaker was Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, president of Antioch University in Seattle and the first Native American woman to head an accredited university outside the tribal college system.

honor-day2.jpgBefore the ceremony, we asked five participants to reflect on what they learned at Portland State and what Honor Day means to them. Here are their responses.

Trevor Monteith
Tribal Affiliation: Klamath/Karuk
Degree: Masters in Public Administration-Health Administration
What's next: Overseeing human resources for both the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University
Quote: "My mother was a community health nurse for the Klamath Tribe and is currently an Oncology Nurse for Providence Health System. She is able to make a great living while being a valued member of our tribal community. I want to follow in her footsteps by becoming a healthcare professional and serving the community, especially Indian people. The Native Honor Day Ceremony gives me an opportunity to embrace my roots and appreciate my mother in an environment that feels like a little piece of Chiloquin here in Portland."

Jessie D. Young
Tribal Affiliation: Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw
Degree: BS, Liberal Studies
What's next: Law school at Lewis & Clark College to study American Indian law and work in the Native community
Quote: "The only words of advice that I have to incoming Native American students are to set a goal and strive to achieve it. We need educated leaders in our community and we need to do everything to better our people, by any means necessary."

Eva Williams
Tribal Affiliation: Assinaboine Sioux
Degree: BA, Criminal Justice
What's next: Foster Care Support Specialist at the Native American Youth and Family Center
Quote: "I feel very fortunate to work for NAYA and it is so enriching to be able to make an impact in the Native community and to feel so connected to the youth and elders who I interact with on a daily basis. Graduating from college is a dream come true for me and I hope to learn new things both in an academic setting and also continue to grow and develop as a person throughout the rest of my life outside of traditional education systems."

Michelle Brown
Tribal Affiliation: Paiute and Blackfeet
Degree: BA, English; Writing minor
What's next: Graduate school in English Literature at the University of Montana
Quote: "Everything I have learned as a college student has been by a process of trial and error. I have learned from my own experiences, and from the experiences of others, and have figured out what works for me. My advice to other students would be to find what works for them as individuals. Honor Day marks my transition from this stage of my life to the next, it is a way to slow down and acknowledge where I have come from and where I will be going next."

Rachel Joyce Young
Tribal Affiliation:Minnesota Chippewa White Earth Fond du Lac
Degree: BS, Psychology and Social Science
What's next: Graduate school in 2011
Quote: "I am so honored to be participating in this honor day ceremony representing my tribe. I look forward to working for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe after I complete my masters' degree. What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the earth remains and is immortal."