The lead gift in support of the $20 million project will help fund construction of a building that, when completed, will house the offices of the Department of Native American Studies and have classrooms, an auditorium, and space for tutoring, counseling, and advising. The building also will feature culturally relevant elements, including a room that can be used for Native American ceremonies and as a dance studio. While focused on the needs of MSU's growing American Indian community, which includes students from all twelve of Montana's tribes and forty-one tribal nations from fifteen states, the facility will serve as a bridge between cultures, said Walter Fleming, chair of MSU's Department of Native American Studies. In 1974, when the current home of the university's American Indian Student Center opened in a basement room of Wilson Hall, fewer than twenty-five MSU students identified as American Indian; as of this fall, nearly eight hundred American Indian students are enrolled at MSU.
The hall's architecture will be based on a feather design created in 2005 by MSU architecture graduate Dennis Sun Rhodes, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, and artist Jim Dolan. MSU dedicated the land next to Hannon Hall, one of its residence halls, for the building, and a Dolan-designed tepee sculpture has occupied the spot while the university worked to secure funding for the project. To date, MSU has raised more than $4 million from sixty donors for the project, and last week the Associated Students of Montana State University Senate committed $2 million in student building fees to the project, while the MSU Alumni Foundation is working to secure the remaining $2 million by the end of the year. The university plans to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking for the building, which MSU president Waded Cruzado said will be "more than a building, [it will be] a place of teaching learning and sharing where our next generation of leaders will prepare for the challenges of the future," when it opens in the fall of 2021.
"Place is extremely important to American Indians," said Fleming. "We appreciate that the Kendeda Fund understands that this isn't necessarily just a building that we would like to build, but a spiritual facility that signifies a commitment to American Indians and a permanence in our campus' history."