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USA Today: At Portland State, Native American center provides home away from home
Author: Kaitlyn Krasselt, USA Today
Posted: November 12, 2014

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These NASCC pamphlets written first in Chinuk Wawa, the traditional Native American Language of the Portland area. (Alina Begay, courtesy)

These NASCC pamphlets written first in Chinuk Wawa, the traditional Native American Language of the Portland area. (Photo courtesy of Alina Begay)

 

Jordan Molnar is the only person in her family with red hair.

For most people this wouldn’t be a problem, but for Molnar — who is part Native American — it almost stopped her from getting involved with the Native American Student and Community Center at Portland State University in Oregon.

“Coming from a background where my father is white and my mother is Native American, I felt I was possibly too white,” Molnar says. “But then I started getting emails because the school knows your background. I just felt like I was going to be out of place.”

Molnar eventually enrolled in a Native American studies course and was persuaded to volunteer at a pow wow through the course. After that, she said she knew she had to get involved. Molnar is now in her second year as the student coordinator for the United Indian Students in Higher Education at PSU.

“For the first time in my life I told people I was native and they didn’t ask how much,” Molnar says. “I felt like I was at home at the native center and never wanted to leave.”

November marks Native American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to paying tribute to the ancestry, tradition and culture of Native American tribes in the U.S.

The Native American Student and Community Center at Portland State University in Oregon.

The Native American Student and Community Center at Portland State University in Oregon.

 

The Native American Student and Community Center at PSU is celebrating its 11th year on campus and is one of many at universities throughout the U.S. that welcome dozens of native students every year. The centers become a home away from home for students who come from rural reservation towns, says Alina Begay, NASCC manager at PSU.

“It is super important (to have a Native center) because native culture is all about family,” Begay says. “But family is not just your parents and your siblings. Having a place to go for that closeness is important for these students when they’re at school. It’s important to build that community and have a place where they can practice tradition and connect with other people.”

Begay was a student at PSU before becoming the manager of the NASCC. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and identifies as full Navajo. She first got involved at the center as a student and says she felt the community was the perfect fit.

The center is home to student groups for native, Alaska Native and Pacific Islander cultures. Begay says there are more than 1,100 students that self-identify with one of these cultural groups. She says the come from tribes across the nation, including the nine tribes that claim Oregon as home.

The native center at PSU is unique, Begay says, because it is located on an urban campus while most of the students that congregate there come from reservations in rural areas.

The center is also a community center open to the public for events, Native American education and as a place to simply enjoy.