The new Hayes Native American Studies Center at East Central University, decorated with a variety of American Indian art, has become the new "hub" for all activities related to ECU's new native studies program.

An overflowing crowd of community, faculty, staff and American Indians crowded into Horace Mann recently to witness the dedication of the center, which serves as a student lounge during scheduled hours, a meeting place for the ECU Native American Student Association, class space for a new native studies minor, a location for joint courses with the Chickasaw Nation and other related needs. 

"Nearly 20 percent of our students are Native American, "said Dr. Bill Cole, former ECU president. "The new native studies minor that accompanies the center is already one of the fastest growing programs on campus. We value our collaboration with the Chickasaw Nation and are proud to have this facility to meet the needs of our students and the community." 

The idea for the Hayes Center arose from numerous discussions with ECU administrators, tribal officials and students. The center has been generously supported by the Chickasaw Nation.

"We expect to continue to see great things come from our partnership with East Central University," said Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby. "They have shown unparalleled foresight and commitment to advancing knowledge of Native American culture and other fields of inquiry through this center, the Clemente classes, the native studies minor and other native studies projects."

The center named in honor of Amos H. Hayes and Daniel Hayes. Amos Hayes was a prosperous local businessman, Chickasaw Lighthorseman, tribal county judge, Chickasaw legislator and ethnographic informant to the Smithsonian Institution. His nephew, Daniel Hayes, donated the land on which ECU is located.

"The center is a place to recognize and celebrate the rich contributions that American Indians have made, and continue to make, to this university, the much larger community, and our shared history," said Dr. Thomas Cowger, ECU professor of history who holds the Chickasaw Nation Endowed Chair and is the director of the Native Studies Program.

Cowger credited Cole and Anoatubby for their foresight in creating the new center that in essence blends the best resources of ECU and the Chickasaw Nation.

"This center is, and will be, of immeasurable value to current and future students," he continued, "and its legacy and lasting impact will be felt throughout ECU, the Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. 

"While ECU has long understood its mission," he said, "the Chickasaw Nation has also long understood and valued education, and this is just one more important example of that."

Current interns in the minor have received firsthand training working in various departments at the Chickasaw Nation and other local tribes. Some of the program's recent graduates now work at major metropolitan newspapers and some are enrolled in graduate school or law programs. 

Dr. Alvin Turner, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, said, "We're really carving a niche right now, but we can continue to build and do more as we go along."

He predicted that it will not be long before ECU offers a major in native studies. Turner, who was emcee for the dedication, said the dedication was one of his proudest moments in more than 30 years in academia.

Students in the new minor and members of the Chickasaw Nation also have the opportunity to participate in the Chickasaw Clemente courses. The courses are named after baseball Hall of Famer and model humanitarian Roberto Clemente. 

Sociologist Earl Shorris created the Clemente courses as a means for underserved individuals to empower themselves by studying the humanities and culture in a comparative fashion. Students of the class learn what it means to be American Indian and Chickasaw by exploring western civilization and Chickasaw art, music, poetry, language, culture, written and oral history, education, environment, family patterns, law and government. 

While Shorris developed the idea, it was Lona Barrick, Chickasaw division administrator of arts and humanities, who brought the concept to ECU.

"Lona deserves all the credit for the successful program," Cowger said. "She is a tremendous advocate for the arts and humanities, supporter of our programs, and friend to ECU," he said.

Dr. Michael Hughes of ECU currently teaches the Clemente courses.

Both the new center and native studies program have already hosted the first powwow at ECU in more than 25 years and brought numerous recognized individuals and performers to the campus.

"Now that the new center is dedicated and the native studies program is well underway," Cowger said, "the best is yet to come."