[RHYTHMIC DRUMMING] JANE MT. PLEASANT: Akwe:kon is a central pillar of the American Indian program. Around it, we have built our academic programs, student recruitment and retention, faculty with their research and intellectual projects, and our outreach programs. They have all flourished since the opening of Akwe:kon 20 years ago.
FRANK BONAMIE: Early '70s, '71 or '71, I wrote a nasty letter to the then President Corson. And told him that he should be ashamed of himself there were only two students here. We would ask, well, how many students do you think ever will come here, native students? And we talked about it for a while. And we came up with a number 50. I understand there's over 50 freshmen coming in this year.
JANE MT. PLEASANT: The roots of Akwe:kon spring from concern for student well-being, for establishing a home within a homeland, that shelters both native and non-native students, fostering their success at Cornell.
FRANK RHODES: And so I welcome you this morning, not simply to the dedication of another building, but to the reaffirmation of an inspiration and a hope of people living together in harmony and understanding and in peace.
JANE MT. PLEASANT: This building, with its various striking features, positioned so prominently. at a corner of the campus is a very kind of forceful proclamation that native students and native communities are here at Cornell. And we have something powerful and important to say.
DAVID SKORTON: As we have heard about so eloquently from Frank and from Jane, the completion of Akwe:kon 20 years ago was a milestone. And just in case you don't know, it was not only a tremendous milestone here and an education for Cornell. But it was a milestone throughout American higher education because it was, to my knowledge, the first university residence hall and program house in our nation dedicated to Native American culture. And it made a very strong statement, obviously, not only to the Cornell community, but to the entire higher education community.
JANE MT. PLEASANT: From its inception, Akwe:kon has welcomed and hosted non-native students. Ron LaFrance at the opening of Akwe:kon in 1991 declared that every student living in Akwe:kon, native and non-native, was part of the AIP community with full access to our services, staff, and faculty. It's a policy that has strengthened all of us.
SUSAN MURPHY: It is no surprise, then, in 1998 that Akwe:kon was the first residence hall and residential program to receive the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Harmony and Understanding for, quote, "making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of a university community, while respecting the values of racial diversity".
[CHANTING AND DRUMMING]
DAVID SKORTON: From the perspective of Cornell as an entire university, today's occasion is a most important one and a most compelling one. And I'm thrilled to see such a good turnout. It speaks to the priority of the diversity of our campus from students to staff to faculty to visitors. It speaks as well to the priority in offering excellent courses and programs and extracurricular opportunities for students to learn in depth. And as we all know, just as much student learning occurs away from the classroom as it does in the classroom. And this is a beautiful seat of learning for many of our students.
And it also reminds us of something else that we need to remember and be told again and again and again-- that our university stands on the ancestral territory of the Cayuga Nation. And that we are neighbors to other Haudenosaunee people. So on this 20th anniversary of Akwe:kon, our thanks, my thanks, and on behalf of the whole university community, and of the 240,000 alumni, thanks to the founders, to the contributors, to the current leaders, to the ongoing leaders who have made this program and this building the wonderful reality that it is. And my warmest personal congratulations to the staff and faculty and students who are the heart of this most important program. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.
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Cornell University's American Indian Program celebrated the 20th anniversary of Akwe:kon, its innovative student "living-learning" residential program house on September 9, 2011.
Akwe:kon is a Mohawk word meaning, "all of us." It is a crucial part of the American Indian Program's student support, providing culturally based programming while mentoring respectful community engagement.
Akwe:kon is the first university residence in the country purposely built to celebrate Native American heritage. Since its founding, Akwe:kon has served as a gathering place for indigenous leaders throughout the world to share their experiences with diverse Cornell students, faculty and staff.