The Native American Success Center at Coconino Community College Page Center was officially opened on April 27 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was attended by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, as well as college representatives and community members.
The center was established using part of a $2.1 million, five-year U.S. Department of Education grant that CCC received in October 2021, aimed at improving the success of Native American students attending the college.
The Native American Success Center is a dedicated space where Native American students can feel comfortable coming together to study, use computers or just hang out. It includes a display of Native American art and information about Indigenous cultures created by students at the college.
Brian Francis, CCC’s program coordinator of strengthening Indigenous student success, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that the design of the center was based on the traditional Indigenous idea of home.
“The center itself is to give a home-away-from-home feeling for our students,” he said.
“When I hear the stories of our Native American students coming to our campuses, some of them drive one hour, some of them drive two hours to take classes at our campuses. So, the center here is for them to relax, to use the computers and some of the technology here and to have that sense of home, that sense of belonging, that sense of comfort. Within this home we are going to have Native American staff, retention advisors, tutors and peer mentors so we can provide that extended family model support.”
Nez said the center was “not just about the Native American students.”
“The Native American Center is for everybody,” he said. “We’re five-fingered beings. If you put your hands up, it doesn’t matter what nationality you are, we all are five-fingered beings.”
“What’s awesome about this grant and what’s awesome about this program, it will also give our non-Navajo, our non-Native American brothers and sisters a little glimpse from our lens,” Nez said. “We grew up with a different worldview, obviously, and to share that with the faculty so that you can teach that and to also recognize the importance of your neighbors, the Navajo Nation, it’s just a stone’s throw away.”
Nez said the Navajo Nation’s response to the COVID pandemic – going from the highest infection rate in the country to one of the highest vaccination rates within a year – was a story of strength and resilience that “should be magnified throughout this country.”
“That’s what this program is all about,” he said. “The resilience of who we are is magnified, and we’re going to share that with this program. … If there’s one thing you get out of this today is not to give up, to persevere. … Keep dusting yourself off, keep striving for excellence, and this is the foundation here – Coconino Community College.”
CCC provost Nate Southerland also spoke at the ceremony, reciting the Land Acknowledgment Statement on display at CCC page Center, acknowledging that the land on which we live belonged to Indigenous people.
“We look forward to this center that we’re sitting in right now becoming a home for our Native students, a place where they feel like they belong and that they feel like they have extended family around them,” Southerland said.
Before the ribbon cutting, CCC retention advisor Simone Richardson sang a blessing song, and Francis led a traditional blessing ceremony by burning cedar and using an eagle feather to symbolize the ascent of prayers, words and songs up to the Creator.