Labriola Center Holds Grand Opening, Provides Safe Space For Native Students

Andrew Pedro and Jonathon Curry perform a gourd song at the grand opening of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center.

As you enter the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library, a small orange sign sits atop a desk to the left that says, “WARNING. O’odham HIMDAG enforced INDIGENOUS ZONE.”

Labriola Director Alex Soto (Tohono O’odham) set the tone for the space, letting O’odham and other Native students know that they are especially welcome and safe there.

In fact, the Labriola Center’s staff is entirely Native. Librarian Vina Begay is Diné, a member of the Navajo Nation, and so is the senior program coordinator, Eric Hardy, and program coordinator Yitazba Largo-Anderson. SRPMIC member Penrose Fulwilder is also now a part of the Labriola team as an O’odham language specialist helping the library properly describe O’odham archival material, thanks to a $1M grant from the Mellon Foundation.

The new 6,000-plus-square-foot facility provides Indigenous students, researchers, faculty and community members a culturally safe space for individual and collaborative study, access to Indigenous research services, and access to the library and archival collections, according to Soto.

“What we hope to achieve here at the bare minimum is to show that Native students—O’odham students in particular, because this is their land too—can see that this is their space and they can see themselves in that space,” said Soto.

“Whether that’s books by O’odham authors and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members, or something as simple as a welcome sign, those little things help a student [feel accepted]. Especially when you’re a first-generation undergrad and you come to a [school] as big as ASU, you can be overwhelmed or feel like you don’t fit in. So, when you see something like that, it can be the spark that makes you say, ‘Maybe I do [fit in].’”

The weekend before the grand opening, the Labriola Center sponsored a prayer run to bless the new space, which began in the SRPMIC at Red Mountain (Svegĭ Do’ag in O’odham) and ended at South Mountain (Moahdak Do’ag in O’odham).

At the grand opening, SRPMIC member Jonathon Curry and Andrew Pedro from the Gila River Indian Community began the event with a gourd song. Among the guests at the event was Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

Tohono O’odham member, SRPMIC resident, muralist and artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus talked about his mural collaboration with SRPMIC member and artist Dwayne Manuel, who couldn’t attend the event. Their mural is located on the wall to the right of the Labriola Center entrance.

“Alex Soto asked the both of us to come up with a design, and we based our design and plan off of A Mountain (Oidba Do’ag in O’odham). We wanted to show the past into the present and how the land used to look before development, when the river was still flowing,” said Marcus. “The mural depicts that and a calendar stick that recorded events. The second half of the mural transitions into a book, signifying how knowledge is shared.”

Food was provided by Café Gozhóó, a Western Apache café that integrates Apache foodways infused with ancestral knowledge. Their team of chefs included Nephi Craig (White Mountain Apache/Diné).

On the menu were the Three Sisters, a piñon shooter and wild spinach by Indigenous food expert Twila Cassadore, sumac and achiote grilled quail, carved bison ribeye, and blue corn mush with berries, amaranth and piñon.

The entertainment for the event included a set by DJ Reflekshin and a concert by One Way Sky. Soto himself kept the party going, rapping along to some beats.

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