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NAU cultural center acts as home away from home for Native and Indigenous students

Monday, Oct. 10, is Indigenous People’s Day in the U.S. The holiday honors the contributions and resilience of Native Americans.

At the same time, Northern Arizona University is celebrating the anniversary of its Native American Cultural Center.

The center opened in October 2011 as a home away from home for NAU’s Native and Indigenous students.

Ann Marie Chischilly leads the school's Office of Native American Initiatives. She's also a member of the Navajo Nation.

"When I came to college, I felt like I was a fish out of water," she said. "And that [feeling] leads to a low graduation rate, unfortunately, for Indigenous students when they come to campus."

Chischilly said the center helps students stay connected to their cultures and traditions.

“Students can come and smudge, which is a way of praying where they use either sage or cedar or whatever they want to use and they bless themselves with smoke and smudge themselves," she said. "We have a special room just for that.”

The center also hosts events, provides food and connects students with elders from different tribes for them to talk to.

Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.