A building, a longstanding dream, and a community came alive on the University of Washington campus Thursday afternoon, as wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House (pronounced “wah-sheb-altuh”) opened its doors for the first time in the mild Seattle sunshine.
After nearly two years of construction, the longhouse-style building was abuzz with talk as it welcomed hopeful students, teachers, and community members alike on the Duwamish lands it sits on.
The new building features a large community gathering hall, a sizable kitchen, a smaller conference room, and an outdoor area complete with a fire pit. Built with tradition in mind, the intellectual house’s wooden beams and columns are adorned with ornate tapestries and held up by the common cultural longing that allowed it to materialize after such a long wait.
“I’m very happy that it finally opened,” said graduating UW senior Andrew Bending. “Other schools in Washington have beaten us to it, but our own longhouse is finally here and it looks great.”
Bending went on to express the importance of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House as a gathering space for Native American students like himself, a place where more native cultural events could take place on campus, and simply as a nice spot to study.
The opening ceremony for the new facility took place in the gathering hall, where excited attendees ravenously mobbed tables of delectable Native American foods. In addition to the quintessential salmon dishes, green beans, and crab cakes, Starbucks coffee was served in true Pacific Northwest fashion.
Denny Hurtado, a 67-year-old former chair of the Native American Advisory Board, emphasized the new building’s role as a cultural bridge.
“It’s not only a place for native students to gather,” Hurtado said. “Really, it’s about connecting our cultures, and our community with our country.”
Hurtado also expressed hope that the building would serve as a tool for the university’s recruitment and support of more Native American students. Currently, 1.3 percent of UW undergraduates are American Indian, Alaska Native, and First Nations.
The grand opening event was highlighted by the traditional chanting and drumming circle that elevated the already humming noise level to a deafening blare worthy of any cultural celebration.
Winona Stevens, a member of the Wisconsin Ho-Chunk nation and a 2012 UW graduate, said a resource like the intellectual house would have been very appreciated when she attended the school.
“It’s not just a place for Native students to gather, but to actually meet each other,” Stevens said. “There’s a high population of them in this city and this state, and it’s about time the campus offered a place to learn about native culture.”
Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House will be used for various purposes, including symposiums for Native education, community gatherings like powwows, and as a welcoming, safe place for all students to enjoy.
The Tribal Leadership Summit on Thursday evening was the first official event to be held in the building. Native American veterans of the Inter-Tribal Warrior Society began the summit with a flag ceremony, placing a United States flag, Washington state flag, and various tribal flags at the front of the gathering hall. The flags served as a reminder to all in attendance that as distinct as their cultural heritages might be, being different is what ultimately unites them.
Reach reporter Mohammed Kloub at email@example.com. Twitter: @mkloubUW