fbpx
 

Indigenous students of Columbia University finally have their own brownstone–nearly a decade in the making. 

Columbia provides brownstones as options to some students and student groups. They are highly sought after–if and when they become available. Once available, student groups can apply to be selected as the group who move in.   

Beginning in 2013, Julian Brave NoiseCat, Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen, led on-campus efforts to secure a brownstone as a private living and general meeting space for Indigenous students. 

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

Three brownstones became available that year, and the group applied but they were not selected.  

Then, Audra Hickman, Cherokee Nation, as a 2017 freshman, made it an undergraduate mission to secure a brownstone. One brownstone opened up in 2019 and Manhattan House, a small one-floor special interest community residence for Indigenous students, was one of four finalists. But, they weren’t approved that time either. 

Then, one brownstone became available in 2021 after Delta Sigma Phi fraternity lost their Columbia-owned brownstone due to allegations of hazing and harassment from members. 

The group filled out the 10-page application and presented a powerpoint in front of the selection panel to advocate for Manhattan House to get this space. 

The application process was a lot of time and effort for the group. Eva Brander Blackhawk, Western Shoshone, was the primary writer for the application, and she completed it during finals week. It was an intense time for her, and at times she questioned the amount of work she was putting into the application. 

“I mean 10 pages was longer than some of the papers I was writing, and we didn't know if we were going to get it,” Blackhawk, who is studying economics as well as ethnicity and race, said. “It's a selective process, like is it even worth it, but it ended up being totally worth it.”

The group was approved for the brownstone on Feb. 9.

“It's really great because it provides a refuge for a lot of us, because when you enter academia, it can be very traumatizing,” Charitie Ropati, a civil engineering student, said. “But it can also be a space for community building.”   

“Columbia is named after Columbus. So having the university give us a space like this and acknowledge our work and our organization in such a big way feels really special,” Blackhawk said.

“Native American Council, Manhattan House, our Native American Heritage Month committee, we're the only people who've ever really done anything,” Hickman said. 

All of those organizations are student-led and provided funding through the allocation process that every student group has to apply for annually. Hickman did acknowledge the support the Office of Multicultural Affairs has done for Indigenous students, but gaps remain. 

Due to “intense socioeconomic, and racial divide, our campus was a toxic experience,” Hickman said. “That environment coupled with the fact that we didn't have anybody on staff who supported us in anything that we wanted to do. It was very, very taxing, and very, very hard.”

The average cost to attend Columbia University is $82,000 annually, 62% of students in 2019 received some type of loan or grant to attend, leaving 38% of students whose families can afford to pay around $328,000 in total for them to attain their degrees in the standard four years. The majority of the student body is white. 

Columbia has lagged behind other Ivy League universities in their institutional support for Indigenous students and that continues into the present. Currently, Audra Simpson, Mohawk, is the sole Native American faculty member. There are three job postings on the university’s website that include language to encourage Indigenous applicants. One of those positions has been open since 2020 and has yet to be filled. Only recently did the university hire a Coordinator of Native & Indigenous Outreach, according to Hickman.

In 2021, Columbia had only 89 students who identified as American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, making up .28% of the student body. Comparatively, Dartmouth College’s class of 2025 is 5% Native American from 33 different nations. At Harvard University the class of 2021 was 2.5% Native American or Pacific Islander. 

“Ultimately… I'm really excited to see the events we have planned, but also the healing that can result from that,” Ropati said of having the brownstone. “I don't think people realize how healing physical spaces can be and how it can help the wellbeing of Native kids. So I'm really excited.”

They are especially excited about organizing events around Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The brownstone, which they plan to call “Indigehouse,” is one of four special interest brownstones where students can live and socialize. The building, located in Manhattan near Broadway and 113th St., has five floors including the ground floor. There is a shared living space and a backyard. The top three floors will serve as residential living spaces with 11 single rooms and two double rooms. 

It was built in 1915 and is south of the campus in the Morningside Heights neighborhood — an area that is largely taken up by Columbia, Barnard College, and the Manhattan School of Music. Typical condo/apartment purchase prices in the area are around $1 million. The area has been increasingly gentrified over the past two decades. 

The university also owns two residential brownstones, four special interest community brownstones, and 10 brownstones for fraternities and sororities. 

Ropati, a junior at Columbia, had this to say to future students: “You deserve spaces where you feel safe, where you don't have to defend your identity, to fight for visibility. This is a space where people already see you for who you are. So I really want future students to understand that.”

The students will be moving in fall of 2022.

More Stories Like This

New York State Education Department Orders Schools to Lose the Native Mascots or Lose Funding
Lionel Bordeaux, Sinte Gleska University’s Long Time President, Passes
American Indian College Fund & Pendleton’s Student Blanket Contest Underway
VA Education Dept. Backtracks from Labeling Native Americans as “America’s First Immigrants”
Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills to Speak at Two Michigan Universities This Week

You’re reading the first draft of history. 

November is  Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:

  • Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
  • Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.  
  • Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country.  We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.   

We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.

Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Pauly Denetclaw
Author: Pauly DenetclawEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Pauly Denetclaw is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and from Manuelito, N.M. She is Haltsooí (Meadow People) born for Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House People). Denetclaw is an award-winning reporter who has worked for the Navajo Times and Texas Observer covering Indigenous communities. She is a board member for the Native American Journalist Association. Her radio pieces have aired on National Native News, NPR’s Latino USA and Texas Public Radio. She has been published in Condé Nast Traveler, Indian Country Today and The Nation. She has been a consultant for the This Land and The Experiment podcasts. She loves trying new coffee blends, the color pink, bullet journaling and listening to Jack Harlow. Follow her on Twitter, @pdineclah.