BEMIDJI -- Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center kicked off the school year Wednesday with its 12th annual Day of Welcome.

Both Native and non-Native students and faculty gathered at the center to hear a few remarks, eat wild rice, and visit a slew of different vendors that came for the occasion. Speakers emphasized the fact that the resource center is there to help all students on campus.

“Part of what I asked for today was that everybody -- not just our Native students, but everybody -- find that peace and find what they’re looking for as they’re coming here to Bemidji State University,” said Laurie Harper, director of education for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “This is a resource center for everybody, not just for American Indian students.”

After a drum circle and opening remarks outside, the crowd of roughly 80 spectators moved into the resource center, where steaming pans of rice and other foods waited. Ann Humphrey, assistant director of the resource center, said there were four different kinds of dishes to show the versatility of wild rice, which many locals harvest from area lakes.

Day of Welcome attendees make their way through the food line at the American Indian Resource Center on Wednesday. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)
Day of Welcome attendees make their way through the food line at the American Indian Resource Center on Wednesday. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)

There were representatives from nearly 17 vendors, from both on and off campus, who came to speak with students and faculty at the Day of Welcome.

The center is still without a director after former executive director Bill Blackwell Jr. resigned earlier this month. An email to the campus community said that the search for Blackwell’s replacement would take place in the fall.

Approximately 260 students at BSU identify as Native American, which equates to roughly 3 percent of the student population, Humphrey said.

BSU President Faith Hensrud also spoke at the event, saying she hopes all students and faculty at the university will become “more knowledgeable about the ways and the teachings of the Anishinaabe." Doing so, she said, would help them serve “all people from all backgrounds" as they go into their career fields.