The fresh-cut cypress logs seemed out of place at the busy construction site.
At Barker and Pawnee avenues, area residents and Haskell Indian Nations University officials, alumni and students gathered Friday for a "log-raising" ceremony to mark the start of above-ground construction of the school's $1.3 million cultural center and museum.
The cypress logs, donated by a Florida company, will cover the exterior of the 6,048-square-foot building, which will help students learn about and celebrate their culture.
"It's a chance for tribal colleges to get their language back and preserve their culture and the identity of their people," said Gail Bruce, a founding board member of the American Indian College Fund who attended the ceremony. "Not only does it provide structure, it's a place for people to gather and have ceremonies."
Haskell President Karen Swisher said she hoped the building would have a wider impact, as well.
"We hope to share the museum with the community because it is the city of the arts," she said.
The center and museum will be used heavily after it is completed in mid-November, Swisher added. A May dedication ceremony is planned to coincide with graduation ceremonies.
The new center and museum collectively are the 24th of 29 such facilities being built at tribal colleges across the United States. The campaign is a project of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
Bobbi Rahder, Haskell's curator and archivist, said she was excited about teaching American Studies classes in the center.
"Those students will be able to get hands-on experience in cultural studies with artifacts," she said. "We want it to be a living center."
Rahder said the center will serve as a place to showcase Haskell's 117-year history documented with artworks, photographs, jewelry and traditional clothing.
"We've got collections that are over 100 years old from when Haskell started as a boarding school," she said.
Rahder said the building's lower level will serve as a climate-controlled storage area for historical items.
When completed, the project will include an outdoor sculpture garden, a memorial wall to honor Haskell war veterans and an outside amphitheater. Haskell's Alaska Club is raising funds to hire an artist to make a totem pole for the building's entry plaza.
For Bruce, the construction is a dream coming true. A few years ago, she helped initiate the program with the help of the National Museum of the American Indian.
"It's really hard to express how happy we are to have this state-of-the-art facility that we will use to display art work, artifacts and archives for the enjoyment and research of our students and guests," she said.
Local contractors include Harris Construction and Oliver Electric. Sabatini & Associates is the project's architect.
-- Staff writer Joy Ludwig can be reached at 832-7144.