Yale Celebrates First Native American Graduate: Henry Roe Cloud

Native American alumni of Yale from across the nation will converge on the Yale campus on November 5 for a three-day celebration marking the centennial of the graduation of Henry Roe Cloud, who is believed to be the first Native American to earn a Yale degree.

Native American alumni of Yale from across the nation will converge on the Yale campus on November 5 for a three-day celebration marking the centennial of the graduation of Henry Roe Cloud, who is believed to be the first Native American to earn a Yale degree.

The third annual Henry Roe Cloud conference will not only commemorate the man who devoted his life to promoting the self-identity and well-being of fellow American Indians, it will also celebrate 100 years of a thriving Native-American presence on the Yale campus.

Cloud was born on a Winnebago reservation in Nebraska in 1884. Orphaned by the age of 13, he was educated first at a series of government-run and vocational schools for Indians, and later at a private boarding school in Massachusetts. He earned both Bachelor’s (1910) and Master’s (1912) degrees at Yale. Cloud later became an ordained minister.


While at Yale, he met and was later adopted by white missionaries the Rev. Walter C. and Mary W. Roe, and took their surname as his middle name.

Cloud made his mark as an educator who sought to broaden educational opportunities for American Indian youth beyond vocational training, and as an effective public advocate for changing federal policies toward Native Americans. In 1915 he founded the Roe Indian Institute and served as its superintendent for many years. Cloud co-authored the landmark Meriam Report of 1928, titled “The Problem of Indian Administration,” which challenged long-standing government policy and resulted in significant reforms.

“There may have been other Native Americans at Yale before Henry Cloud, but he was the first who identified himself that way,” says Ted Van Alst, an assistant dean at Yale, and director of Yale’s Native American Cultural Center (NACC), as well as one of the organizers of the conference. Van Alst notes that Cloud was one of the earliest proponents of Native self-awareness. Cloud sought, Van Alst contends, to reverse the policy of assimilation that had defined official American Indian education since Colonial times.

(L to R) Eva Blackhawk, Prof. Ned Blackhawk, Tobias Blackhawk, Elizabeth Rule, Malory Weir, David Murphy, Dean Ted Van Alst, Allison Tjemsland, Amanda Tjemsland, Goldie Stands Over Bull, Prof. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

The celebration will put Yale’s American Indian alumni in touch with the present generation of Native students at Yale, including more than 100 undergraduates and several dozen more in the graduate and professional schools. Yale now ranks second highest among the Ivies for the percentage of Native Americans in the student body, surpassed only by Dartmouth, which was originally founded as a school for Indian youth, says Van Alst.

Among the events scheduled for the celebration weekend are a Master’s Tea with Yale alumni exploring Cloud’s life and legacy; an alumni panel discussion on postgraduate career opportunities; and talks on such diverse subjects as Yale’s ongoing project to digitize original Native American documents, the forthcoming Yale Press project “Henry Roe Cloud Series on American Indians and Modernity” and a plan to expand the NACC.

Included on the roster of distinguished speakers and panelists are Renya Ramirez (Winnebego), University of California-Santa Cruz; Steven Crum (Western Shoshone), UC-Davis; Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone), Yale; Josh Reid (Snohomish, MES ’94) UMASS-Boston; and Sam Deloria (Standing Rock Sioux, ’64), long-time director of the American Indian Law Center and founder and first secretary-general of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

The culminating event of the celebration will be a gala at which members of the Roe Cloud family along with leaders from the Yale Native American community confer Henry Roe Cloud medals on two individuals who exemplify Cloud’s dedication to the American Indian community: Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson (MPH 2000), a member of the Dine’ (Navajo) tribe will receive the Native Alumni Achievement Award. Assistant Professor of American Studies and History Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, a Tuscarora from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in New York, will receive the 2010 Association of Native Americans at Yale Community Award.

About Patricia Nez Henderson: The vice president of an American Indian Health organization in Rapid City, South Dakota, Nez Henderson has the distinction of being the first American Indian woman to graduate from Yale School of Medicine, earning a Master of Public Health degree at Yale in 2000. She is being recognized for her work developing culturally tailored tobacco cessation programs and Web-based prevention programs for Native youth, and also for mobilizing the Navajo Nation towards tobacco-free legislation. Nez Henderson was the first recipient of the Patricia Nez Award, an annual award named in her honor recognizing the commitment of a Yale School of Medicine graduate to improving the health of American Indians.

About Alyssa Mt. Pleasant: Mt. Pleasant is a Yale faculty member and a noted contributor to the field of Native American Studies. In a New York Times profile of Mt. Pleasant in 2007, it was noted that she is one of only about 30 professional historians nationwide who identify as American Indian. Mt. Pleasant arrived on the Yale campus as a fellow of the Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders and immediately set out to “increase the visibility of the NACC, work with the library system to acquire … important holdings in Native American history, and rekindle the collaborative spark that might better connect Yale with nearby Indian communities,” in the words of event organizers. The Times also reported that Mt. Pleasant’s “Introduction to American Indian History” course drew 70 students for 15 openings the first year that she offered it.

The Master’s Tea with Ramirez and Crum takes place at Calhoun College, 189 Elm Street, on Friday, November 5, 4 p.m. The Tea is free and open to the public. Members of the Yale community who would like to attend any of the other scheduled weekend events must register in advance.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345