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Opening celebration at Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Learning Center at Sonoma State

Learning Center at SSU's Fairfield Osborn Preserve is dedicated to cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural communication

President Lee and Chariman Sarris cut ribbon

Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR) and Sonoma State University celebrated the opening of the FIGR Learning Center at SSU’s Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Tuesday, January 16, marking what Claudia Luke, Director of SSU’s Center for Environmental Inquiry called the beginning of a profound, place-based partnership, dedicated to fostering open and inclusive communication.

“This partnership is deeply rooted in the land we stand upon, a place that holds meaning, knowledge, and connection for the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people, the descendants of whom are the enrolled citizens of Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria,” Luke said.  

Luke thanked FIGR Chairman Greg Sarris and tribal representatives “whose leadership and generosity have made this day possible.” A $2.8-million gift from FIGR doubled the capacity of the facilities, enhanced their accessibility, and added a Listening Area where people can engage with each other and the wisdom of the environment. 

“Working together creates not just hope, but action as hope,” said Sarris, who is Distinguished Chair Emeritus at Sonoma State. He quoted Kashaya Pomo leader Essie Parrish, a lifelong advocate for maintaining and passing on native traditions and spiritual wisdom, during his remarks. 

“Essie said, ‘Young people are leaving all the teachings on the ground like clothes … Pick them up because they’ll be needed. The day will come when white people will come back to us [for that wisdom].’”

“That day is here,” Sarris added. 

SSU President Mike Lee, after welcoming a crowd of 60-plus tribal members, elected officials, community members, and SSU staff, said completion of the FIGR Learning Center “marks our beginning point in a much longer continuum of commitment to preserve this land.”

“The land is a treasure we need to pay back," Lee said. “Our goal should be that every student – no matter what major – will develop the mindset to cherish and protect it.”

“The Learning Center is dedicated to breaking down barriers among disciplines, cultures, and sectors, and importantly, the new gathering areas ensure the Mountain itself has a seat at the table. It is only through listening, understanding, and collaborating with each other and the land that we will find our way to a sustainable and resilient future,” Luke said. 

“The renovation is expanding what is possible for us as a community of learners, inviting new opportunities for dialogue where nature is integral to the conversation,” said SSU alumna Pamela Cruz. 

“Nature is the best medicine in the world, because it reminds us that we are all connected,” said Sarris. “We are all part of the whole.”

A joint congressional certificate from U.S. Congressmen Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman was presented by Riley Ahern, a field representative for Representative Huffman. Supervisor Susan Gorin presented a Gold Resolution from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and Rohnert Park Mayor Susan Hollingsworth-Adams presented a certificate from the city.

Learn more about the critical role the Center for Environmental Inquiry has at Sonoma State University through this video.

Open houses and monthly conversations at the Fairfield Osborn Preserve’s FIGR Learning Center are in the works.  For the latest events, check their calendar. 

Janet Durkin