College Fund Trustee Gail Bruce HonoredApr 6th, 2015 | By dhorwedel | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
As part of its Multicultural Audience Development Initiative, the Metropolitan Museum of Art honored American Indian College Fund emeritus trustee Gail Bruce for her work in Native American higher education. Bruce was one of the original founders of the College Fund and is an entrepreneur, artist, and activist in Indian affairs.
Ever since she was a child, Bruce has been fascinated with American Indian issues. She remembers her family moving from Chicago to the West Coast when she was five-years-old. When she got off the train during a layover in Albuquerque Bruce wandered away from her family to follow a group of Indians, her curiosity piqued by their colorful clothing and jewelry. That interest in Native cultures has spanned an entire lifetime.
As a young woman in California, Bruce befriended two Native elders from the Chumash tribe who taught her about the many social and economic problems facing American Indians. “I talked with them about what I could do to help,” she remembers. “Both men said, ‘Education, that’s what our people need. We have to educate our people.’” Their message stuck and years later the newly established American Indian College Fund recruited Bruce as a founding board member. “Who knew that over 25 years later I would still be doing this,” she says. “From that minute on, I was committed.”
Bruce is a rare woman who has melded her two passions—her love of the arts and her great interest in American Indian issues. She has served as an adviser at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and Wings of America, which promotes active lifestyles and healthy living. She helped conceive of and build 29 cultural learning centers at tribal colleges in 12 states, kicked off the College Fund’s Sii Ha Sin capital campaign, and worked to create internships for Native youth at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It has always bothered me that Native arts have been overseen predominately by White curators,” says Bruce. She has helped the Met’s Native student interns adjust to life in a big city environment, providing them with a place to live at her studio which serves as a base for them while they are in New York. Bruce speaks glowingly of the students who have enriched her life over the years and lauds their many accomplishments.
In March, Bruce realized a long-time dream when the Met opened the exhibition, “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky,” showcasing the rich artistic tradition of the peoples from the Great Plains. “For the first time the Met is showing reservation-based artists that would normally never have a chance to show their work in New York City, much less at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Bruce observes. “This show, at one of the major museums in the world, is an important acknowledgment and validation of Native American art and I am so pleased.” It is this sense of empathy that has made Bruce a vital force in American Indian higher education over the years and so deserving of her recent honoring at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.