Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
October 7, 2000 - Issue 20

Ground Breaking for New Fond du Lac School
by Kate Bramson Duluth News Tribune Staff Writer

Little Black Bear Elementary School is a colorful, well-lit educational facility on the Fond du Lac Reservation. It was a furnace factory years ago, then it was the Black Bear Casino before it was renovated to become a school about five years ago.

Now, with bright yellow and red cupboards in classrooms, the Ojibwe colors of red, yellow, black and white in the hallway tiles and a student-created mural representing the four seasons, the school has much to offer its pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

The Fond du Lac Ojibwe School for grades 6-12 is mostly housed in a large pole building just down University Road from the elementary school. The school that began as a grades 7-12 school with 25 students in 1980 also has much to offer its students, but the building isn't as inviting as the elementary school.

Some middle school and high school students attend classes in portable classrooms -- newer than the old portable buildings the school had that had become moldy and mildewy -- but portables, nonetheless.

Soon, the elementary and upper schools will become one. A much-anticipated new school is expected to open early next school year on property between the two existing schools.

Today, the schools' communities will celebrate the new Fond du Lac Reservation Ojibwe School at a groundbreaking ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. in the school gym on the reservation in Cloquet.

"It's exciting,'' said Dan Anderson, education planner for the Fond du Lac Education Division that oversees the schools. "We've been planning for years, and we just want to confirm with the community that we actually are going to build a new school.''

Federal funding helps
The reservation is able to build the $14.3 million school with federal money. Congress appropriated enough money during the current fiscal year to build three Indian schools, including the one at Fond du Lac. The other two are in Arizona and New Mexico.

Fond du Lac applied for federal money for a new school in 1992, Anderson said. The local school was No. 14 on a list of 16 schools slated for funding, and patience is what got administrators to this point, Anderson said.

The district hopes students will move into the new school midway through next school year.

Sophomore Ben Aubid, 17, who lives in McGregor and has returned to the Fond du Lac School after a stint at McGregor High School, is one student excited about the new school.

"I think it's going to be fun, something new,'' he said about moving into a new Fond du Lac School. "Back when I was going to school here, in sixth grade, it was a bunch of trailers.''

He returned to the Fond du Lac School in part because of the culture and language classes offered. While McGregor offered a culture class, Aubid said it wasn't very thorough.

Aubid said that in his experience, Indian students are treated differently in the public schools than other students. He likes being in a school where the other students share his culture.

Culture is interwoven
Each of the Fond du Lac schools has about 100 students, but with the new school, administration projects it can handle about 365 students by 2005.

Many current students live in the Cloquet School District, either on the reservation or in the surrounding area, Anderson said.

While students needn't be Indian, Indian students get top enrollment priority. First preference goes to members of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa, followed by other Minnesota Chippewa tribe members, all other tribes, then enrollment is open to non tribal students, Anderson said.

One way the Fond du Lac schools reach their Indian student population is by following a set of 17 curriculum areas developed by a statewide group of Indian educators in the early 1990s. Called the American Indian Learner Outcomes, the 17 frameworks cover topics such as values, the oral tradition, treaties and tribal government that students should learn.

The outcomes are interwoven into the curriculum throughout the day, say students at the schools and administrators.

The students learn that Indian culture is a way of life, a way of following the seasons, Anderson said.

"It's just something you do,'' he said about the culture. "And there are values along with it that are taught with it. It can be very subtle. There are ways to do things and there are ways not to do things.''

For Fond du Lac senior Maureen Rivera, 17, the respect that comes with those Indian values makes the reservation school far more welcoming for her than the Carlton schools she used to attend.

She likes that the school takes students ricing, allows them to make maple sugar, holds powwows, begins Monday mornings with an Ojibwe prayer and song and closes each Friday with an Ojibwe traveling song and a prayer.

"One of the main things (for me) -- to receive respect, you've got to show respect,'' Rivera said. "I'm very respectful. That's where my problems were at the end (in the public school).''

Today's celebration
Teachers and administrators, children and parents and the entire Fond du Lac school community have waited many years for the new school they'll celebrate today.

In the upper school, the current portable classrooms that house the middle school students are like a palace compared to the older portables, now demolished, that were plagued by mold, mildew and leaky roofs, said middle school English teacher Janet Johnson.

Still, she and principal Mindy Jezierski said last week that portable classrooms just aren't designed to survive northern Minnesota winters.

Johnson is eager to move into the new school.

"We're isolated here,'' she said of her classroom's location away from the main high school building. "The kids have to go outdoors in the middle of winter (to change classes).''

At Little Black Bear Elementary School, fourth-grade teacher Bridget LeGarde's students made little turtles out of walnut shells and pine cones in an art lesson the week before the groundbreaking. The students will give the turtles out today, while community members celebrate the new school that will be shaped like a turtle.

The idea for the school's shape came from community input, Anderson said.

"The turtle is a symbol of longevity and strength,'' he said. "It figures in a lot of Ojibwe stories.''

In the Ojibwe creation story, the turtle bears the weight of the earth on his back and made life possible for the Ojibwe people, Anderson said.

Shoveling dirt at today's groundbreaking will be tribal chairman Robert Peacock, members of the Reservation Business Committee, Student Council members from both schools and others.

Jezierski stressed last week that while the community has waited for a new school, custodians Sherry Wick and Devon Simpson deserve much of the praise for maintaining the entire school facility, including the numerous buildings sprawled out on the high school campus.

"So much has to be kept going because there's a lot that's been held together by a wing and a prayer,'' Jezierski said.

Little Black Bear Elementary School



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