MN A unique center at Bemidji State University could become
a national home for Ojibwe language and cultural education.
in 2003 largely with private dollars and contributions from local
tribes, the $2.6 million American Indian Resource Center, has become
an important gathering place for American Indians.
also a welcoming presence for Indian students, for whom college
can be frightening, said Anna Goldtooth, co-chair of the Council
of Indian Students. Goldtooth's mother is a member of the Red Lake
Band of Ojibwe. Her father is Navajo.
been so helpful to my education, just to be here," said Goldtooth,
who studies Indian studies and philosophy. "Everyone is so
friendly and welcoming, and it's like this every single day. We're
all together, we all sort of gather in the lounge or gather on the
computers and joke around and laugh every single day."
center includes a computer lab, high-tech classrooms and a large,
circular room for public meetings and cultural gatherings. The Council
of Indian Students meets there every week.
is one of about 200 Indian students at BSU. That's about 15 percent
more students than just a few years ago. Still, American Indians
have the lowest college enrollment rates of any ethnic group in
is surrounded by Minnesota's three largest Indian reservations.
But the university has struggled to attract and retain Indian students.
Enrollment peaked in the 1970s at around 300, but dropped to less
than 100 in the 90s.
Day, a Leech Lake Band member and director of BSU's American Indian
Resource Center, said because Indian students can come from low
income backgrounds, they struggle adjusting to college. Day says
the center helps them make the transition.
great pride in our language, in our culture, in our ceremonies,
in the things we have always done," Day said. "People
are much more confident and they're getting that here ... We're
narrowing the gap, but it's going to take a little while."
Indian enrollment may be up because overall student enrollment is
up nationwide because of the struggling economy. The growing popularity
of tribal colleges also has meant an increase in Indian students
transferring to four-year universities like BSU.
hopes to someday expand the center and make it a national research
repository for American Indian academic journals and literature.
He envisions a museum to house BSU's extensive collection of Indian
artifacts, clothing and jewelry. That collection has been in storage
have their eye on the center as a way to help save the Ojibwe language.
think we're at the tip of the iceberg for what we could do academically,"
said Anton Treuer, BSU's only Ojibwe language professor.
is involved in efforts to revive the language. In Minnesota, there
are only a few hundred fluent speakers.
was the first university in the country to offer Ojibwe back in
1971. Treuer said it's time to expand the program to train certified
Ojibwe language teachers.
a growing interest in Ojibwe language revitalization," Treuer
said. "A number of emersion schools have been popping up, including
one at Leech Lake ... and they need teachers and they need them
trained, so we need to develop successful second language learners.
This should be our niche for the entire university and should be
a growth area."
of expanding the role of the American Indian Resource Center are
tempered by a stark financial reality. BSU administrators say they
need to cut $5 million from the budget by next spring. Center supporters
say their best hope is to expand using private funding.