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Voyageur's Best Features of 2006

Fun in the Sprinkler

Place of the Islands to open in 2007
by John Grones  |  August 1, 2006

The community of East Lake is very excited and thankful these days. Their dream of their own school is on the horizon. The Minnisinaakwaang (Place of the Islands) Leadership Academy is a go. The funding to build a school was approved two years ago by the Mille Lacs Band; state Charter School funding was approved in June, and the announcement came this past week that federal funding was also approved.

“After 150 years working with the Federal government, we are going to be in charge of taking care of our children’s education,” said Winnie LaPrairie who serves as the Program Director. “Everybody in the community is excited about this, including the kids.”

The site for the new school is in front of the East Lake Center south of McGregor on highway 65. Construction on the new four-million-dollar building started in May.

The process to get the new school has been a long one. Winnie noted that it was four years ago that they got the momentum going to establish their own school.

She recalls getting support from the Nayashing School. Later, Winnie went to Band Assembly to secure funding for the school building. “When we went there, it was really cool because we took all the kids there, and we filled the council room up.”

In the end, they gave the approval. That was in September, almost two years ago.

Construction on the building began in May with the goal of opening in the fall of 2007. Now that the charter school funding has been approved, the next phase of the process will be to look closer at the state guidelines and standards. “Charter Schools are just like a public school,” said Winnie. “The only difference is that within our vision, we are going to tie in our culture and language with academic excellence.”

The charter school concept appears to be a good fit with the mission and vision established by the board members. “The teachings will start by focusing on wisdom, respect, love, truth, bravery, honesty and humility,” said Winnie. “We are going to establish project-based learning. We will also be going with multi-aged classrooms.”

The vision is too broad to share everything, but Winnie also noted that they plan on being a K-12-and-beyond school. “We are not stopping at 12th grade,” she said. “We have colleges that are going to offer classes at the school. The classes will be offered to community people and staff. In the next year the plan is to give parents that don’t have any college a chance to go to college.”

The colleges that will be offering classes for higher education include Bemidji State University, the College of St. Scholastica, and Fond du Lac Community College. Winnie added that a sponsor is required when forming a charter school, and the College of St. Scholastica is that sponsor.

“I think it is going to be a successful school because it is coming from our own people,” said Winnie. She shared that the entire process has included involvement from the community. “The community did it as a team. It has been collective management where we have all worked hard–our kids in the community, all the way up to our elders–and that’s the way we are going to continue.”

Winnie noted the efforts of Dr. Rick St. Germaine who was hired as an educational consultant. “Without him, I don’t think we could have achieved all the things that we have. Also, with our Commissioner of Education, Joycelyn Shingobe, with all her support and believing in us empowered our community.”

When it comes to standards, Winnie credits the efforts of Dave Anderson (Famous Dave). When he worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he looked at all the tribal schools across the country and made recommendations. “He also visited schools from impoverished areas that were very successful, like the Boys Choir of Harlem, the KIPP Academy in Texas. He looked at what they did to make kids successful. His recommendation was that Indian people were no different, and we should set our standards high and help our kids achieve those goals.”

It was at that point that the commitment was made to be a leadership academy. Currently, staff, community and students are attending P•A•T•H TO GREATNESS Leadership Training in Minneapolis. “This will be one of our requirements for all the staff and teachers. They will have to go through the training.”

In conclusion, Winnie wanted to thank the board: Dawn Aubid (Chair), Tabatha Boyd (Secretary Treasurer), Candi Aubid, Dale Greene, Sr., Henry Flocken, and the many elders that have gone on before them.

“One of the elders was George Aubid Sr. He was our first college graduate. He was an elder when he got his degree at Bemidji State University in Social Studies. He later taught at Fond du Lac Ojibwe school. It was one of his visions too, that we take control and teach our own children. When we lived on the Rice Lake Refuge, we had our own school, so it has been 75-80 years since that happened.

I would like to also remember Julie Shingobe. Julie was an elder, and she helped with our language and culture program. She helped push our own band to support us with this whole endeavor. She was with us when we were jumping over hurdles.”

Winnie recently had the opportunity to attend a legislative summit in Washington D.C. “I got to speak there,” she concluded, stating that they wanted to know what was going on in Indian country. “I told them about our dream of our community. We always dreamed about it 15 years ago, and we always kept that dream within our hearts. Then I told them that in June and July we achieved those dreams.”

On August 8 the community will be having a celebration from 5:00 to 7:00 at the site of the new school. There will be a feast to celebrate the work that has been done. Everyone is welcome. 

This article first appeared in the August 1, 2006 issue of the Voyageur Press.