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Three tribes to sign agreement to improve education

Representatives from all three area Ojibwe nations met this week to sign an education consortium resolution aimed to improve major issues affecting Indian education.

A two-day education summit held at the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake wrapped up Thursday with the signing of the resolution between White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Red Lake Band of Chippewa tribal officials.

All three tribes have agreed to cooperate, share ideas and work together to preserve the Ojibwe language, work on grant partnerships and share programs and resources.

"This is probably the way it was in the old days -- our tribes were always working together and we kind of got a way from that," said Dan King, president of the Red Lake Nation College.

The education summit introduced similar efforts towards economic and social collaboration between the three tribes.

It began Wednesday with speakers who focused on one of the major issues -- Ojibwe language preservation.

"All aspects of education are important, but we felt the focus now is maybe more critical with language preservation," King said.

Anton Treuer, Ojibwe scholar and professor of languages and ethnic studies at Bemidji State University, who spoke at the summit, estimates there are about 400 fluent Ojibwe speakers left on the reservations.

"There is a diminishing number of fluent speakers," King said, adding that most of them are elders who live on the Red Lake reservation.

By sharing teachers and resources, it's a win-win-win for all three tribes.

And it doesn't just stop at the language; technological advances will be shared as well as various programs that would entice high school students to seek post secondary options.

"We know there are disparities in achievement and high school graduation rates, college graduation rates," said White Earth Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor. "The best way to reform the policies and changes that need to be made is for us to work together."

The second day of the summit drew more than 200 high school students for a college fair that was also held as part of the event.

King said there is a surprising number of students not seeking higher education training, and it may have worked in the past to get a job with a high school diploma -- but that's no longer the case.

"You need well beyond a high school diploma just to compete for jobs," he said.

Summit organizers invited colleges from all over the region, including University of Minnesota Crookston, Morris, North Dakota State University, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Tribal colleges were also well represented at the summit, trying to get Indian students to start with two-year degrees on the campuses located right on the reservations.

"We need to start encouraging them now," King said. "And the tribal colleges are a great place to start."

The smaller class sizes at all of the three tribal colleges and credit transfer programs are appealing enough, he added, and they also allow for students to move on to masters and doctorate degrees.

"We need all those things, we need doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants," he said.

Too often, tribes end up hiring non-members for positions that many members are not qualified for, King added, but if more native students are earning those degrees, they have the opportunity to compete for those jobs.

"Education is really the long-term solution to other social issues," he said.

Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr., Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose, as well as Vizenor and education officials from the tribes, are on board and have agreed to continue hosting an annual education summit.

"It was a very positive first event, very historic," King said.