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Longtime Frazee teacher honored as Indian educator

Renee Christofferson will receive the Minnesota Indian Education Association?s Lifetime Achievement Award next month. (Pippi Mayfield/DL Newspapers)

Frazee-Vergas teacher Renee Christofferson says her job is all about the kids, but the Minnesota Indian Education Association is saying it's all about her and what she does for those kids.

The MIEA is honoring Christofferson with the Lifetime Achievement Award, to be handed out at the annual convention Oct. 7-8 in Mahnomen.

"I've been going to the conventions for years," she said. When others would receive the award, "I just sat there and thought 'wow, how great for those people.' I never thought I'd be one of them."

Christofferson, who grew up in White Earth, graduated from Waubun and went to college in Bemidji and Moorhead to earn a degree in physical education. When she was still student-teaching, her senior year of college, she talked to the dean of students in Frazee at the time about an open position for an Indian Education coordinator. A few months later, she started her new job. That was 33 years ago.

"I feel like a part of the fixtures here," she said with a laugh.

"The reason this program was brought into the school district was to mainly keep Native American students in school," she said.

Since Christofferson isn't licensed as a counselor, she isn't technically a counselor, but she does work as an extension of counselors Ta Fett and Jamie Nelson at the school. She works with students grades K-12.

"I make sure they (native students) are doing well academically, attendance is great and they're going to graduate."

Christofferson said the position comes naturally to her.

"It's just part of my life, knowing my culture," she said.

When she received an e-mail from MIEA about the upcoming convention, she dismissed it until later that evening when she had more time to read her e-mails. That's when she realized she had been nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The board asked her to send in a biography, which she said was really had to write, and received an e-mail a few days later saying she had been chosen as the recipient.

She said it's the MIEA board's decision who is nominated and chosen to receive the award.

"The board looks at who's involved or stands out. I don't know how they picked me," she said with a laugh. "I'm here for the students and here for the program."

But on Oct. 8, during the convention luncheon, Christofferson will be brought forward and recognized for her work with students.

"I love it here," she said of her job.

Christofferson and her husband, Bill, live in Fargo, where she commutes Tuesday through Thursday to the district. There are 77 American Indian students in Frazee-Vergas district that Christofferson works with.

In the elementary school, she goes into the classroom to help with tutoring, which she said is nice to connect with non-native students. She also serves as advisor to the Native Club, which is open to any students.

"I love kids of all ages and my passion for education has always been strong. I believe everyone can learn as long as they want to learn. Every day when working with my students, I encourage and stress the importance of school and how they have the opportunity to become whatever they set their minds to as long as they work for it. Only they can achieve their goals."