Fabre honored for work with WE Child Care program

When Barb Fabre got her first job as a child care teacher's assistant on the White Earth Reservation, she was just 19 years old. "Little did I know that this was where I'd still be 28 years later," she says. It wasn't too long after she started w...

White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Director Barb Fabre, shown here with two puppets in the Smart Play Spot (SPS) located at the old Circle of Life School in White Earth, recently received a Virginia McKnight Binger Award for Human Service, in recognition of her work to help improve child care services on the White Earth Reservation. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

When Barb Fabre got her first job as a child care teacher’s assistant on the White Earth Reservation, she was just 19 years old.

“Little did I know that this was where I’d still be 28 years later,” she says.

It wasn’t too long after she started working there that she became the director of the newly-minted White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood program - a position that she still holds.

“When the tribe got a Child Care Development Block Grant in 1993, we started the child care program,” Fabre said. “The Tribe was able to start up its’ own child care licensing.”

Fabre was involved in establishing and implementing the program’s early policies and procedures.


“That was exciting,” she said.

At the time, Fabre was a one-woman department, working with child care providers on the reservation.

“Now I have a staff of 16, and two (child care) centers, one in White Earth and one in Mahnomen,” she said.

White Earth also has a total of 14 licensed child care providers, “with three more in process,” Fabre added. “And 75 percent of those are rated through Parent Aware, the state’s quality assurance system.”

Back when Fabre started, however, “tribal childcare was relatively new. I wanted to make sure it was well represented at the local, state and federal levels, so I got involved with a lot of different committees, and I made a lot of connections through the years. I also wrote a lot of grants so we could have those opportunities in our rural communities.”

Fabre was also instrumental in establishing the Communities Collaborative Brain Development Conference, held annually in White Earth.

According to a study done by Dr. Jack Schonkoff of Harvard University, “From Neurons to Neighborhoods,” the first five years of a child’s life are absolutely critical in their brain development.

“I heard his (Schonkoff’s) presentation in Chicago, and it was mind-blowing,” Fabre said. “He showed the effect of environment and relationships on a child’s brain during the first five years, and how it sets them up for the rest of their life.”


That presentation was the impetus for Fabre to develop the first brain development conference.

“That first year, there were 1,200 people there,” Fabre said, and 14 years later, “We’re still averaging between 600 and 800 people a year.”

The conference focuses on the latest research and strategies for stimulating brain activity in young children.

“Basically, it’s anything to do with the developing brain,” Fabre added. “My goal is to have more people aware of what affects a child. The environment - the negatives and positives - what they say, what they do, how they teach, the policies they set, it all affects the children.”

The conference has become so well-known that Schonkoff himself actually presented there one year.

Fabre also became chairman of the National Indian Child Care Association, a position that she still holds.

“It represents 260 tribal child care organizations across the country,” she said. “In that position, I’m involved with a lot of national and federal efforts to make sure tribal child care is of the highest quality.”

Fabre’s passionate devotion to tribal child care was recently recognized by the McKnight Foundation, which made her one of its 2014 honorees at the annual Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service.


“My family came, and (Tribal Chairwoman) Erma Vizenor, and Nancy Jost from West Central Initiative, and and Tamie Finn from Leech Lake Early Childhood Development,” Fabre said.

Finn was actually the one who nominated her for the award.

“Barb is driven to make changes by connecting not only with parents and community stakeholders, but also those in higher state and national positions who can change policy to make a difference at the local level,” said Finn in the 2014 awards program booklet. “She has a passion for improving the lives of Native American children and families.”

“She’s (Finn) a very big mentor in my life, so I was quite honored to be nominated by her,” Fabre said. “It was a really nice reception and ceremony - and the monetary award was nice too.”

The $10,000 stipend that came with the award went toward fixing the roof on both Fabre’s home and lake cabin.

“It was perfect timing,” she said. “That stuff is expensive, so it went to good use.”

Currently, Fabre is focused on efforts to build a new facility to house the reservation’s child care, early childhood and family literacy services under one roof (see related story on the efforts to build literacy services on the reservation, page 1C).

“That early childhood building is so needed,” she said.


“Right now our programs are in so many different buildings. I need to get all the staff and programs under one roof.

“Space is such a commodity, and we really need something new and beautiful,” she ADDED. “That’s a big ‘bucket list’ item. Another is finishing my degree.  I will have a bachelor’s degree in psychology in just a few months.”

And after that, there will undoubtedly be a new child care project to capture Fabre’s attention.

“People think of child care as babysitting. That’s not what it is,” she says.

“I am continuously educating and informing people at the local, state and national levels about how critical tribal child care is for children, families and communities. We have children under our care from 40 to 50 hours a week, so the need to provide our kids with safe and positive learning environments is absolutely essential.” 

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes .

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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