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A dream comes true

LUMMI, Wash. - Aaron Thomas was 9-years-old and attending Marietta School
when the Lummi Indian Nation first applied for federal funding for a new
school.

The school was small and asbestos was used in its construction. Each
teacher had about 32 students in his or her class. As Lummi continually got
bypassed for funding, Thomas and other children graduated to a newer school
made of portable buildings. Many students attended schools outside Lummi's
reservation.

Lummi children will know a different future. Lummi will open its new K - 12
school on Sept. 6-20 years after it first pursued funding. The school will
be called Lummi Nation School.

"It's testimony to how far we've come," said Thomas, now Lummi's public
affairs director. "It's given us a revitalized spirit. It shows we can
accomplish anything we set our minds to."

The school has pride, culture and history written all over it.

DO/Strider Construction, an American Indian-owned contractor, trained
displaced Lummi fishermen to do grading and excavation; those workers have
gone on to new jobs in construction.

Building contractor Flintco is the largest American Indian-owned
construction company in the United States. Forty percent of the work force
on the school project is Lummi. Thirty percent of that figure includes
apprentice electricians, carpenters and roofers earning $22.20 an hour -
nearly double the area's average wage of $12.64 per hour. Apprentices will
finish the job as union members.

"It's our "standard," Project Manager Rex Ivie said of Flintco hiring
American Indian workers.

Lummi Nation School was designed by ASCG, Inc., the largest American
Indian-owned design firm in the U.S. ASCG is ranked 109th on Engineering
News Record's list of the nation's Top 500 Design Firms.

A central atrium serves as a gathering place for dining and events. Like
longhouses, three wings branch out from the commons. Those wings - which
house classrooms, two gymnasiums, libraries, reading rooms and a computer
lab with 60 stations - may be named after Lummi chiefs and "instrumental
people in the [Lummi] community," Thomas said.

Lummi community members, including spiritual leaders and elders, helped
develop a cultural curriculum. Students will learn the Lummi language,
songs and drums, as well as the state-accredited curricula.

Home economics will be taught for the first time so students can learn how
to prepare healthy meals and manage households, Thomas said.

Other features include floor-to-ceiling windows which will provide natural
lighting in the library. Each classroom has broadband Internet access. One
of the gymnasiums can seat 1,000 people, allowing basketball-powerhouse
Lummi to host Northwest B League games.

The school was built using steel frames and cement panels, giving it a 90
year average life span as opposed to 50 years for wood construction. This
type of construction, called "design build," is less expensive, uses less
materials and speeds construction.

Total construction cost is $21 million, granted by the U.S. Bureau of
Indian Affairs.

The new school will be open to Lummi and non-Lummi students. It will open
to 380 students in September; but Thomas said the school expects to be at
its 750-student capacity in the future.

Thomas said Lummi Indian Nation's average age is 24. Of the population of
4,200, 1,000 are 18 or younger.

When dirt was still being moved on the site in the summer of 2003, the
symbolism in the new school was apparent.

At the time, Lummi Councilman Henry Cagey said prevention activities, jobs,
housing and education were necessary in the battle against substance abuse.
The school construction shows that the community believes education is
important, he said. Construction of the new K - 12 school will be followed
by construction of a new Northwest Indian College campus.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

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