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Red Lake Education Summit

The Red Lake Tribal Council, Tribal College and School District have joined hands and sponsored an Education Summit in concern for the Nation’s youth. The two-day event took place on Wednesday and Thursday January 19th and 20th, 2011 at the Seven Clans Casino and Event Center at Red Lake.

The first day centered on the three northern tribes, Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth working together for better education and language preservation. Thursday’s activities concentrated on the youth themselves with the focus on Red Lake students. The event’s emcee was Motivational Speaker and entertainer, Chance Rush who has participated in several of the annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Summits.

“We are hosting this educational summit with the purpose of improving education in Indian Country and for Red Lake members”, said Dan King, President of Red Lake Nation College. According to King, part of the idea for the summit was spurred by the Economic Summit held last August at the same venue. The Economic Summit launched in 2006 is also a collaboration of the three tribes.

On Wednesday, events began at 11:00 am with a drum song by the Don Kingbird drum Ogidaaki. Kingbird is Red Lake Nation College Drum Keeper and college instructor. Following the drum was an opening prayer by Red Lake Elder and Spiritual Advisor, Larry Stillday. Stillday of Ponemah is a fluent Ojibwe speaker and advisor to Red Lake Nation College.

Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr. then welcomed those attending. Jourdain said that the purpose for the Education Summit is to improve education in Indian Country and Red Lake. “In that effort we are reaching out to our friends at Leech Lake and White Earth”, said Jourdain. “The three tribes represent 80% of the American Indians in the state of Minnesota”, Jourdain noted.

“In this historic alliance, we will work closely with our Ojibwe brothers and sisters and seek a regular dialogue of what works best for each tribe”, Jourdain went on. “We can share the best Ojibwe language teachers and college education programs. Further, we can collaborate on grant application partnerships and mutually beneficial advocacy efforts”, concluded Jourdain.

Work began at 1:30 PM with a session entitled, “Ojibwe Language Survival Project”. “With an alarmingly small group of fluent Ojibwe speakers,” noted King, “there is a need to address the issue of Ojibwe language preservation.” The session included a presentation by Dr. Anton Treuer, Leech Lake member and Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University. Treuer, a fluent speaker and true champion of Ojibwe language revitalization, received his BA from Princeton, and Masters and PhD from the U of M. Treuer is the author of eight books including Ojibwe in Minnesota and The Assassination of Hole in the Day.

Treuer was partnered with comments by Eugene Stillday, elder and fluent Ojibwe speaker from Ponemah. Stillday is a spiritual and cultural advisor for the Red Lake Tribal Council. He is also a Red Lake Nation College Ojibwe language and cultural advisor. Both Stillday and Treuer are involved in developing Ojibwemowin dictionaries, both for everyday usage and developing academic vocabulary e.g. mathematics.

Language preservation was brought home in a sharply defined manner as Treuer put up a slide showing just how few fluent Ojibwe speakers there are left in Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to Treuer there are just a few more than 700 fluent Ojibwe speakers in the United States, more than half, 400 are from Red Lake, and most of those from Ponemah.

At 2:45pm, Dr. Dean Chavers, nationally known expert on Indian Education gave a very upbeat presentation. He provided a summary report on dramatic “turnaround stories” of low performing schools who, with hard work and collaboration, transformed into top achievers. The session was entitled, “Exemplary Programs in Indian Education”. Chavers has written 25 books, is the founder of the “Catching the Dream Foundation”. He is also a former president of the American Indian Scholarship Fund. He received his Masters and PhD from Stanford University. “If you haven’t seen the “true story” film “Stand and Deliver”, said Chavers, “make a point of it and you will see what we can do”.

The last session of the day “Reforming Red Lake Public Schools” began at 4:00 PM. Representatives from the Red Lake School district presented their master plan for reforming the school and student learning. They shared information on current reform results and improvements. Ev Arnold former Principal of Red Lake High School and current Turnaround Officer for Red Lake Schools, led the presentation. He was assisted in this unveiling by Red Lake School Superintendent Brent Gish.

Arnold went through a slide show presentation, while several questions were asked from time to time by the audience. Arnold discussed the implementation stages, followed by reform initiatives. This included a focus on teacher growth, which Arnold claims will enhance student academic growth. The school will also focus on student’s different learning styles and accommodate those styles.

Several progress reports will have to be outlined at various intervals and submitted to both State and Federal governments, as well as the Red Lake School Board, said Arnold. This includes several items regarding academics, but also attendance, truancy, discipline incidents, drop out rates, and college enrollment rates. Similar reporting is done on teachers, including performance levels and attendance.

Finally, the number of minutes in a school year that all students will be required to be at school will be increased. For school year 2009-2010 the time was 168 days at 340 minutes per day which equals 57,120 minutes. For 2010-2011 time in the classroom will increase to 178 days at 360 minutes per day which equals 64,080 minutes. Both Arnold and Gish felt quite positive as to the progress in reforming Red Lake Schools.

After a break at 5 PM, their was a dinner for participants with two key-note speakers from the afternoon sessions, Drs. Treuer and Chavers. Treuer spoke further of his efforts in preserving the Ojibwe Language, and Chavers speech was entitled, “Catching the Dream”.

“We can always do better, that's the way I always look at things”, said King. “But overall, I think we did good on the following items: there was a very positive energy, with a great turnout of over 200 high school students”, noted King. The overall turnout, according to King, was 225 on Day One, and 312 registered on Day Two. “I felt the discussion was excellent on the topics of Ojibwe Language preservation and school reform”, King commented.

“I feel very good that our Red Lake Nation College message - that we offer a quality education - is getting out”, concluded King. “I was very proud of all our Red Lake education staff, faculty, etc. It was a historic event.”