Youth partnership brings it home

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L'ANSE INDIAN RESERVATION, Mich. - Collaboration between local and tribal peoples brought two new homes and plans for 40 more to the 70,000-acre reservation in northern Michigan.

The homes were built through the Youth Build Program, a three-year-old partnership between the Keweenaw Bay Indian tribe's Ojibwe Housing Authority and the Baraga Township schools. Since it began, two homes were rebuilt and others are being remodeled.

"This has been a good experience for the kids," said David Morehouse, superintendent of the township schools.

The idea began four years ago after Morehouse approached the tribe and talked to key visionary people in the tribe and in the school. He said about 15 students, both tribal and non-tribal, from the junior and senior classes are involved in the school's buildings trade program each year.

An additional collaboration between the tribe and public school has tribal members who are certified in plumbing, heating and electrical working with the students with a watchful eye to make sure work is up to standard.

The original dream phase included 60 homes but HUD funding ran out before the projects were completed. The new plans are to build 42 houses that will be ready to buy and move into after work is completed. Currently the tribe and students are remodeling two houses with new drywall, new electrical, fixtures, flooring and new doors and windows.

"Basically they'll be entirely new houses," said Morehouse.

About 50 percent of the students go into the field or continue their education for a building license when they graduate, Morehouse said. Others want to use the skills in their own homes.

Mortgages for the homes are available through local banks.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian community owns two radio stations, an industrial park and two casinos.

The reservation is located on the upper peninsula on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the oldest and largest reservation in the state. Two communities span both sides of the bay with a population of about 3,000 on the reserve and 11,000 off reservation. They account for 14 percent of the county's population.