Education | National

Leech Lake Band celebrates groundbreaking for new high school

Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on August 24, 2016. Photo by Mike Chosa

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe celebrated on Wednesday as work finally began on a new high school on the reservation.

After years of lobbying, the Minnesota tribe secured nearly $12 million in federal funds for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School. The replacement facility should be ready in time for the fall 2017 school year.

"This day would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, sweat, and certainly tears of many individuals, administrations, school boards, students, teachers, parents, elders, and local, state, and federal elected and appointed officials, to name a few," Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., said at the ceremony. "Thank you. I can assure you that as chairman of Leech Lake, it is one of my highest priorities to ensure that our students have the opportunity to learn in safe environment, and I will work hard to build on the efforts of so many throughout the years."

The existing high school has been in use for more than 20 years. It was never meant to house students -- it's actually a metal barn that was built as an auto mechanic school and bus garage -- but administrators had nowhere else to put the growing student population.

Tribal, state and federal officials participate in the groundbreaking ceremony on August 24, 2016. Photo by Mike Chosa

h Students frequently suffer during Minnesota's bitter winter months. When it gets too windy, they have to evacuate because due to structural flaws in the building. Mold is prevalent and the school suffers from leaks, sewer failures and numerous other problems.

Despite the deficiencies, a new school never came as the replacement program at the Bureau of Indian Affairs ground to a halt during the Bush administration. Congress finally stepped in and funded an existing program that resulted in a $11.9 million appropriation for the project.

"Students at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig have faced horrendous conditions in their classrooms for years—it was disgraceful, deplorable, and terrible for learning," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), who helped secure the funding and was on the reservation on Wednesday for the groundbreaking, said in a press release. "Students, teachers, and faculty had to deal with freezing temperatures, leaky pipes, dangerous wiring, and mold and sewer problems. That's why this groundbreaking is so important: it means that so many bright young students in Indian Country will be able to feel safe and comfortable to learn and reach their full potential."

The new high school will be housed in a 44,283 square-foot structure that's currently being designed. It's expected to be complete in July 2017.

"The new school is an example of the success of our community coming together to help our students succeed," Superintendent Mary Trapp said. "We are all looking forward to it."

The is part of the Bureau of Indian Education system.

An Opinion:
Editorial: New Indian school in Leech Lake is a lesson in leadership (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 8/25)

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