CASS LAKE – The Leech Lake Tribal College librarian keeps a photo of herself and Al Franken as the wallpaper image on her computer. The photo was taken in 2005, when she met Franken at a Wisconsin Barnes & Noble, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Melissa Pond, library director for the last six years, probably got a new wallpaper image Wednesday, as she again met up with Franken while he toured the college campus.
“I’m the luckiest librarian on earth,” said Pond, noting that she loves her job and her colleagues and students appreciate her as well.
Pond took advantage of the few moments she had with Franken to pitch for additional funding to allow the college to expand its small library.
The college would like to construct a new building to replace its current 920-square-foot library and also house a learning center, smart classroom and cultural archive.
Franken, after seeing blueprints of the plans, said the new building certainly looks like it would be a good addition for the college.
“You guys are underfunded, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Funding for the library was among a list of requests presented to Franken by college administrators.
Leading the priorities was a request to fully fund tribal colleges. Legislation currently authorizes $8,000 in funding per full-time American Indian student, but actual funding amounts to less than $5,300 per student, about one-third of what was authorized.
Assuming the college has 300 full-time Indian students – this year there are 344 students, of which 92 percent are Indian – that equates to a funding gap of $810,000.
The college receives no funding for non-Indian students and no funding from the state of Minnesota.
First-year President Don Day, the former director of the Bemidji State University American Indian Resource Center, told the Pioneer 18 percent of American Indians throughout the country attend tribal colleges.
At Leech Lake Tribal College, he said, at least 200 of its students would not be pursuing further education if not for the tribal college.
After completing a two-year program at Leech Lake Tribal College, about a third of graduates transfer to BSU, a third to another university, and a third pursue full-time employment, he said.
“This is a great training ground,” Day said.
He believes the college can reach even more prospective students. One of its priorities is to open a satellite site in the Twin Cities to serve the “thousands” of Leech Lake band members who live in the metropolitan area. Day said many Indians are not willing to attend a state college or university there.
“But they would go to a tribal college if there was one down there,” he said.