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Larry Pogemiller, right, the director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, visited the Leech Lake Tribal College campus Tuesday to meet with administrators and students. Also pictured, from left, are Megan FitzGibbons, an OHE who works with the Minnesota Indian Scholarship, and Carrie Jones, chairwoman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

Pogemiller visits Leech Lake Tribal College

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CASS LAKE – It wasn’t until Veronica Kingbird began attending Leech Lake Tribal College that she flourished in school.

“I really struggled (in the traditional school system) and I think that was because they didn’t notice me,” she said.

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Now at LLTC, Kingbird, 27, is studying the Ojibwe language with hopes of establishing a school in the Anishinaabe culture, teaching the Ojibwe language and traditional academics.

“That is what my dream is,” she said, noting a similar school, the Niigaane Ojibwe Immersion School, operates within the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Cass Lake.

Kingbird was one of three LLTC students who met Tuesday afternoon with Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, who was visiting the campus to meet with administrators and hear from students.

Pogemiller has visited seven college campuses since Gov. Mark Dayton introduced his budget in January.

“I wanted to specifically come to a tribal college because they serve a … niche in the higher-education system,” Pogemiller said.

Pogemiller praised the LLTC administration for reaching out to students who might not otherwise attend college.

“One of the things that really impressed me is they don’t view themselves as competition to (Bemidji State University); they view themselves as complimentary to BSU,” Pogemiller said.

Dayton’s proposal includes a $240 million increase for higher education, including $80 million more in direct financial aid to students.

Pogemiller said LLTC students would benefit from Dayton’s budget in two ways: It would increase the amount of available financial aid and fully fund the waiting list for the Minnesota Indian Scholarship Program.

According to state data, 276 eligible students are on the 2012-2013 waiting list. Of those, 57 are Leech Lake tribal members, 48 are Red Lake tribal members and 61 are White Earth tribal members.

LLTC, according to the data, has 132 enrolled students in the scholarship program with an average scholarship award of $2,818.

LLTC student Lucas Bratvold said he has seen fellow students drop out of school because of financial concerns.

“Sometimes it’s not just necessarily because they don’t have the money to stay in school, but it’s, ‘I have kids and I have to put my job first,’” he said.

Bratvold and Kingbird, who have been a couple for six years, said they don’t have children to support and are fortunate to have on-campus employment scheduled around their classes.

Kingbird told Pogemiller LLTC does not have many on-campus employment opportunities and suggested they be expanded.

“I think that would be very helpful,” she said.

Bratvold, 28, of Red Lake, served for six years in the Air Force before choosing to come back home.

“Being away gave me a stronger appreciation for the people at home, the culture, especially the language,” he said.

He, too, is studying the Ojibwe language and plans to go on to attend bachelor’s and master’s degrees, perhaps a Ph.D., to become an administrator of a school similar to Niigaane, he said.

“It’s just a real key component of who we are,” he said of the Ojibwe language.

He suggested that LLTC consider offering four-year degrees.

“What they’ve got right now is a great foundation, but of course I’d love to see it expanded,” he said.

He agreed with Deborah Hale, 21, an LLTC student studying early-childhood education who said another barrier for some students is transportation.

Bratvold he used to commute an hour to school each way from Red Lake but now lives closer to campus in Bemidji. Hale also commutes from Bemidji but doesn’t have her own vehicle.

“I am one person without a car,” she said. “(Travel) is very frustrating.”

All three students praised the LLTC faculty. Kingbird said her teachers are like family members and genuinely care about their students.

“In my other schools, I didn’t feel that at all,” she said. “Here, they raise you up.”

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