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Red Lake Nation College graduates first class

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Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
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Red Lake Nation College graduates first class
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

RED LAKE -- Two years ago, the Red Lake Nation College opened to students offering two-year liberal arts and technical education degrees grounded in Anishinaabe language and culture.


On Tuesday, with the heartbeat of honor songs echoing through the Red Lake Humanities Center, the first eight graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from Red Lake Nation College Board Chairman Eugene Stillday. In addition, Larry Stillday, board vice chairman and spiritual advisor, presented each graduate with an eagle feather. And College President Renee Gurneau wrapped the graduates in Pendleton blankets donated by the Red Lake Chemical Health Programs.

The graduates are Dawn Barrett and her mother, Rode Barrett, Charlys Blue, Mary Head, Nicole Lussier and her mother, Pamela Martin, Daniel Lyons and Christopher Roy.

"These young people who are sitting in the front row are the pathfinders," said Larry Stillday before praying the invocation. "These eight people who are sitting here make me a believer."

He then referred to those who came before the current generations, who were thinking of the future of Red Lake people. "Each and every time we succeed, our ancestors in the spirit world look over us and are proud," he said.

Eugene Stillday, calling the graduation a historic occasion, told of the hard work of both students and staff to make the Red Lake Nation College a success.

Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. also congratulated the class, pointing out the need for an educated workforce and leadership for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

Judy Roy, Red Lake secretary and ex officio Red Lake Nation College Board member, introduced the keynote speaker, actor Wes Studi. She recalled that Studi, a Cherokee Nation member, was one of the first people to call and offer help after the March 21, 2005, shootings. He sent DVDs of his movies to Jeff May, the young hero wounded when he tried to disarm shooter Jeff Weise. She said Studi also responded when asked to speak at the college's first graduation.

Studi told the graduates that as the inaugural class they must build on their success with even greater accomplishments.

"It's a huge and a great testament to the resilience of the residents of Red Lake," Studi said of the college and graduating class. "To overcome adversity has long been a trait of Indian people everywhere."

He admonished them to avoiding abusing anything or anyone and closed his speech with the words: "Go forth. Do good things."

In addition to the graduates, Academic Dean Mary Ringhand honored the students who achieved the dean's list and Phi Theta Kappa national honor society. She also announced the student of the year, Christin May, winner of the $500 Paul Bunyan Telephone scholarship. May maintained a 4.0 grade point average while raising eight children.

In her acceptance speech, May cited all the other students at Red Lake Nation College who overcame hard times, such as lack of transportation to school and tragedies in their families, but who continue to strive for their education.