CASS LAKE -- Members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe have a new place to drop off their children where cultural teachings will be a priority.

On Wednesday, Leech Lake officials held a ceremony to mark the opening of the Maajiigin Child Care Center. The 10,000 square-foot building in Cass Lake will serve up to 32 children ages 3 and younger.

Children at the center will have opportunities to learn the Ojibwe language and participate in a variety of hands-on traditional teachings.

"We can't focus all of our language revitalization efforts in a classroom setting," said Laurie Harper, Leech Lake director of education. "It has to be accessible to our community. So I really appreciate all of the dedication, heart and love that has gone into creating this space."

Laurie Harper, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe director of education, speaks at the grand opening of the Maajiigin Child Care Center on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Cass Lake. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)
Laurie Harper, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe director of education, speaks at the grand opening of the Maajiigin Child Care Center on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Cass Lake. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

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According to Lee Turney, Leech Lake early childhood development director, the center, which will employ 18 people, cost $2.5 million to build and was paid for with grant funding. In his speech, he praised entities that provided such funding.

"When we looked at the project, the biggest thing was being fiscally responsible and knowing not everyone had the money to do what we needed to do," Turney said. "What I've learned through life is relationships are the basis of everything we do.

"I want to give a shout out to those from the Blandin Foundation because they came up big for us. I think the greatest thing is you had the trust in us that we could put this together and make it happen. Otto Bremer was also a player in bringing in resources, where you talk to people, they see your vision and get excited about it."

Turney said the project had been in development for five years, and that the coronavirus pandemic wasn't going to prevent Leech lake from getting the job done.

Lee Turney, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe early childhood development director, explains the building process of the Maajiigin Child Care Center to attendees on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Cass Lake. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)
Lee Turney, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe early childhood development director, explains the building process of the Maajiigin Child Care Center to attendees on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Cass Lake. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

"This is a great day," Turney said. "It took a lot to get this done during the pandemic. That just goes to show you that you can stop a lot of things, but you can't stop a good thing."

In her remarks, Harper gave her appreciation to the child care employees who will be working at the center.

"Our children deserve this opportunity to have a safe, loving place that's steeped in our own language and our own way of being," Harper said. "This will continue to help us grow our children and our community, so that we don't just revitalize our language, but rebuild our tribal nation and strengthen our way of being. I can't stress enough my appreciation for the work and dedication you have."