BEMIDJI -- As a Native American who has a seat at one of the highest tables in state government, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan wants to hear from Native students who are just at the beginning of their careers.
Flanagan attended a lunch at BSU’s American Indian Resource Center on Thursday. While she came to hear about the different routes students can take to higher education, the conversation also focused on some of the issues affecting Native students on their path to graduation.
In addition to her time at BSU, Flanagan and her staff visited Northwest Technical College, where they toured the facility and spoke with faculty members.
"There are multiple pathways for our young people," Flanagan said. "It it's not one size fits all."
Bemidji State has made it a priority to become a destination for Native students. BSU President Faith Hensrud said there are more than 260 Native students at BSU and just more than 100 at NTC.
Flanagan is from the White Earth Nation. She also is one of the first Native women elected to such a high-level executive office in the country. Flanagan said during her time in college, she heavily relied on the resources that aimed to help her as a Native student.
“I would not have survived without the American Indian Resource Center at the U,” Flanagan said, referring to the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
For that matter, she also spoke about how she was impacted by having a teacher in college who was native, describing it as an experience that “changed my whole life.”
Flanagan asked the students at the dinner what they would like her to know as she continues to work with lawmakers and state agencies in the capital.
Some students spoke about issues affecting Native children in foster care and the struggles for single parents.
NTC student Linnea Helgeson spoke about how the technical college has offered her a lot of adaptability. She said people need to realize that they don't necessarily have to pursue an education through a four-year college. As part of that, she also spoke about how there was only one other Native girl in her class.
"We are nursing; we are child care; we are business; we are so many things," Helgeson said about the students at technical colleges, illustrating the numerous career options available through a technical education. “I want more outreach to the reservations around the area for students to consider a technical degree."
BSU student Serena Graves spoke about how history in schools can often be limited in respect to Indigenous people. Because of that, she said she would like to see more emphasis placed on the history of the tribal nations.
In response, Flanagan said she is working on how to help get the resources into the hands of teachers.
“As we are meeting with tribal leaders across the state, this is the No. 1 thing they say we need -- education for all,” Flanagan said. “Too often, what we think -- or the narrative is -- that Indigenous studies are for Indigenous students; I want everyone to know about the folks that have always been in Minnesota.”