BEMIDJI -- In partnership with the Red Lake Nation, Bemidji State University will administer $92,000 in Minnesota Indian Teaching Training Program grants to American Indian students entering the education field, BSU announced in a release on Wednesday.

According to the release, as part of a Minnesota Department of Education initiative, the grants are available to post-secondary institutions and school districts in Minnesota that support American Indian educators or professionals working in elementary or secondary schools. In addition to teaching degrees, other eligible academic programs include those related to American Indian language and culture, counseling or mental health services, paraprofessional services, administration, school health care and social work.

At a Sept. 2 campus forum, Chrissy Koch, director of the American Indian Resource Center, revealed the 2020-2021 program slogan, “Decolonizing Education.” She went on to explain the historical impact colonization and education has had on American Indian peoples, emphasizing the trauma it caused Indigenous nations and the effects that can still be felt today, the release said.

“When we talk about decolonizing education we are trying to express that we want to bring Indigenous perspectives and traditions into the education realm because they were taken from us in that setting historically,” she said in the release.

Scholarships are available to students enrolled in a federally recognized tribal nation, or a first- or second-degree descendant of an enrolled member. Offered at six universities and colleges in Minnesota, each scholarship will include $1,500 in tuition dollars, a $400 book stipend and a $3,000 living stipend per semester.

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This year the program will fund eight students, five of which are new to the program and on track to join Bemidji State’s Department of Professional Education.

“We are focusing our sights on upperclassmen in the areas of Ojibwe language and Indigenous studies, as requested by the Minnesota Department of Education, to encourage teachers to teach Ojibwe and culture in classes,” Koch said in the release. “We will revisit the budget proposal next spring to determine how we can create additional scholarships for our students moving forward.”

Shepherded in part by Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center, participants in the program will also receive on-campus mentoring, training and professional development opportunities.

Ann Humphrey, assistant director of the AIRC, will help grant program students navigate higher education processes and procedures, with particular attention to applications into BSU’s professional education program, the release said.

“The mentorship component of the program is small but mighty. It is an important element for American Indian students navigating higher education,” she said.

Each student will meet with Humphrey monthly throughout their academic experience to ensure program requirements are met and that they have the support they need on their path toward licensure. Students will also connect with American Indian teachers throughout the region.

"We will bring American Indian educators from other districts and states to campus to share with our students what’s working and where progress could be made in regard to cultural practices in regular curriculum and how to advocate for that change with distinct entities," Humphrey said in the release. "We also want our students to go and teach in districts with high populations of American Indian students."