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Bemidji student event hosts Ojibwe tribal colleges from across the region

Leech Lake Tribal College held an event April 21-23 bringing together students from Ojibwe tribal colleges from three states that featured competitions and traditional crafts.

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Red Lake Nation College students placed first in the Ojibwemowin Quiz Bowl competition at the inaugural Meshkwadoonigeng student event on Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
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BEMIDJI — Students from Ojibwe tribal colleges across Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin gathered together at the Sanford Center on Thursday for an Ojibwe language and art competition event titled Meshkwadoonigeng.

Organized by Leech Lake Tribal College, the event was held April 21-23 and allowed students from each of the colleges to connect and learn from one another.

“It’s great to have everybody back together again,” said Helen Zaikina-Montgomery, who is serving as the interim president at LLTC. “When we first thought of this event (instructors and students) hadn’t seen each other in two years because of the pandemic. Our students really need a way to be together.”

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Event organizers welcome attendees ahead of the inaugural Meshkwadoonigeng student competition event Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

In addition to students from Leech Lake, participants came from four other tribal colleges: Red Lake Nation College, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Turtle Mountain Community College and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College.

Stone Child College, located in Montana, was also set to attend but had to cancel because of poor road conditions due to weather.

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“We sometimes feel isolated from one another, because we are in these faraway places,” Zaikina-Montgomery said. “What I really hope we take away from this event here is a sense of our Anishinaabe community.”

The event itself included a wide range of activities and competitions. Displays of traditional and contemporary art were set up, posters displayed science and research projects, and students participated in crafting, traditional ceremonies and much more.

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A variety of science poster presentations were on display at the inaugural Meshkwadoonigeng student competition event Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Sanford Center.<br/>
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

One of the event’s main highlights was a language competition, where teams from each college demonstrated their knowledge of Ojibwe language and were won by a team from Red Lake Nation College.

“I think because we are united in region, weather patterns, and especially in culture and language it makes sense for us to do this,” Zaikina-Montgomery said.

Events bringing together students from different tribal colleges and universities are not uncommon, but this was the first time one has been organized for Ojibwe affiliated colleges specifically.

Inspiration for the event came in the absence of the usual national event held by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Typically held in Washington, D.C., the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means it hasn’t occurred in two years.

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An art piece titled "Interconnected" by Paula “Mashkosiikwe” Cooper of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is on display at the inaugural Meshkwadoonigeng student competition event Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

“This year we thought, let’s try to do something here locally,” Zaikina-Montgomery said, “and give them an opportunity similar to what they would get at that larger event.”

A team at LLTC began to organize an event that would bring together Ojibwe students to strengthen their sense of community and provide opportunities for networking and student exchange.

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“It’s huge, and it’s a great way for students to meet each other and be with other Anishinaabe students,” Zaikina-Montgomery said.

This event is also just one of several efforts that hope to increase collaboration between Ojibwe tribal colleges. The hope is for Meshkwadoonigeng to grow to an annual event that is hosted by a different college each year.

“I hope that this event grows and continues and takes on an identity of its own,” Zaikina-Montgomery said. “It will get bigger and better, and have more people and things to do.”

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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