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Grand opening kicks off school year at temporary site for Red Lake charter school

At a grand opening event on Friday, around 50 community members congregated for a morning of speeches, food, meet-ups with teachers and tours of the temporary school building.

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Nathaniel Taylor, center, executive director of the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school, plays a drum during a grand opening event on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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RED LAKE — A mere 11 months after Endazhi-Nitaawiging broke ground as the first charter school in the Red Lake Nation, around 86 students are ready for the 2022-2023 school year at “The Place Where it Grows.”

At a grand opening event on Friday, around 50 community members congregated for a morning of speeches, food, meet-ups with teachers and tours of the temporary school building.

“We do a lot of great things as a tribe, (but) this is the most important piece about being Anishinaabe from Red Lake,” Tribal Secretary Samuel Strong said regarding the school’s opening.

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Attendees clap for a speaker during a grand opening event for the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Cultural immersion

Rooted in Ojibwe values, the Red Lake tribal council partnered with the Native American Community Academy Inspired Schools Network to build a school in order to immerse young students in Indigenous knowledge and culture.

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Starting this school year with grades K-5, the school will expand to include an additional grade each year until 2025-2026, the point at which the school would remain open to grades K-8.

“It’s hard doing immersion. It’s a burn-out job,” Executive Director Nathaniel Taylor said. “Sometimes you lose your motivation. It’s hard to get up and get in the fight, but look at what we have right now.”

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A grand opening event for the temporary site of the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school was held on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

With hopes that their permanent building will be completed in time for the 2023-2024 school year, Taylor pointed to the continuation of Indigenous knowledge being passed down between generations that the school and land can provide for students and adults alike.

“This is our spot for our classrooms, but believe me, we’re going to have these kids out on the land knowing all of the trees again, all of their animal relatives again, knowing the star stories again,” Taylor added. “Our language is that knowledge. Those stories are that umbilical cord to our past generations.”

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Construction is underway at the site of the future Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

As part of the immersion, head of school Serena Graves shared that grades K-2 will only receive academic instruction using the Ojibwe language. Grades 3-5 will split their day between Ojibwe and English.

“That’s because (grades 3-5 are) taking (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) and are brand new to an immersion environment,” Graves said. “This is the first time that Red Lake has had a place like this for K-2 to be all in Ojibwe and have their math, science, social studies and language arts standards tied to learning that in the language.”

According to Taylor, the staff for the upcoming school year will include five teachers, two assistants and three administrators reigning from Red Lake as well as other tribal nations including White Earth.

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A sign is displayed near the front entrance of the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

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Visions for the future

Expanding on their goal of future growth, Strong hopes the school can serve as a tool to overcome issues afflicting the tribal nation such as mental health struggles and substance abuse — all while keeping in mind the next seven generations.

“It’s an honor to see our children carrying on for our future. These are our protectors, our land protectors, our water protectors, our language protectors,” Strong detailed. “These are our warriors, these are our spiritual advisors. It just warms my heart to have an opportunity to be a part of it, and this is just the precursor.”

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Red Lake Tribal Secretary Samuel Strong speaks during a grand opening event for the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr. and Treasurer Vernelle Lussier both spoke on learning to live alongside colonized society while maintaining their culture and traditions.

“We live in two worlds. ... We’ve got to understand how to live their way of life, then work together to have our kids understand where they come from and where they always will be,” Seki said.

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Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. speaks during a grand opening event for the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Referencing her oldest daughter enrolled at Red Lake High School, Lussier pointed to a beading class among others that were tailored to who she was in a cultural sense.

“We need to know who we are as ourselves and we can’t do that without knowing our language, our heritage, our cultural ways,” Lussier said. “I’m looking forward to where we’re going to be in a few years with the new building and just hope we can continue to grow and to educate.”

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Red Lake Tribal Treasurer Vernelle Lussier speaks during a grand opening event for the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Other speakers of the morning included co-founders Wesley Jourdain, Alex Kmett and Elizabeth Strong.

With their start on Monday, Sept. 12, the school will abide by the mission “to prepare each student for college with an enhanced knowledge of the Ojibwe language, culture, leadership and environmental stewardship.”

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Its vision statement aims to “create confident leaders grounded in their true inherent identities and to ensure that they are academically, socially and spiritually prepared to positively change the community and world.”

More information can be found at www.redlakecharterschool.com .

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Attendees listen to a speaker during a grand opening event for the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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