Migizi has landed: Red Lake Nation College, Capitol buildings, veterans memorial blessed by eagle viewing (video/photo gallery)

RED LAKE -- A young migizi swooped between two giant eagle-adorned buildings dedicated as the new tribal government center and college in Red Lake on Monday while spiritual advisor Eugene Stillday spoke of a vision of an eagle that came to him in...

The Red Lake Nation hosted an opening ceremony for Red Lake Nation College and the Government Center on Monday in Red Lake. Pictured is the college. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

RED LAKE -- A young migizi swooped between two giant eagle-adorned buildings dedicated as the new tribal government center and college in Red Lake on Monday while spiritual advisor Eugene Stillday spoke of a vision of an eagle that came to him in a dream.

“Perhaps it was a premonition that I would be here,” Stillday said. The presence of Migizi, Ojibwe for eagle, was a good omen for the opening of the Red Lake Nation Capitol buildings on the shore of Lower Red Lake. A ceremonial ribbon cutting ushered in the new buildings, powwow grounds and veterans memorial.

Stillday delivered comments in front of a new black granite veterans memorial stationed next to the government offices building. Red Lake Nation College President Dan King said the monument wasn’t part of original plans but was an essential addition.

“It’s a reminder to stay strong as a nation,” said Red Lake Treasurer Annette Johnson.

The grandiose tribal college with an eagle head in the center and wings outstretched spans the distance of a football field, 300 feet. The government center, a smaller version that is 213 feet long, sits to the east of the “mother” migizi.


During the opening ceremony, approximately 200 people gathered in the natural woodgrain open air arena surrounding a center pavilion where the Battle River Singers drum group performed honor songs at the powwow grounds. The redesigned grounds are considered the majestic migizis’ nest.

“I’m just looking around at everything and the pride and excitement that is building within our community over these new Capitol facilities is pretty amazing,” King said.

The planning process for the buildings began five years ago when community members were asked to weigh in on the design. By consensus, the band wanted something concentric, not another square box. Inside each building, circular entryways connect the wings. Natural light and views of Red Lake spill into offices, break rooms, classrooms and the college cafeteria.

King said the new buildings are an investment in the people and future of the Red Lake Nation, made possible by the tribal council and hereditary chiefs voting to move forward with the $21.4 million project.

“That’s the way our ancestors did it,” King said. “They looked seven generations into the future.”

A United States Department of Agriculture grant helped pay for the new Capitol center.

Erik Wedge and Julie Spiering with DSGW Architects presented the tribe with artwork for the buildings they helped design and decorate. A golden eagle painting was given for display in the college and a bald eagle painting for the government center.

Red Lake public relations representative Michael Meuers said the former government center in downtown Red Lake was once a hospital where Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. was born. During the opening ceremony Seki, as is customary for the chairman from Ponemah, spoke first in Ojibwe and later thanked dignitaries for attending in English.


“I want to thank the Tribal Council. It doesn’t take just one person to get things accomplished on our reservation,” Seki said.

King said the facilities have been blessed over the past few weeks and are completed ahead of schedule. The Tribal Council will be moving into the government center in the next few weeks.

“We’ve already started moving into the college and we start classes in about two weeks on (Aug. 31),” King said. “Our new campus will be open for fall term.”

Beyond the border Gov. Mark Dayton also addressed the crowd at the veteran’s memorial, where he asked the youth in attendance to promise to stay in school, graduate and become leaders of the Red Lake Nation, the state of Minnesota and the United States.

“Those eagles are destined for world record and they epitomize the magnificence of the Red Lake Nation and what you’ve achieved here, what you’ve built here and of your proud heritage,” Dayton said. “And of your commitment to your next generations that are here today and are not yet born.”

Dayton’s first trip to Red Lake was in 1977; a lot has changed, he said.

“It’s improved a lot since then, with buildings like this and others, there’s a lot more to be done, of course,” Dayton said in a press conference after the dedication. “More people need and deserve jobs but they’ve made a lot of progress.”

Dayton said funding focused specifically at tribal K-12 will help increase graduation rates among Native students, however, he would like to have seen the Legislature provide more to help overcome obstacles. Having the tribal college on the reservation could help recruit students and technology helps further the reach, as well.


“Now you can look someone right in the eye and they can be 1,000 miles away,” Dayton said. “It’s a big boom to education to have that kind of communication...students here can embrace their own culture while continuing their education and becoming part of the next generation of leadership for the Red Lake Nation.”

A student’s eye view Sheila Erickson is part of this generation and the next. Erickson, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians from Little Rock, is a non-traditional student studying liberal arts. Erickson started attending Red Lake Nation College in 2013 at the previous site in the Red Lake Humanities Center. Erickson looks forward to attending classes, and working, at the new school.

“This is a huge change,” Erickson said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”

Erickson was working in the new Red Lake Nation College bookstore where she can finally display Migizi gear for students and visitors. At the Humanities Center, the merchandise was often packed away in totes.

Students rotated between three classrooms and a modest computer room at the old school. The new school has several classrooms and a hi-tech computer lab.

“That’s going to be wonderful,” Erickson said.

Erickson also works in admissions as a financial aid assistant. She said the new building and design will attract students and the welcoming staff will keep them there. When Erickson started college right out of high school she didn’t find the right fit, but did later in life at Red Lake Nation College.

Erickson will be pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting after she completes courses in Red Lake.


Migizi’s new home When Red Lake Nation College students cheer for their team, they cheer for Migizi. Since 2001, when the college was established, students have been attending classes in the Red Lake Humanities Center, itself built in 1975. The center was formerly the Red Lake casino. For the first time in 14 years, Migizi will have a home of their own.

King said the average student at Red Lake Nation College is a 29-year-old mother and two of the largest obstacles for students are transportation and daycare. The new college will feature onsite daycare and Head Start. The Red Lake Head Start Ojibwe Language Immersion Program will be leasing space and New Beginnings will also have a presence at the college. Additional features include a fitness center with sauna and a college cafe supported by Red Lake Gaming.

Matt Bliss, Red Lake technology director, said the college is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Plans are to network classrooms with other colleges via telepresence.

“Students will be able to attend classes at other colleges without leaving campus,” Bliss said. “And Red Lake will be able to share cultural classes with other schools.”

“Martin Luther King had a dream. Red Lake Nation had a vision and that vision is to prepare our people for the 21st Century,” said Eugene “Bugger” McArthur, Red Lake Nation College director of development.

Honoring the past, students will see Chief Nodiin Wind, one of the tribes great chiefs from the 1800s, when they enter the front doors of the college. Speaking during the ceremony, Hereditary Chief Jim Loud urged the younger generation to get an education by echoing the college’s motto, “It’s a good place to start.”

There are about 120 students enrolled at Red Lake Nation College and King estimates there will be 150 or more by the time classes start. King said the target demographic is students on the reservation just graduating from high school but enrollment in the two-year school is not limited to that market.

“We are a public school, we’re open to any person who wants to attend,” King said.


All week, Red Lake plans to celebrate on Migizi Drive. A culture, language and elder day takes place from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday. Red Lake History and education is planned from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday. Thursday honors earth and technology from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Celebrate Life Day is Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the Red Lake August Fair and Powwow will be Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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