Mesabi Daily News: COMMUNITY COMES TOGETHER AT BUG-O-NAY-GE-SHIG
A small school with humble beginnings is getting the national attention it deserves.
Last week, federal lawmakers descended upon Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School located in Bena for an official ground-breaking ceremony.
The event was touted by U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Member Al Franken (D-Minn.), along with Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) as the culmination of their years-long fight to replace what has been a dangerously dilapidated school and build a new high school.
Founded in 1975 as an alternative school to serve 35 Ojibwe students from Leech Lake Reservation, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig opened in response to parents’ concerns that public schools were not meeting the students academic and cultural needs.
Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig was named in honor of Chief Hole in the Day, a local Ojibwe who lived in the Bena area at the turn of the century and was known to have fought for the land, the people and especially for the future of native children.
In 40 years, the Bug O Nay Ge Shig School has matured into a fully accredited educational program. It has transformed its role into a magnet school which serves Native American students living on or near Leech Lake Reservation. It currently serves more than 200 students of various tribal backgrounds and provides open enrollment for grades K-12.
It is operated by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and governed by the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school board.
Earlier this year, after efforts from Sen. Franken and Reps. McCollum and Nolan, the Department of Interior (DOI) finally granted nearly $12 million for repairs and improvements at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig where conditions have deteriorated and construction is inadequate. For years, students and staff have endured freezing temperatures, leaky ceilings and doors, faulty electrical and air systems, exposed wiring, mold, and sewer backups. The groundbreaking on Aug. 24 was marked as the first step in rebuilding the school, with the new modernized facility expected to be completed in 2017.
“Students at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig have faced horrendous conditions in their classrooms for years—it was disgraceful, deplorable, and terrible for learning,” said Sen. Franken. “That’s why this groundbreaking is so important: it means that so many bright young students in Indian Country will be able to feel safe and comfortable to learn and reach their full potential. I strongly believe that kids in Indian Country should receive a world-class education, and that starts with the buildings they learn in. That’s why I’ve been fighting for so long to fix this school. This took a lot of work—from lawmakers, from the tribe and community, and from the Obama Administration—and I’m thrilled that we were able to get this done.”
“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that every child in a Bureau of Indian Education school receives a high-quality education in a safe, healthy facility. Because of the passionate advocacy of Leech Lake’s students and adults, and our bipartisan work in Congress, we are finally able to break ground today on a school that meets our country’s obligation to the children of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe,” said Rep. McCollum. “While I am very proud of this new school and the difference it will make to children in Leech Lake, much more remains to be done at Bureau of Indian Education schools across the country. I will continue to work with my colleagues and tribal leaders throughout the United States to ensure that every child in a BIE school is healthy, safe, and receiving a high-quality education.”
“I am pleased that we were able to come together and secure this new facility for our Leech Lake students as we honor our obligations and send the message to students in Indian Country that their education and their success in life are important to all of us. Forcing them to go to school in facilities in utter disrepair simply did not send that message,” Rep. Nolan said. “The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School was housed in an old pole building – cold and drafty in winter, hot in summer, and unfit for children and teachers in any season. No child should be forced to endure deteriorating school rooms to get an education.”
With the persistence of Sen. Franken, U.S. Interior Secreatry Sally Jewell visited Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig in 2014 to see the conditions for herself. Franken continued to hound top federal officials for years to increase funding to rebuild the school, often at Senate Indian Affairs hearings. He also hosted a Senate “field” hearing in the region in 2010 on the importance of funding tribal education.
Rep. McCollum — the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus — has worked with the Leach Lake Band of Ojibwe to replace the dilapidated school and ensure the band’s children are able to receive a high-quality education in a safe, healthy facility.
Since returning to Congress in 2013, Nolan has consistently worked to help secure funding for the replacement of the Bug O Nay Ge Shig School. He testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in support of funding for the Bug O Nay Ge Shig School introduced by Tribal Chairwoman Carri Jones at the hearing. Nolan introduced and passed an amendment to the Student Success Act to put Congress on record that Indian children will not have to attend school in buildings that are dilapidated and dangerous.