Native American tribal colleges and boarding schools
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For Tina Webster, the College of Menominee Nation's new Green Bay campus is
more than a learning institution.
"I feel this school is more about caring and understanding a person's
well-being," Webster said of being a student at the tribal college. "It's more down
to earth here. It's more about respect as a human being and not just about
Webster, 28, was one of many students, staff, educators and government
representatives gathered at the campus Oct. 27 to celebrate the grand opening. The
drum groups Straight Across and Wind Eagle sang honor songs, and cultural
preservation officer Dave Grignon gave an invocation in the Menominee language.
Guest speakers extolled the virtues of higher education and recalled
struggles and triumphs of the Menominee people past and present.
With the school seal as a backdrop, college President Verna Fowler noted how
far the tribe has come in the face of poverty and the ruinous policy of
"It was really no small feat that one of the poorest Indian tribes in the
state of Wisconsin and, according to the 2000 Census, [in] the 13th poorest
county in the United States has established in less than 13 years an institution
of higher education that is already known internationally and is recognized
for its quality of education," Fowler said.
That quality has been evident by the rapid growth of the student body and a
need for a new site in the Green Bay area.
In the 2005 spring semester, 120 students were enrolled at the Green Bay
site, mostly members of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin. This fall, 168 enrolled.
"We were really cramped," said Katherine Hall, interim site coordinator. "We
had five people crawling over one another in one little office, and the
classrooms were jammed."
"In listening sessions and student suggestion boxes, the students made
heartfelt pleas for a larger site," Hall said.
Their pleas were not ignored. Plans had been in the works for a new
facility, but the students' immediate needs accelerated the process.
With more classrooms, a vastly expanded computer lab and a commons area,
College of Menominee Nation students expressed their pride in the new campus.
Student government president Gina Gregor was impressed by the large-scale
upgrade. "I was at the old site," she said. "There were two classrooms and no
windows. It was way too small to suit the needs of a growing student body."
"We can compete with bigger colleges now because we have the space. We have
the facilities we couldn't offer at the old site. It's nice to see, from the
time I started to now, how CMN has grown."
Many students who took time from classes to attend the celebration said not
only the extra room and expanded services of the college but also the
location and community spirit make for a high-quality education experience.
For Shannon Hill, a Green Bay resident and Oneida tribal member, relating to
the other students and faculty on a personal level is just as important as
the convenient location.
"For me, it wouldn't matter where classes were held, as long as it involved
the same people I've met here at CMN," he said. "It's a neat place, and I'm
learning a lot here. It's not only educational. It's spiritual."
That feeling of community and spirituality pervaded the celebration and was
the general consensus of students and staff.
Janet Malcolm, administrative assistant at the Green Bay campus, expounded
on the philosophy of the tribal college:
"The school is Native based. Your culture is here; your people are here. If
we sent our young people [who] haven't had much experience with the world, if
we send them into bigger cities with bigger schools, they could get lost so
easily. They could get lost emotionally and spiritually. But here it's the
same community with the same values, and I think that helps keep everything
Retaining that sense of community, coordinator Hall said is important for
the college, especially in the face of expansion and a growing enrollment.
"We have a high number of first-generation students," she said. "That means
they have not come in watching their parents, older brothers and sisters get
their degrees. They might be the first one in their families. Therefore, they
may not come in with a lot of experience or confidence."
"So having that smaller, one-on-one interaction with faculty then gives them
a better chance to use this opportunity for a good academic education."
The expansion of the Green Bay site is evidence that many students are
taking advantage of educational opportunities afforded them by the tribal college.
Much of the advertising is by word of mouth.
"If you have a good experience here, it's common sense that you're going to
share your experience with friends and family," Malcolm said.
Webster echoed that. "I have a cousin who comes here now," she said. "She
came all the way from Phoenix to come to school here. She had a scholarship to
go there, but she decided to come to CMN."
Asked why her cousin did so, Webster smiled and replied as if the answer was
obvious. "I told her we were all here, and it's a good place and she should
come and join us."
Patrick L. Delabrue, Menominee, attends College of Menominee Nation in
Keshena, Wis. He is a 2005 graduate of the Freedom Forum's American Indian
Journalism Institute. Photographer Dale Kakkak is Communication and Project
Specialist at the Sustainable Development Institute at College of Menominee Nation.
This story was originally published by , the online
newspaper written by Native American college students around the country.
Reprinted with permission.