Federal officials got a firsthand look at one deteriorating Native American school in Minnesota Tuesday–they said it’s one of many suffering similarly throughout the country.
After touring Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Bena, Minnesota, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said it’s just one example of how the country is letting down it’s Native American students.
Employees said at this school about 30 miles west of Grand Rapids, they don’t have many of the daily classroom materials they need. Jewell said the science rooms particularly suffer. Used previously as a bus garage, part of the school is made with metal, and as employees said, that doesn’t lend well to the extreme cold weather the area often faces.
“It needs a lot of work and there are a lot of issues mainly when the whether gets very cold,” Benjamin Bowstring, an employee with the school, said. He said bats often find their home in the school as well.
The school is Bureau of Indian Education funded and also receives some dollars from the Leech Lake Ojibwe tribe, but Jewell said that hasn’t been enough.
There are 183 Native American schools funded through the BIE across the country and more than 60 of those are operating under poor condition. Jewell estimated today it could cost more than $25 million to completely restore the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School and Wasburn guessed it could cost nearly $1 billion more to fix all the others.
“It is important that we make progress, and you’ve got to start in the areas that have the biggest safety issues, where you’ve got supportive people from the tribal standpoint, from a school administration standpoint and this is a great example,” Jewell said.
She said the next step is asking Congress and administration for their support.
“It’s awareness, it’s priority and frankly as a country, you can’t save your way to prosperity,” Jewell said. “You can’t save your way to having well-educated Indian children.”
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