Last summer I was honored to speak to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe at the opening of their beautiful, brand new Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in northern Minnesota. For years as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I had fought alongside the Band to get the funding to replace the old, disgracefully dilapidated and unsafe physical plant.
The old school’s floors weren’t level, the sewage backed up, and the tin walls and roof leaked so badly that students had to wrap themselves in blankets over their winter coats. The school was so structurally unsound that if the wind blew at 40mph, the kids had to run out of the school to a building hundreds of yards away. Again, this is northern Minnesota, where the windchill can get down below negative 50 degrees.
As one of the many students who came to D.C. to lobby at the Capitol told me, “It was as if the federal government was telling us we weren’t worth anything.”
When I first toured the old school years ago, I was particularly struck with the school’s library – if you could call it that. It was in a room the size of a closet and contained two small bookcases.
I also noticed that despite the terrible physical condition of the school, the administration and faculty were dedicated to making Indian heritage and culture a meaningful part of its curriculum. They taught student’s their native language, culture, and history.
The new school is an impressive structure, with geothermal heating, big waterproofed windows, spacious classrooms, and dedicated spaces for learning traditional beadwork, music and dance.
It also has a library with space for over 20,000 books!
So, I’ve taken on this project that I’d like you to participate in. I would love for the students and faculty and community to have access to a comprehensive collection of books about the history and culture of Native Americans, so that they can study the rich, proud history of their people.
I started that process a short time ago by asking tribes around the country to send a book about their history or culture to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School. So far, we’ve received well over one hundred books, the start of a collection that will be a wonderful resource for students and faculty.
Of course, the purpose of any school library is to develop in its students a love of reading – for learning, inspiration, and just plain fun. And so, with the help of some native authors, educators, and librarians, (including, of course, the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig librarian Laurie Villwock), we’ve assembled a list of books that includes classics that every child should have the chance to read and literature and non-fiction about the American Indian experience.
We’ve put the list together on the website in a way that will make it easy for you to contribute to this effort. Click here to find a book that you love and want a student to discover. And if your favorite book has already been chosen, click on another. Or if you have a favorite book you don’t see, you can email Laurie to find out if the library already has it.
We’re hoping that a lot of people will be visiting the website, so it’s very possible that all the books on Laurie’s list will have already been donated. If that’s the case, Laurie will continue to add books, so keep checking in. Or, if you’d like to give a contribution toward their book fund, you can click here.
And check out the rest of the content on the website, including my conversation with Karen Diver, former Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota and President Obama’s advisor on Indian Affairs. You’ll also find stuff I’ve been writing over the last several months and posting on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium. Now, you’ll be able to get them here at AlFranken.com!
And thank you!