Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Department of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson, Jr. visited Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet on Monday, March 4.
The duo, members of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's executive cabinet team, came to Cloquet to visit not just a community college, but a tribal community college.
"The reason you feel at home here is because you see your culture here; you see Ojibwe culture here," Olson said, receiving cheers and applause from the audience. "You see native culture; you see native staff and faculty. You just feel at home."
Olson, a member of Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, was born and raised in Cloquet. He is the first Native American to serve in his current position.
According to Olson, an important part of creating a new budget includes a look at Native issues that impact education and why they are important.
"We went line by line through the budget for both K12 and higher education," Flanagan said. She cautioned listeners that the budget still has to pass through the Legislature before it is finalized.
She is excited about the portion of the budget affecting tribal contract schools. The state aid program promotes equal education specifically for students enrolled in contract schools. She explained the wording would allow for funding to increase as more students attending schools increased, instead of a flat funding amount for the year.
Olson and Flanagan said there is more to attending college than simply the cost of tuition: affordable housing, transportation, health care and child care. About 17 percent of students at FDLTCC are non-traditional. In many classes, people age 25 and older are mixed in with traditional-age students.
The proposed budget would include money for traditional healers as well as options to deal with the opioid issues that significantly affect Native American people.
There is funding earmarked to help Department of Corrections with a re-entry program for those who have been incarcerated. The planned focus is on culturally appropriate aidmeeting spiritual needs and reuniting children with their parents. Native Americans have the highest out-of-home placement rates. A member of the audience said the current system makes getting children back to their parents very difficult.
"The system is broken," Flanagan acknowledged.