Anishinabe Academy prepares for move to Sullivan

Anishinabe Academy students, parents, educators and others feasted at a May 18 open house at Anne Sullivan Communication Center. The two schools will share the Sullivan campus starting next fall.

Photo by Scott Russell

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Deanna Standing Cloud-Green has a fourth-grader at Anishinabe Academy, and she’s glad the magnet school is moving next fall to share space in Anne Sullivan Communications Center, a K–8 Minneapolis public school less than a mile from Anishinabe, across Hiawatha Avenue, at 3100 E. 28th St.

She never liked Anishinabe’s current space at 2225 E. Lake Street, the old Brown Institute building. It was not a “real school” like Sullivan. “They have a gym [at Sullivan],” she said.

Standing Cloud-Green, who works for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), was one of many members of the Anishinabe Academy community who attended a May 18 open house at Sullivan. The evening included drumming, a feast (Indian tacos) and a school building tour.

Community members seemed generally happy with the move. Yet some wished school district leaders had included them in the decision-making rather than just announcing the move. The district’s top-down approach hit a raw nerve.

Mike Forcia, a New Brighton resident whose our children previously attended Minneapolis Public Schools Four Winds American Indian Magnet School, believes in culturally-based education for American Indian children and said the Sullivan move might be a good idea. “It was the way they went about making the decision,” he said. “They always know what is best for us. … We should have had this meeting before the decision was made.”

During the Sullivan open house, teacher Marie Wilson stood in the Sullivan hallway passing out parent surveys. Academy staff wanted to make sure parents’ voices were heard, in case parents simply hadn’t voiced their concerns yet.

Tracy Ketterling, a third-grade teacher at Anishinabe, questioned the move. “We wanted our own building,” she said. “We are worried about losing our identity, when we are in a school that is so large with so many non-native students.”

Preserving cultural heritage

The American Indian community still feels the effects of 20th-Century Indian boarding schools, wherein Native American youth were put in schools to learn English and European-American ways — and were disconnected from their language and culture.
The Anishinabe Academy is an effort to reclaim and maintain traditions. The curriculum includes American Indian culture and Anishinabe and Lakota languages.

Mainstream education might see Indian boarding schools as an historical footnote, but for many American Indians, it’s living history. The open house provided a vivid reminder, when Herb Sam, an elder in the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe, gave a talk and blessing.

Sam spoke of his own experience being sent for three years to a Pipestone school. (He spoke in his native Ojibwe, and then translated a summary into English.)

“Before I left, my grandmother loved me so much. She took good care of me,” Sam recalled. “When I got home, she kind of shunned me away. … I waited for that loving that I didn’t have for three years. I started to realize she was afraid of me. She was afraid of me because I spoke this language that I am speaking now. She was afraid of that language, and that hurt.”

Sam said he lost his Ojibwe language skills and is not fluent now. “We are losing our fluent speakers very quickly,” he said. “They are old.”

Still, Sam gave those attending an upbeat message of letting go of anger and embracing love. The Great Spirit gave everyone medicine within, he said. People need to learn to use that medicine. His suggestion: Simply smile and wave at people on the street, even if you are feeling down.

“I guarantee, you will get that medicine back at you,” he said. “You will feel good.”

Preserving school dollars

Danielle Grant, director of Indian Education for MPS, said moving Anishinabe Academy to Sullivan would make better use of the Sullivan building, which was designed to fit 1,200 students. Sullivan has around 600 students; Anishinabe has 330 students.

“We definitely want to have the buildings more full,” she said.

The two elementary schools will stay separate. The middle schools will stay separate for the next school year but will merge starting in fall 2010. Grant hopes to develop a middle-school track for Native students with culturally relevant instruction.

The Academy’s current site was never supposed to be permanent. It had a small cafeteria and little space for community gatherings. It was located at a busy corner (Lake Street and the light-rail station). Students got to use the YWCA gym across the street, but that had its disadvantages. In the winter, it meant bundling up the kindergarteners for the two-block walk.

Among the benefits at Sullivan, the Anishinabe Academy students can take advantage of the “Beacons” afterschool program, as well as middle school sports teams, Grant said.

There are already 100 American Indian students at Sullivan, she said. It is one of the schools designated in the district’s Memorandum of Understanding on providing culturally specific education for American Indians.

There will be some economies of scale. The district provides Anishinabe Academy with a half-time culture and drum teacher, Grant said. “Sullivan students can take advantage of that as well.”

Learn more about the schools on their websites:

Anishinabe Academy

Anne Sullivan Communication Center

last revised: June 3, 2009