Turtle Mountain Opens Dream CampusSep 15th, 1999 | By dyellowbird | Category: 11-1: 10th Anniversary Issue, Tribal College News
When the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe first conceived of a tribal college, it was a simple vision: teach the language, history, and culture to the Turtle Mountain Tribe. That vision is now a reality. It has a building, a site, and the students. It is also proving to be more than that simple dream. Atop one of the highest hills on the reservation in North Dakota perches the brand new college, the modernistic home of the futurists from Turtle Mountain. The college snuggles in an emerald carpet of green and a forest of trees. Spreading wide in its front yard is Lake Belcourt, cool and blue.
As people begin entering the new college, they are attracted to pillars that circle the front. On each pillar is a plaque telling the history of the tribe. Just inside the building, columns reach some 30 feet toward the open sky. Light from the windows falls on a large, sacred circle of the four directions and colors. The classroom space, cafeteria, bookstore, and administrative offices would match and exceed those of many colleges or universities. The boards, college staff, and students have more plans, including an auditorium and a path through the woods with stops for tribal history lessons.
“We have come a long way,” Gerald “Carty” Monette, president of the college, said. During the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, the Turtle Mountain people slipped culturally. Boarding schools and exposure to non-Native culture made it difficult to maintain the language and culture. The tribal college staff can see the changes on the reservation today. Many of those changes have resulted from the tribal college leadership role in promoting and developing the culture and language in the community and the public school system.
On May 22, they opened the doors of the new college. Francis Cree, spiritual leader of the Ojibwa, smoked the traditional pipe to open the next period of the college’s history. The celebration honored college founders, community people, tribal council members, college staff and faculty, the tribal chairman, and state and federal dignitaries who were present. The two councils who conceived of the tribal college were recognized. The Board of Trustees and Board of Directors for the college presented the staff and employees a plaque of special recognition. The administrative council for the tribe chose Monette to be the commencement speaker. They wanted to honor this president who has held the reins of the college for 25 years.