Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Reach Out to Community

May 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 12-4: Colleges for the Community, Tribal College News
By Lynn Aho, RNAHE coordinator, and Debra Parrish, KBOCC president

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (KBOCC) launched a new outreach program in the fall of 2000, Recruiting Native Americans for Higher Education (RNAHE). The program, supported by a grant from the Michigan Family Independence Agency and Department of Civil Rights, encourages low-income Native Americans to enroll in post-secondary education that will improve their career opportunities.

Through a combination of community awareness, vocational guidance services, and vocational test assessments, the program aims to customize a program specifically to a student’s needs and talents. At the same time, the college recognizes the importance of cultural events as necessary to enriching their post-secondary school experience. The program encourages participation in pow-wows, national Indian conferences, plays, concerts, and other events.

Recruiting Native Americans for Higher Education results from a new, dynamic convergence of KBOCC’s goals with those of the state. Today’s task is to encourage every person who is able to work to seek employment. The ultimate goal is for each family to become entirely self-supporting.

Both Native American and non-native high school graduates in extremely rural Baraga County pursue higher education at a relatively low rate. Baraga High School guidance counselor Phil Keyes reports that the percentage of graduates starting college or vocational programs typically fluctuates between 45 percent and 60 percent.

In recent years, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community’s tribal leaders have worked to breach these barriers for their students. The tribe has offered scholarships for college and incentives while still in elementary and secondary school. In cooperation with the local school districts, the tribe has sponsored presentations in the schools by Native American speakers, provided tutors to help children succeed at school, and encouraged Ojibwa language and culture instruction in the elementary schools. But none of these measures has much effect on people who have already left school.

Debra Parrish, KBOCC president, designed Recruiting Native Americans for Higher Education and successfully applied for Community Service Block Grant funding for the program. She recognized that the convergence of community needs and the goals of both Michigan’s Family Independence Agency and Ojibwa Community College offered a rare service opportunity.

With the financial support of the state of Michigan, KBOCC can reach out to the members of the tribal community who need education the most, yet often have the hardest time gaining access to it. Helping individuals breach the barriers that keep them from higher education enables them to improve their own lives, to enrich the colleges they choose with the wealth of their experience and heritage, and to more effectively use their talents to contribute to the well-being of the community. As role models for today’s children, they will impact generations to come.

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