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A village helped create Fond du Lac Tribal and Community college

For 36 years, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College has fulfilled its mission of providing higher education opportunities for its communities in a welcoming, culturally diverse environment. As an institution, we have much to be grateful for.

In reflecting on our history, my thoughts go back to what took place behind the scenes in 1987, and years prior, to officially establish our unique institution. We are the only college in the nation that is both a Tribal college and a state community college.

First, it is important to honor the legacy of the many individuals who were part of making this college what it is today. That starts with the vision of former Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribal council members, Tribal educators and community leaders who held multiple informal meetings to discuss the possibility of a Tribal college to serve members of the reservation.

Fond du Lac’s vision grew with support from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. and the governor’s office in St. Paul. Along the way, this initiative picked up support from Cloquet community leaders and numerous Minnesota legislators, including Rep. Mary Murphy, who committed to helping bring the dream to fruition. Representatives Murphy and Becky Lourey worked diligently with their colleagues, and each deserve recognition for their leadership during the initial stages of FDLTCC’s creation.

In particular, I think about Gov. Rudy Perpich’s visit to Fond du Lac with an entourage of state commissioners who met with our college students, then attending classes in the basement of the old Garfield School in Cloquet.

It is also important to recognize and honor the recent passing of Florian Chmielewski, who served as a state senator from 1970 through 1997, during the time FDL reservation and Cloquet leaders worked together to create a college to serve the higher education needs of Band members and community members from Carlton and St. Louis counties.

Some say if not for Sen. Chmielewski calling in a last-minute rule-of-order vote at the end of session, construction funds for the college’s main building might have been delayed. After the vote, funds were further held up by incoming Gov. Arne Carlson, who took office in early 1991. One of his first decisions was to freeze all construction projects until further review.

In response to this delay and to move the campus building project forward, the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee — with backing of the Minnesota Legislature, Cloquet City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of businesspeople — worked diligently to get the funding restored. Their work was successful and construction soon started on a library, classrooms, a learning center and various administrative/student services facilities. The college’s new campus opened its doors for the fall quarter in 1992.

The growth and advancement of this special institution would not have occurred without the college’s current and former faculty, staff, and administrators who work to support and educate a diverse population of students, promote the Anishinaabeg culture, language and history, and foster a “Union of Cultures” environment, for which the college is known.

Since the college’s inception, FDLTCC has graduated 5,152 students who earned over 7,400 degree, diploma, or certificate awards. Many graduates have gone on to earn undergraduate and advanced degrees, contribute to our local economy and enhance the workforce needs of the Fond du Lac Reservation, Carlton County, and St. Louis County.

There are myriad names we could add to our list of founders for our college and each person did their part to make the dream of building both a Tribal and a community college become a reality.

We are grateful to numerous individuals who helped make FDLTCC the remarkable institution it is today: an institution that embraces, and celebrates everyone. We recently honored the college’s first bachelor’s degree graduates, and I am excited for many more extraordinary years of FDLTCC serving its communities in a welcoming, culturally diverse environment.

Anita Hanson is the president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

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