Native News

Minneapolis resolution passes, school focused on Native cultural education to get new home

people wearing orange tshirts and holding a sign
Staff from Anishinabe Academy and supporters wore orange t-shirts to Tuesday's school board meeting to show support for dedicated space and transportation for the preK-5 elementary school.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

The Minneapolis school board unanimously supported a resolution Tuesday evening creating a committee to identify a dedicated space for Anishinabe Academy, a pre-K through fifth grade elementary serving approximately 250 American Indian students from across the city. 

For the past 14 years, the school has shared a building with Anne Sullivan Middle School, a pre-K through eighth grade school serving three times as many students.  

Many in favor of the resolution wore bright orange T-shirts to show their unified support for a dedicated space and improved transportation for the school. 

During the open comment section of the meeting, Anishinabe Academy student leader Alaia Butler spoke about the need for a dedicated space. 

“Another grandfather teaching I want to talk to you about is bravery. Bravery is represented by the bear. The bear is strong-hearted and will face its fears,” said Butler. “I have come to tell you my truth without fear. Anishinabe needs its own building.”  

A woman poses for a photo
Laura Sullivan leads Anishinabe Academy, a preK-5 elementary school in Minneapolis focused on education through American Indian cultural revitalization.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

Anishinabe Academy principal Laura Sullivan has led the school for the past decade. Sullivan told the board about the vision for the school. She recounted a story told to her by her father, also a longtime Minneapolis public school educator.  

Sullivan told the story of two elders and educators who had worked at MPS for many years. 

“They were sitting together in two chairs,” said Sullivan. “In front of them, they could see our kids in hurt and pain, and they were suffering. Between the kids and [our elders] there was a line of suits. People in suits. And behind them was a sacred hoop, a sacred hoop that started spinning. It spun and spun and spun enough until it gained enough momentum that it went through [our elders] and bowled down the line of suits. It was at that point; we could build a place our kids could thrive.” 

‘We really need our own buses, too’

Executive director of the Division of Indian Work and vice chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors Louise Matson wrote a letter to the school board tying the need for a dedicated space to issues of safety for students on buses shared by the two schools.  

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of our students sharing transportation with Anne Sullivan students,” wrote Matson.  

Special education assistant Jason Rodney was among the first of Anishinabe Academy staff to address the board during the public comment session. He called on the board to provide separate bussing for Anishinabe Academy students, pointing to violence taking place on buses.  

Rodney said bussing older middle school students and younger elementary school students has created a “volatile setup that neither school’s young people deserve.” 

“This is the first year we have video footage from buses, so we know a lot more about what’s happening. Severe threats, bullying, hits and sexual harassment.” 

Parent Diane Stand attended the MPS board meeting with her son Kaiden, a fourth grade student at Anishinabe Academy, to show their support for the resolution. 

Kaiden said there’s often not enough space on the bus for all the students. He said he stood at the back of the bus when there weren’t enough seats. He also said he’s witnessed many fights on the bus and has often felt unsafe. He hopes the bussing situation for himself, and fellow students, will improve.  

Anishinaabe Academy Special Education Assistant Jason Rodney shows off a T-shirt worn in support of dedicated space and transportation at Tuesday's Minneapolis Public School board meeting.
Melissa Olson | MPR News

Principal Sullivan confirmed the transportation issues facing Anishinabe Academy students are serious. Before the resolution passed Tuesday night, she said she was unsure if the district would support a new transportation plan. 

"Bussing, that’s where we’ve heard pushback.” said Sullivan. 

Sullivan said the school district has offered to place bus aids on buses, but she’s not in favor of that plan because there is too little connection between bus aids and students for the presence of aids to be effective. 

“We really need our own buses too.” said Sullivan. 

‘We’re doing something, actually, instead of just words’

The school board took up the resolution towards the end of the evening Tuesday. Director Adriana Cerrillo who helped to craft the resolution as a part of her role as the board’s liaison to the American Indian community, introduced the resolution, “Putting at the center ... the very reality that our Indigenous students have been harmed, had been misplaced.” 

Cerrillo went on to express her excitement for a dedicated space for the school. 

“This is going to be an incredible vision, not only in our district and in our state, but also in the nation,” said Cerrillo. 

Ira Jourdain, the only American Indian member of the school board, thanked community for their hard work. 

“To the strong Native women in the crowd. I see you guys,” Jourdain said. 

Director Collin Beachy also took an opportunity to speak in favor of the resolution. Beachy said he had been part of a group that had drafted the district’s land acknowledgement.  

“It just feels sometimes a little hallow when you’re reading this statement and not doing something about it. And so, just personally, this feels good that we’re doing something, actually, instead of just words.” 

The resolution passed and will task an advisory committee with identifying a dedicated space for the school.