BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College was recently granted full accreditation, as described in last Saturday's Daily Mining Gazette, and Friday afternoon the achievement was celebrated.
A ceremony was held at the Big Bucks Bingo hall in Baraga, with several key stakeholders reflecting on the college's history and looking forward to its future. Several other dignitaries joined in the celebration.
"It's been a long haul, and we finally made it," said longtime Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council member Fred Dakota. "Now all we have to do is to make sure that the students learn about this tribe, other tribes, to learn what sovereignty means, to also learn that history did not start when people hit the shore here."
Daily Mining Gazette/Stephen Anderson
KBOCC President Debbie Parrish presents State Representative Scott Dianda with a dreamcatcher during a ceremony Friday at the Big Bucks Bingo hall celebrating the KBOCC’s recent accreditation.
Several cultural elements were woven into the ceremony, including an opening invocation by Joe "Zhawanung" Dowd, Ojibwa spiritual leader, an honor song performed by Four Thunders Drum and several Native American gifts, like dream catchers, given to individuals. The KBOCC's motto is, "Catch your dream through a superior education."
Cultural elements are also woven into every class at the college, which is open to non-tribal members as well, and now that accreditation is achieved, the KBOCC can step forward in making new history.
"I'm so very proud to be here today with all of you to be able to celebrate this accomplishment in your history," State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said during the ceremony. "I'm very proud to say I represent seven counties and two sovereign nations. I'm so very glad to see the project you've put together for the community college."
Work is well underway at the new Wabanung Campus at the former Baraga County Memorial Hospital building in L'Anse, and Jim Yoder from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, who has played a key role in securing grant funding in the past, hopes to help with the new facility as well.
"Hopefully at some point in time, we'll do some more work with the new building in L'Anse," he said. "That is an opportunity I'm glad you didn't let get away. That building is solid and still has a lot of use. We'll be back to see what else we can do for you."
Currently, the project is being funded with $500,000 a year for five years from the U.S. Department of Education's Title III funding, and Phase I is in the works now, as described in last Saturday's article, which can be found at mininggazette.com.
"We want to be done (with the entire project) by next fall, that's our goal," said KBOCC President Debbie Parrish, who described many future plans for the college.
Among them are a cultural learning center, expanded vocational education facilities, a behavioral health and counseling program and an agriculture program. The college has several partnerships in place as well that could be expanded, including with both Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University.
Parrish also described the history of the college, from being chartered in 1975, to the first college-only building in downtown Baraga in 1998, to the first graduation class in 2003. Accreditation candidacy status came in 2009 and finally word of granted full accreditation on July 12.
"I believed in the mission and I said yes, I'll come on board," said Baraga County Prosecutor Joseph O'Leary, who provides KBOCC legal counsel. "What I didn't realize is I wasn't coming on board to be legal counsel, I was strapping myself to a rocket. We've got a dynamic board of regents, a dynamic president, the staff is without parallel, and all these folks working together.
"There's been obstacles, there's been bumps in the road, and yet they keep going forward. This mission is there, they've advanced it, and here they are, a huge step: accreditation."
But now that one huge step is complete, more work begins to continue to establish the reputation of the college.
"We're just beginning some of the work now," said Kathy Mayo, a board member who helped with the accreditation process. "Even though we're accredited, the staff, the faculty, Debbie will continue to meet high standards and provide quality education for the people in the tribal community and Baraga County."