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Council obligates 5M for School/Youth Center funding

By Joe Sowmick, Contributing Writer

At a Wednesday, Nov. 2 Special Council session, a motion made by Sheila Leaureaux and supported by Charmaine Benz, received unanimous approval (8-0 vote) to obligate five million dollars from the Tribal Housing and Land investment account for the School/Youth Center project.
Council member Charmaine Benz views the action as a move toward supporting future generations. 
“It’s been a long time coming … I know this commitment from the Tribal Council will definitely be an asset to the youth and the community,” Benz explains.  “We in the community know how long we have talked about this vision and now it is finally coming to fruition.

Council Member Sheila Leaureaux felt so strongly about supporting the creation of a dedicated facility she wanted to be the person to forward the initial motion to approve.
“There’s no reason why our kids shouldn’t have a top-notch school with everything centrally located, including the recreation center that could host gym class, school sports, and other community activities,” Leaureaux said. “When you combine that with the membership’s renewed interest in our school, it only fueled the desire to finally get the long-stalled project moving forward. The kids are the most important asset the tribe has, and by allocating money to the school/recreation center, we are investing in our future.”

Tribal Council At-Large Representative Michele Stanley remains active in the Saginaw Chippewa Anishinabek Athletes (SCAA) administered by their department and welcomes the project.
“This will be a great addition for the tribal youth and our families,” Stanley asserts.  “My hope is that having this facility to hold events and activities will increase in the participation from our At-Large members to enjoy the opportunities that will be offered.” 

Tribal Administrator Dustin Davis confirms that previous council already allocated funds for the Recreation Center project at approximately $3.5 million.  The $8.5 million obligated for this joint effort will be supplemented with fund development grants dollars in hopes to build an environmental “green” facility.

Tribal Grants/Contract Manager Amanda George-Dye is aware of many projects that have been awarded funding through “green energy” initiatives. “Efforts from Parks & Recreation, Tribal Education and other departments on behalf of the Tribal Council is to be commendable and the Grants Department will be looking at outside funding sources,” George-Dye informs.  “Our Grants Department is knowledgeable of what is available for funding and especially in terms of green energy alternatives that will further reflect the Tribes' vision of a healthier environment for our Tribal community.”
SCIT Parks & Recreation Director Ronnie Ekdahl asserts one of his department’s goals is creating a healthier community through recreation and having a dedicated facility for programs is necessary and vital to achieve the vision.

Our Tribal community realizes what is important and we have grown to a point where recreational programs need a permanent place where our youth and families can count on being open,” Ekdahl said.  “The Tribal Gym has served as a multi-purpose room for many Tribal events and in many incidences, the popularity of Tribal departmental events and the needs of the Tribal community has outgrown the current facility.

SCIT Parks & Recreation Youth Facilities Coordinator Kevin Ricketts has seen the increased involvement of Tribal youth in organized sports and is waiting patiently for providing more opportunity for community competition. “We know we can have competitive basketball tournaments and working with Tribal education, I know we can support their student athletes as they look to compete with other schools,” Coach Ricketts exclaimed.  “To see Saginaw Chippewa Academy venture into city league soccer and the ongoing development of student athletes at the middle school and high school sports, this Council support of the School/Youth Center project will take the youth to the next level.

Interim Tribal Education Director Melissa Montoya believes the ongoing challenge to education at all levels will be served best when creative approaches to fund development can be embraced.
“The goal of the education department is to create a support system for our tribal youth that helps them achieve any endeavor they pursue while instilling pride in their rich Anishinabe culture,” Montoya informs.  “A quality education plays a crucial part in building this foundation. Over the years, the Tribal community consistently voiced the need of developing a school that not only focused on academics but also placed emphasis on culture and language, sports, and other extra-curricular opportunities.”

Montoya also expressed her willingness to work with other departments for the mutual benefit of the youth and the whole community. “Collaborating with the Parks and Recreation Department will broaden the spectrum and quality of services we can offer our Tribal community. It is exciting to see the Tribal community’s vision of what we want for our youth being brought to reality. In researching other Tribal schools and realizing the importance of “green energy” initiatives, the quality of what we can provide for our youth is immeasurable. The success of our youth is reflected directly in what we invest in them.”

Montoya also appreciated and commended Council decision after she personally presented the project and the support given by Ekdahl at the Finance Committee meeting. I am humbled and grateful to have a small part in carrying out the vision of our Tribal community for our future generations. In my opinion, this is the greatest investment the tribe has made, a genuine investment in our Tribal children.

Interim Saginaw Chippewa Academy (SCA) Principal Tracee Wilson echoed Tribal Education sentiments on the project funding. “It is a very exciting time for the SCA youth. In an economic climate that has recently seen many cutbacks, especially within educational programs, it speaks volumes that the SCIT would allocate this type of funding for the benefit of their youth,” stated Wilson. “I am very proud to be a part of this process and look forward to experiencing all the benefits the youth of the SCIT will gain from this project. I would also like to thank the SCIT on behalf of the SCA for such a generous offer.”

Principal Wilson also mentioned the ongoing Tribal investment in the youth and their future will only continue to promote great outcomes. Involved Tribal departments and their designated representatives are already in the process of conducting a schedule of site visits in the upcoming months in order to bring forward conceptual designs for the project.