Tag Archives: University of Minnesota-Duluth

Listening to Ruth Myers as we address 2015 challenges

Note:  This is a revision of an earlier post, reposted because of the current discussions of the education, health and nutritional needs and the rights of American Indian Minnesotans:

“Weaving the stories of women’s lives” is the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month.   The story of the life of Ruth Myers is – and must be – woven into today’s fabric of the education and health of American Indian youth and families. Though Myers is no longer with us, her spirit and her political force continue to shape the educational and political ideology of the leaders she helped to form.

For decades, Ruth  Myers, known as the “grandmother of American Indian Education in Minnesota”was the driving force and voice for American Indian children and their families.  Though she died in 2001, Ruth left a legacy that might well serve as the model for Governor Dayton and the educators who are struggling with the same issues today.  Her spirit, ideas, courage, and unstinting commitment to American Indian learners set a standard to be emulated.  Her spirit can infuse and thus help shape today’s efforts.

Ruth was not a professional educator but a concerned parent, citizen and a proud member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Ruth was sent at an early age to an Indian boarding school, a sad fact that shaped her life and fueled her fervor.  Though she spoke little of those sad experiences, it was easy to feel her pain and the ways in which she harnessed that pain to inspire positive change.

Her accomplishments are legendary.  An elected member of the Duluth School Board, Ruth was appointed by the Governor as the first American Indian member of the Minnesota State Board of Education. Though at times she chaired that Board, she always ruled it by her presence and her persistence.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth where she worked for many years, she remains a legend.  She is credited with starting sixteen of seventeen UMD programs for American Indian students.  Colleagues there recall that, in 1973, she saw a notice in the newspaper that the UMD Medical School was developing a program for American Indians and, in the process, was organizing a committee of community members.  She knocked on the office door of the Dean of the Medical School and asked, “What Indians do you have on that committee?”  The rest is history….

Ruth’s position at UMD before retirement was Co-Director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the School of Medicine.  There she tended not only to recruitment and academic coaching but to life’s details; she regularly stopped at a legendary purveyor of low-cost fresh produce every time she had a meeting in St. Paul – which was often.  Often I think of how proud Ruth would be of the students to whom she offered a gentle helping hand at the most unexpected moment.

Not one to bow to academic measures, Ruth was truly pleased when UMD named the Ruth Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian Education; though she cared little about the honor she knew it would convey status and support on her beloved program.  She was also touched deeply when the Fond du Lac Community College Library was named for her; that library continues to reflect her influence in many ways.  Ruth understood well the power of the record; she often expressed a conviction that American Indian students should be encouraged to pursue professions in museums, libraries and archives so they could correct, complete and basically set the historic record straight.

Though the list of honors for Ruth is nearly infinite, possibly the most inclusive is the Minnesota Indian Education Association Elder of the Year – it says it all.

My introduction to Ruth was as a member of the State Board of Education.  On the first day, she reminded me that I was as much a member as any of the older and, I presumed, wiser members.  She also declared that, from that day forward, I was to watch out for women’s issues so she could concentrate on American Indian and other minority students.  Ruth was the mistress of gentle delegation.

Though her accomplishments as a member and Chair of the State Board of Education are inestimable, a few stand out in my clear memory of those days:

  • Ruth advocated unceasingly for review of the image of American Indians in textbooks, library materials, the core curriculum.
  • She fought for preservation of American Indian languages in the schools.
  • She insisted that every Minnesota student must know something about Indian culture.
  • She regaled education professionals about their indifference to the nutritional needs and dietary threats (e.g. milk products) for American Indian youth.
  • Ever open to change, Ruth examined every proposed rule from the perspective of how it would affect Indian kids and their families.
  • And she would frequently point to the American Indian origins of the U of M Morris campus – and the rights of American Indian students who should be encouraged to exercise their inalienable right to attend UM-Morris.

Often a body of writing conveys the thoughts of an academic who wants to have a voice in the future.  For Ruth, the voice was so strong, the commitment so staunch, the vision so clear and the passion so fervent that it is her voice that speaks to those who will but hear.  My hope is that this includes those who are shaping the future of American Indian education in Minnesota.  As with other great leaders, the vision outlives the individual and must inspire those who would seek to accomplish similar goals – if they will just listen.

 

 

 

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Celebrating the Northeastern Minnesota Community of the Book

For nearly three decades the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards (NEMBA) has recognized the area’s writers, bringing to the attention of the state’s and nation’s readers the wealth of literature created by established and emerging writers from the region. For purposes of the NEMBA the definition of a Northeastern Minnesota book is one that is “substantially representative of northeastern Minnesota in the areas of history, culture, heritage lifestyle.   Northeastern Minnesota is defined to include Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis Counties.

Sponsors of NEMBA, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kathryn A. Martin Library and the Friends of the Duluth Public Library, are now accepting nominations for the 2014 award.

Books, including e-books, may be nominated in one of six categories: General Nonfiction; Fiction; Art, Photography; Children’s literature; Poetry; Memoir and Creative Nonfiction.

Nominated books must have been originally released in 2014. A non-refundable $25 entry fee is required for each nominated title.

For details on how to nominate a book, visit the NEMBA website at www.d.umn.edu/lib/nemba. Questions? Call 218 726 6843 or email libnemba@dumn.edu.

Nominations must be postmarked or delivered to the Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth, by January 16, 2015.

An awards reception honoring all nominated authors will be held on Thursday, May 21, 2015, in the Kirby Ballroom on the UMD Campus. The reception is free and open to the public.

MPIRG at 40

MPIRG – Minnesota Public Interest Research Group MPIRG Board Chair Kathy Dekrey testifies against lifting the nuclear power moratorium in the house environment committee.

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When Kathy Dekray, current Board Chair of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), and a senior at Augsburg College recently testified before the Legislature she argued against the removal of the nuclear moratorium in Minnesota.   She was the most recent in an endless list of MPIRG representatives who have expressed the position of MPIRG student members on scores of issues facing the state.

More than 150 members, former members and supporters of MPIRG gathered on Friday, January 21, to celebrate four decades of advocacy and involvement through this “grassroots, non-artisan, nonprofit, student-directed organization”.  The occasion gives Executive Director Josh Winters pause to reflect on the origins and future of MPIRG.

What Winters sees is change.  The Minnesota public interest research group, along with Oregon, were the first two campus-based public interest research groups.  Though the beginnings are often associated with Ralph Nader, Winters is quick to credit others, including Don Ross, who took a good idea and made it happen.  “A good idea is a good idea, but it takes people to do it,” Winters observes.

An intriguing question Winters raises is just how did a small cadre of students, volunteers and others create a statewide – actually national – network in a pre-social media environment.  The answer, he affirms, must be based in a deep commitment to grassroots organizing coupled with a shared vision to give voice to everyone.  That commitment is expressed in the mission of MPIRG to “empower and train students and engage the community to take collective action in the public interest throughout the state of Minnesota.”

Today some 70,000 Minnesota college students are members of MPIRG;  the ranks are augmented by hundreds of community volunteers, including many MPIRG alumni.

MPIRG operates on nine campuses throughout the state:  Augsburg College, Carleton College, St. Catherine University, Hamline University, Macalester College, U of M-Duluth, U of M-Morris, U of M-Twin Cities, and William Mitchell College of Law. The individual campus-based websites reflect a wide range of individual campus activities.

Campuses offer a mix of membership options, most in the refusable/refundable range, thus avoiding past conflict re. mandatory membership that at times have pitted campus conservative groups against MPIRG which they perceived as too far left of center – or organization that reject mandatory memberships out of hand.

The current statewide identified issues on which MPIRG members and volunteers are working include green transportation, health care for all, and affordable higher education. The roster of scores of issues tackled over the years range from solar tax credit to car lemon laws to a 2006 production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

An ongoing priority for MPIRG members is voter registration and involvement.  Clearly, students are focused on, but not limited to, youth engagement in the political process.

In Fall 2010 MPIRG was one of several organizations involved with what Star Tribune journalist Eric Roper referred to as “a minor battle of generations” brewing in Minnesota politics.  College students gathered at the State Capitol to express their concerns. Speaking as an MPIRG representative Carleton College student Ben Hellerstein raised the question “With only half as many people turning out to the polls, is everyone’s voice really being heard?”

Roper reflects on a number of factors students perceive to leave college students left out of the political arena.  The moved-up primary, for example, meant students were at work or out of the country.  Another issue cited by students is the fact that candidates’ tendency to court over-60 voters may ignore attention to students.

Winters overflows with ideas as he looks to the future – how to harness today’s social media without losing the essential “hands on” essence of the organization.   He speaks enthusiastically about community/campus based initiatives, e.g.  a research-based approach to mandatory business recycling in Minneapolis.

Another priority for tomorrow’s MPIRG is research, particularly in-depth and long-term research. At present, for example, MPIRG is initiating an extensive survey of photo ID on voting.  Another ongoing longitudinal survey focuses on a statewide survey of sexual violence and assault on campus; the report of that study is due out next fall

The recent 40th anniversary recognition offered an opportunity for today’s students and advocates to reflect on the legacy of MPIRG.  Students could learn about the roots of the organization, its accomplishments, changes and intent.  For alumni the event was an occasion to see how their legacy is being carried forward by ambitious and committed students equipped with new tools and putting them to the task of sharing a the vision of “common sense good policies.”