Cass Lake woman to take part in tribal youth gathering in Washington, D.C.
CASS LAKE, Minn. -- It began with Generation X, then Y and now, Generation I. The nation's capitol will welcome 800 Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, members for the "Two Worlds, One Future: Defining Our Own Success" tribal youth gathering in Wash...
CASS LAKE, Minn. -- It began with Generation X, then Y and now, Generation I.
The nation's capitol will welcome 800 Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, members for the "Two Worlds, One Future: Defining Our Own Success" tribal youth gathering in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
Seneca Keezer of Cass Lake will be one of the attendees.
Keezer, 19, was selected out of a nationwide pool of Native American youth between the ages of 14-24 to participate in President Barack Obama's summit at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, where administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs will meet with youth.
"I'm very excited to go, but then I'm kind of nervous," Keezer said. "I've never been to Washington, D.C., or flown on a plane before."
Keezer said a visit to the White House was canceled due to the number of youth attending the conference and whether Obama will make an appearance is not known.
"I heard both the president and first lady will be there, since it's actually their campaign," Keezer said.
Keezer learned of the conference, part of President Obama's Gen-I initiative, through social studies teacher Mike Schmidt at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School. Schmidt wrote a letter of reference for Keezer.
"She has natural leadership abilities. She was active on the student council," Schmidt said. "This is a real good opportunity for her."
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation Business Committee (RBC) is covering Keezer's travel, accommodations and meals. Keezer also raised more than $300 through fundraisers to help cover additional costs.
"I'm looking forward to having fun, meeting new people, learning about other youth and Washington, D.C., and sharing stories about the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school, Leech Lake and me in general," Keezer said.
Valerie Cash, an administrative assistant at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, has watched Keezer grow from a kindergartener to a high school graduate. Cash described Keezer as quite but outspoken when she needs to be and praised her for her accomplishments in dance--Keezer was named Senior Princess this year.
"It's intimidating, but I don't think it will take her long to get comfortable," Cash said of Keezer's trip.
Nursing career ahead
Keezer graduated from the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School in Bena in June. Since graduation, she has continued to work as a personal care worker at Circle of Life in Cass Lake. Keezer will be attending Northwest Technical College in Bemidji for a two-year nursing program in the fall. She plans to continue working at Circle of Life after graduating.
Keezer said she was drawn to nursing because of a long line of diabetes in her family. She lost her mother, Tanya Sargent, to diabetes and kidney failure in 2008. Tanya was 32-years-old.
"When I saw nurses doing dialysis, I watched them, and I told my mom I was going to be a nurse," Keezer said. "I'm sticking to that."
Growing up, Keezer helped take care of her father who is in a wheelchair and her two younger sisters, Anevay and Hattie. Keezer said Anevay, 16, and Hattie, 11, want to graduate from the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, too. Both of the girls' parents graduated from the school, Keezer said.
The high school has gained national recognition for deteriorating conditions and tribal leaders have gone to Washington to request additional Bureau of Indian Education funds to build a new school.
"Condition-wise, as you can see, there needs to be a lot of repairs done here," Keezer said. "I honestly would like to see a new high school by the time Hattie gets to high school. There were times when I would have to bring my own blanket from home for certain classrooms. It's not a place for high school."
Keezer recalls a class size of 25 students when she was in middle school; she graduated with a class half that size.
She said although the school has gotten a lot of scrutiny in the media due to the conditions of the high school, students are afforded an opportunity to learn in an environment they can't experience in public schools. Keezer said students attending the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig schools receive more hands-on learning and smaller class sizes with more one-on-one time with teachers. Keezer said curriculum is in line with Ojibwe culture and includes seasonal lessons in ricing, syruping, hunting, trapping, canoeing and archery.
"Since I've gone here it's been like a family to me," Keezer said.
The Gen-I initiative
The Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, initiative was developed by President Obama after visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota in June 2014. The Gen-I initiative was launched during the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference.
Gen-I focuses on improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed, according to information on the White House website. In February, the White House started a Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge in which Native youth and organizations across the country are invited to become a part of the administration's National Native Youth Network.