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McCollum, Franken, Nolan Help Break Ground at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School Rebuild

August 24, 2016
Press Release

Today, Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Member Al Franken (DFL-Minn.), and Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-Minn.), took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site of the future Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on Leech Lake Indian Reservation, an event they said is the culmination of their years-long fight to replace what has been a dangerously dilapidated school.

Earlier this year, after efforts from Rep. McCollum, Sen. Franken and Rep. Nolan, the Department of Interior (DOI) finally granted nearly $12 million for repairs and improvements at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig—a place where students and teachers have had to endure years of deplorable conditions, including inadequate construction, freezing temperatures, leaky ceilings and doors, faulty electrical and air systems, exposed wiring, mold, and sewer backups. Today’s groundbreaking is the first step in rebuilding the school, with the new modernized facility expected to be completed in 2017.  

“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that every child in a Bureau of Indian Education school receives a high-quality education in a safe, healthy facility. Because of the passionate advocacy of Leech Lake’s students and adults, and our bipartisan work in Congress, we are finally able to break ground today on a school that meets our country’s obligation to the children of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe,” said Rep. McCollum. “While I am very proud of this new school and the difference it will make to children in Leech Lake, much more remains to be done at Bureau of Indian Education schools across the country. I will continue to work with my colleagues and tribal leaders throughout the United States to ensure that every child in a BIE school is healthy, safe, and receiving a high-quality education.”

“Students at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig have faced horrendous conditions in their classrooms for years—it was disgraceful, deplorable, and terrible for learning,” said Sen. Franken. “Students, teachers, and faculty had to deal with freezing temperatures, leaky pipes, dangerous wiring, and mold and sewer problems. That’s why this groundbreaking is so important: it means that so many bright young students in Indian Country will be able to feel safe and comfortable to learn and reach their full potential. I strongly believe that kids in Indian Country should receive a world-class education, and that starts with the buildings they learn in. That’s why I’ve been fighting for so long to fix this school. This took a lot of work—from lawmakers, from the tribe and community, and from the Obama Administration—and I’m thrilled that we were able to get this done.”

“I am pleased that we were able to come together and secure this new facility for our Leech Lake students as we honor our obligations and send the message to students in Indian Country that their education and their success in life are important to all of us. Forcing them to go to school in facilities in utter disrepair simply did not send that message,” Rep. Nolan said. “The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School was housed in an old pole building – cold and drafty in winter, hot in summer, and unfit for children and teachers in any season. No child should be forced to endure deteriorating school rooms to get an education.”

For more than eight years, Rep. McCollum — the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus — has worked with the Leach Lake Band of Ojibwe to replace the dilapidated school and ensure the band’s children are able to receive a high-quality education in a safe, healthy facility. Rep. McCollum’s commitment to replace the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School was underscored by her visit to the school in 2009 and frequent meetings with tribal leaders and students. The funding to replace the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School that led to today’s groundbreaking is the direct result of Rep. McCollum’s work as the lead Democrat on the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee to restore funding for the Replacement Facility Construction line item in the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

For the better half of a decade, Sen. Franken has led the charge to fix and improve Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig. He directly pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to visit the school in 2014 and see its deplorable conditions for herself, and he personally visited the school in 2015 to meet with students and teachers. Sen Franken hounded top federal officials for years to increase funding to rebuild the school, often at Senate Indian Affairs hearings. He also hosted a Senate “field” hearing in the region in 2010 on the importance of funding tribal education.

Since returning to Congress in 2013, Nolan has consistently worked to help secure funding for the replacement of the Bug O Nay Ge Shig School.  Nolan advocated before the Administration urging the Department of the Interior to continue to closely consult with the Leech Lake Band following Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visit to the reservation. He also testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in support of funding for the Bug O Nay Ge Shig School introduced Chairwoman Carri Jones at the hearing. Nolan introduced and passed an amendment to the Student Success Act to put Congress on record that Indian children will not have to attend school in buildings that are dilapidated and dangerous. He also led a letter to House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Ken Calvert and Ranking Member Betty McCollum to request the committee fully match the Administration’s requested increase for Bureau of Indian Education School Construction funding in Fiscal Year 2016.