Center for American Indian Affairs Holds Camp for American Indian High School Students

June 22, 2018 |

By Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press

MANKATO — A camp for American Indian high school students has two missions: to celebrate campers' heritage and to encourage them to go to college.

The Center for American Indian Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato sponsors an annual five-day summer camp. The campers come from across the state to learn the Dakota and Ojibwe languages, explore historic sites in Mankato, get a taste of college life and receive college admission guidance.

“It's more fun than I thought it would be,” said camper Emmarica Larsen before the camp wrapped up Thursday.

The Redwood Valley High School junior who lives in the Lower Sioux Indian Community said the camp strikes an ideal balance between educational and social and recreational activities.

The campers started each day studying their choice of either the Dakota or Ojibwe language with a university professor. Minnesota State Mankato's own Glenn Wasicuna taught Dakota and Alphonse Pitawanakwat came from the University of Michigan to teach Ojibwe.

The campers learned greetings, familial titles and other fundamentals. They also learned that many of the Minnesota community names derived from a native word are incorrect. Mankato, for example, should be two separate words.

The campers also learned about native history and culture, which the instructors say is necessary to grasp the languages.

Camper Drake Russell, said Ojibway language class is his favorite part of camp.

“Its difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy,” said the senior at Jefferson High School in Bloomington.

Professors from Minnesota State Mankato's American Indigenous Studies program also visited the camp to give lectures on American Indian topics to give campers a sample of what college classes are like.

Other college representatives met with campers to provide advice on choosing a college and major and applying for college and financial aid. Russell said the step-by-step tips made the process seem less daunting.

Megan Heutmaker, Minnesota State Mankato's director for American Indian affairs, said the camp seeks to boost low high school graduation and college attendance rates among Minnesota's American Indian youth. Only half of the state's native youths graduate high school in four years. That's the lowest rate in the nation, Heutmaker said.

Most afternoons and evenings were filled with social activities and campus tours, including a trip to the university's obstacle course.

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