Minnesota college helps students ‘reach their rainbows’

One-of-a-kind Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College provides a supportive educational experience

Taria White, a mother of five, weathered multiple storms on the journey to graduating from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Selected as the 2021 student of the year, she acknowledged in her convocation address that support from family and community helped her “get through my storm to reach the beginning of my rainbow.”

An Indigenous woman, Taria is one of many scholarship students who’ve reached their rainbow at FDLTCC. A college graduate, she can look to the future and see sunny skies of opportunity and promise.

The college in Cloquet, MN, 25 minutes west of Duluth, is one-of-a-kind in the United States. It’s a joint Tribal college and state community school, whereas most colleges are one or the other. Roughly 25% of the college’s 500 on-campus students identify as Indigenous; 75% are low-income or first-generation post-secondary students.

“Within Minnesota, we have one of the highest enrolments of Native American students and graduates, even among four-year institutions,” says Stephanie Hammitt, the college’s president and an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

On Monday, Oct. 11, Indigenous Peoples’ Day will honor the cultures and histories of the Native American people. As a Tribal college, FDLTCC builds the region’s Anishinaabeg history and culture into daily life.

“Some places may have Native American month or week, but here, it’s part of what we do every day. It’s the way of life,” Hammitt explains.

At the beginning of every week, the college holds a pipe ceremony for students who wish to listen and pray. At special events, the drum is the heartbeat of the institution, and can be heard offering special songs.

The campus architecture celebrates Anishinaabeg culture, too. Trees harvested from the site are exposed as building columns, and terrazzo flooring features a traditional floral pattern and the college’s cultural values written in both Ojibwemowin and English.

Many FDLTCC students require financial aid to cover tuition and living and family expenses. “It’s hard for people to talk about money, but financial support for the students goes a long way,” Hammitt says. “Life happens, and we help students get through it.”

Enbridge has funded scholarships at FDLTCC since 2008, fueling the futures of students like Taria. Since then, we’ve added sponsorships of events to include the annual Food for Thought fundraiser for scholarships and the Cloquet Croquet Invitational.

We’ve also sponsored Thunder athletics, and contributed to an emergency fund for students in need of gas, heat, food, or other basic needs that would otherwise keep them from attending school.

This year, our contributions will be used to stage fundraising events, which will multiply the impact and raise even more money to support students.

“If students receive a scholarship, they have more time to spend on school,” Hammitt notes. “It’s really gratifying when you see them walk across that stage at graduation. It’s the most exciting day of the year.”

In her convocation speech, Taria recognized that every individual needs a world of support on the journey toward a goal—or a rainbow.

“‘I am not self made. I am community made. I am family made. I am land made. I am ancestor made,’” she recited, quoting a traditional saying. “We are made up of everything.”