After years of neglect that led to conditions one Minnesota congressman described as "horrific," a dilapidated school is getting a much-needed $12 million revamp.
The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Bena, was held up as an example of how government support had failed Native American communities.
A visit by DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and GOP U.S. Rep. John Kline in April 2015 prompted a bipartisan plea to give the school urgent attention, after they found a school infested by rodents and bats, with a leaky roof, exposed electrical wires, substandard sewage and faulty heating and cooling systems.
On Wednesday, Nolan was joined by Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Betty McCollum to break ground on a federally-funded project designed to revitalize the school, creating a new, modernized facility that should be finished by next year
"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 Franken, a member of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in a press release.
"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."
Kline previously blamed conditions at schools such as Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig on a "tangle of bureaucracy" that has allowed facilities to deteriorate.
Speaking on Wednesday, McCollum said the changes that will benefit the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is just one success out of many that are needed across the country.
"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," she said.
The Claims Journal reported earlier this year that federal officials have failed to ensure regular inspections are carried out at dozens of the 200 Native American schools across 20 states that fall under the oversight of the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Education.
Some 69 schools did not receive inspections in 2015, and problems reported across the country include exposed wiring, high carbon monoxide levels, a natural gas leak, and broken windows.