Center School Students
February 28, 2010
By Sheila Regan
NAWAYEE Center School, located in the 2400 block of Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis, serves as an alternative junior high and high school for American Indian youth. Founded in the 1970s, NCS evolved from an informal drop-in service to an accredited high school in 1981, according to the school’s website. The school integrates Native culture with academics and support services. Two students, Amanda Kenzie, who graduated in February, and her friend, Sherlene Quagon, exemplify the positive effect that the programs have on Native American youth.
Amanda Kenzie came to Minneapolis before seventh grade because she wanted to attend NCS. The youngest daughter in her large family, she followed her older siblings from Red Lake Reservation to the city and moved in with her grandfather.
Kenzie said she is happy to have made the move. At NCS, “We learn about culture, about Native American History, which they don’t teach you at the reservation school,” Kenzie said. It was at NCS where Kenzie was introduced to such books as Geronimo and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which gave her insight to the history of her ancestors.
Sherlene Quagon, Kenzie’s friend at NCS, also moved from her reservation, Lac Court Oreille, in Wisconsin, to attend the school. For Quagon, many of her family were already in Minneapolis. Like Kenzie, Quagon said her education at NCS taught her more about her culture than she would have learned otherwise.
Both young women are Ojibwe, and have been hard at work studying their language. At NCS, they have been able to make progress learning to speak the language of their ancestors, and even try to practice outside of school. Quagon said that she listens to a CD with her mom in the mornings.
Family is the most important value to Quagon and Kenzie, and as they look toward the future, they want to be able give back to their community and to their people. For Quagon, she would like to eventually move back to Lac Court Oreille, and get on the tribal board “to help my reservation, and make it better,” she said. She wants to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse, and have kids learn more of the language.
The desire to help fight drug and alcohol abuse is a personal matter for Quagon, who herself has struggled with addictions. One of her main support people was Kenzie.
“She helped me get my life together,” Quagon said of her friend. Quagon started struggling because there were so many deaths in her family and tragedies that she had to deal with at the age of 15. Kenzie helped Quagon take pride in her life, encouraging her to help out with the school’s community garden, and the mural on the wall outside of the school.
The relationships that the two young women have built with each other is an indication of the values of the school. Joe Rice, NCS’s principal, said NCS focused on respect. “Our culture says to treat each other with respect and as equals,” Rice said. “That’s how you engage the kids.“
Kenzie has spent much of her time at school helping others. In addition to being a caring friend, she has volunteered with the Woman’s Foundation preventing teen pregnancy. They gave out condoms at reservations and went to the Capitol to get a bill passed about sexual education. Kenzie also volunteered at Groveland Food Shelf, where she got to meet a lot of people, and is currently an intern at the Occupational Immersion Center.
Kenzie was also a leader in the school’s community garden, which was started three years ago. Kenzie helped bring plants from her family’s farm, and re-planted them at the school. “My Dad taught me how,” she said. “He taught me that the secret to gardening is love.”
Kenzie, in addition to giving back to her community, also hopes to work with the land, perhaps as a forest ranger in Yellowstone National Park. Working outdoors with the land is another value of NCS, which nurtures outdoor experiences. Kenzie said that eventually she hopes to go to college, but she’ll hold off for a while yet. When she does attend college, she’ll be the first in her family to do so.
Both Kenzie and Quagon also love art. Kenzie, in her spare time, makes beaded jewelry and dream catchers. Her earrings sell for $10 and she sells them both to her classmates and at the American Indian Center. Quagon, for her part, loves to draw, and is considering going to art school after she graduates, although she is also good at math.
They also see spirituality as very important to them. They have been able to cultivate that spirituality at NCS, which offers such experiences as smudging. Quagon said she is interested in learning more about rituals such as purification ceremonies, which takes place in a sweat lodge.
Kenzie and Quagon are both very happy that they decided to attend NCS. The school’s focus on learning about Native American culture, building relationships, and outdoor activities has provided the young women with skills to move forward in their lives as leaders in the community.