Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota want to build charter school 6-28-07

MENDOTA, Minn. (AP) - Members of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community want to create a charter school along the Mississippi River, in hopes of preserving their language and culture.

If plans continue, the Wakanyeza Charter School - Wakanyeza means “sacred little ones” - would open in the fall of 2008 in Mendota, close to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and Fort Snelling. The school would serves students grades K-5 and would emphasize Dakota tradition and American Indian culture.

Planners must find a sponsor and get approval from the Minnesota Department of Education. There are more than 130 charter schools in the state.

“This school can benefit the Dakota community and everyone else,” said Jim Albrecht, chairman of the founding school board. “We live in a world where it's to our advantage to recognize many cultures.”

Board members are seeking sponsorship from the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone, which supports some other charter schools.

Wakanyeza would offer Dakota language and cultural classes along with a traditional reading, writing and math curriculum.

Jennifer Ojeda, 26, of south Minneapolis said she is interested in sending her two sons to the school.

Part Ojibwe, Ojeda said her heritage was not a major role during her childhood. Partly for that reason, she said, the charter school is appealing.

“I think (American Indian Culture is) really lost and ignored a lot,” said Ojeda. “Any Native venture should be supported, as long as the academics and curriculum are good.”

After generations of assimilation and colonization, tribe members estimate only 30 people in Minnesota speak the Dakota language.