Transformative impacts of education
College of Menominee Nation celebrates 30th anniversary
By William Kopp
GREEN BAY – The College of Menominee Nation (CMN) — one of 32 fully accredited tribal colleges and universities in the nation and one of two in the state — celebrated its 30th anniversary on March 3 and will continue throughout the year of 2023.
March 3 represented the first day that CMN opened its doors for classes and is known as their official Charter Day.
CMN is considered to be a land grant institution, a term coined by federal legislation.
“There’s a land grant institution in every state of the United States,” said CMN President Christopher Caldwell. “They were created through legislation, so you’ll hear them referred to as [Morrill Act] colleges, allocating lands to these universities to develop and offer an education. Eventually, in 1994, there was an act passed that created the tribal colleges and universities. So we’re often referred to as the 1994 land grant institutions.
“There’s a lot of history and identity that goes with being a tribal college, but, basically, we are creations of the tribal communities that we serve.”
CMN was created by the Menominee people through a petition that was given to the tribal legislature — the governing body.
Their mission is location-based, and they serve the needs of their tribal peoples, but they also serve as an open enrollment college.
“Anybody can apply to the college. The only thing is that because of the federal act, we have to maintain at least a 50% or more tribal enrollment,” Caldwell said. “That can be Menominee, Stockbridge, Oneida, Ho Chunk, Potawatomi — we serve a number of other tribal nations.”
With present enrollment at 290 students for the spring 2023 semester, Caldwell is hopeful for future enrollment numbers.
“[Enrollment] is a bit higher than it had been prior to and during the pandemic,” he added. “We’re actually seeing an upward trend in our student enrollment.”
The college offers bachelor degree programs, technical degrees and certificates ranging from topics of business administration, public administration and, one of their more popular programs currently, their teacher education program, among other opportunities.
Institutions like CMN were created in response to tribal college movements of the early 1900s.
The first tribal community colleges were a result of the Navajo Nation, and with the creation of subsequent colleges, people felt they were needed due to the treatment of their peoples within mainstream institutions.
“Oftentimes, you know, the way that the students were treated or not served by the institutions, there were inequities of higher education,” Caldwell said. “They saw a need for tribally-led academic institutions of higher education. So that started back then and in terms of [CMN], our tribal legislature and our leaders in the community saw that happening, and knew that that was something we needed to prioritize. This created another opportunity for us to ensure that the education of our people and those that wanted to come learn with us could benefit from a Menominee perspective, from a Menominee knowledge system that’s thousands of years old.
“We’re only 30 years old compared to the thousands of years of history in the passing from generation to generation. So I always talk about us as connected to that.”
The tribal leaders of the Menominee asked Dr. Verna Fowler, a tribal member, to help start a college at Menominee.
The rest as they say, is history.
Presidents and college creation
Fowler created the idea of the college in her basement and was the first acting president of CMN — which began as a little double wide trailer, still available to look at on the current campus.
After 25 years of service, Fowler retired and the torch was passed.
Throughout the last six years of the college’s existence, the torch has passed between presidents and interim presidents alike, finally leading them to their current president, Caldwell.
“I started out working in our forestry operations. I had worked out in the forest for over seven, eight, going into nine years,” he added. “I started working for the tribal government overseeing compliance with our forestry operations. I always say I was a desk forester at that time, paperwork and in the office stuff, but eventually I came to the college because the director of the Sustainable Development Institute position opened up and I applied to it. I worked as director of SDI for seven years… and the Board of Directors asked me if I would be willing to serve as interim president. Those two years of interim allowed me to really see I could do this job longer term.”
When the board posted for a more permanent selection, Caldwell put in to be selected as the permanent selection of President and got the position, filling the position in July 2021.
The college partners with technical colleges and other colleges and universities around the area, including UW-Green Bay.
“We’re working on a few partnership ideas, but we also work with private institutions or universities,” Caldwell said. “The whole idea is we can’t do it alone. And that’s a strength of the Menominee people — that we approach things diplomatically. We look to create relationships that best benefit our people, and by extension, also support other peoples that want to come and learn with us, come and learn from us.”
With the year-long celebration of the CMN 30th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Menominee Restoration Act coming this December, people around the area can look to celebrate this achievement for the Menominee people with the college’s themed weeks of Charter Week, Earth Week, Commencement Week, Tribal College Land-Grant Week, Tribal Nations Self-Determination and Sovereignty Week and Menominee Restoration Act Week.
“[CMN] has been expressing the values that are signified with the signing of the Menominee Restoration Act of 1973,“ Caldwell said when asked about the college’s theme for their anniversary. “We’ve graduated over 1200 students in the last 30 years, so the importance of the restoring nations through education initiative is to begin to align people to be thinking about those things so that it impacts what they’re doing, either as staff, faculty or students at the college or as members of the communities that we’re serving around us — tribal or non tribal communities. We all have a stake in what we do and what we decide for our future, whether that’s related to sustainability, social equity or just the development of opportunities for our future generations.”
For those looking to participate in the college’s 30th anniversary activities, go to https://www.menominee.edu/about-cmn/restoring-nations-through-education-cmns-30th-anniversary or for more information about the College of Menominee Nation, visit www.menominee.edu.