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Red Lake Nation to transform closed Bemidji school into human services center

The former Central Elementary School near downtown Bemidji on March 6, 2024.
Larissa Donovan
The former Central Elementary School near downtown Bemidji on March 6, 2024.

Red Lake Nation's vision for the former elementary school is to transform the space into a community and human services center for the underserved.

BEMIDJI — The former Central Elementary School building in Bemidji will soon have a new purpose through Red Lake’s Oshkimaajitahdah services.

The Bemidji Area School Board recently agreed to sell the shuttered school building to the Red Lake Nation, which plans to transform the space into a “one stop shop” for human services. Central Elementary School hasn’t been open to students since the School Board voted to close it in 2021.

Oshkimaajitahdah translates to “new beginnings.” Red Lake’s programming includes multiple economic development programs, many of which operate on a service model.

Executive Director Jerry Loud said these services are crucial to breaking generational cycles of substance abuse and other social issues that stem from a root source: poverty.

" Poverty is a generational cycle,” Loud said. “I think the crime rate, health disparities, our homeless situation, our housing, transportation, graduation rate, chemical health issues — those are all byproducts of poverty. A job will cure a lot of ills.”

Oodena is the project title for the former school’s new identity, which means “place of many hearts.” The Red Lake Nation’s vision for Oodena’s wrap-around service model includes creating partnerships with local providers in all areas of need, such as an in-house childcare center.

Loud presented the proposals for Central Elementary during the Beltrami County Board meeting Tuesday. The board took no action on the work session item, but Loud said he hopes to gain county support in his lobbying to the Legislature to change certain state requirements for people in the public assistance system. This includes removing some reporting requirements and other barriers to access.

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.