Suzanne Wise was sworn in as Commissioner of Education for the Mille Lacs Band on Nov. 13, 2012.
Wise, a Band member who has spent her life living on the Mille Lacs Reservation, has worked with her fellow Band members within the family services department, and now she has moved into a position that will help educate Band members. She also served as District 1 representative from 1999 to 2000.
She has her master’s degree in social work which she feels is a good base for what she is doing in her new position.
One of a family of 10 children, Wise stresses the importance of knowing her roots. The Ojibwe language, the Anishinaabe culture, and her relationship with her brothers and sisters, parents, husband and children are all important parts of her life, and she sees those as important issues to all Band members as they move forward.
“What I’m really trying to do is develop partnerships with public schools. A huge number of our children attend those schools,” Wise said. “I want to help with continued support to reservation schools and continue to give the best resources and opportunities for our students.”
Wise is working on an alternative learning curriculum to allow people to finish their degrees that will help meet the Mille Lacs Band community goals.
The Mille Lacs Band is involved with educating their members from preschool into post high school programs, including the Wewinabi preschool, Nay Ah Shing, Pine Grove, Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy in McGregor (a charter school), the Mille Lacs Band Community College and the immersion grounds in Rutledge where Larry Smallwood is the director.
Wise has ideas to expand and collaborate on the services offered in these institutions. She wants the Mille Lacs Band children to receive the best resources and opportunities for their education.
Minnesota is rated poorly in disparity between white students and students of color. Wise said she thinks some areas are better than others. She said the McGregor schools seem to have a better relationship with the Mille Lacs Band community, and the native students do better there.
Wise believes developing relationships with public schools and colleges will foster students’ academic achievement and encourage them to continue their education.
As Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin stated in her State of the Band Address, the Band must have a strategic plan for their children to know the Ojibwe language and culture, Wise said.
Wise is married to Daniel Wise. They live next door to the house she grew up in, and her neighbors are the people who have lived in her neighborhood for years, including some of her siblings and her mother. She has four daughters, Kassandra, 15, Meghan, 11, Alexandra, 9, and Angelina, 14 months. Education of the Band children is important to her as a Band member and a parent.
She sees her job as a builder of relationships. “I believe in working collaboratively. I believe everyone is a team working together,” Wise said. She considers herself a good listener and communicator. Her goals are to keep the Band officials informed and to develop the tribal college. “I want our children to know who they are as Anishinaabe.”