DULUTH — David Beaulieu says it’s fitting he’s ending his career as the Ruth Myers Endowed Professor of American Indian Education at the University of Minnesota Duluth. It was Myers, the first indigenous woman elected to a school board in Minnesota, who inspired him to leave his own mark on education, something he was recently recognized for in a big way.
In October the National Indian Education Association launched the Dr. David Beaulieu Legacy Scholarship and gave him a lifetime achievement award in honor of decades spent shaping what and how Native American students are taught.
“I believe that the best of our ideas in Indian education come by way of placing Indian students at the center of their own education,” said Beaulieu, a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa. “I took charge of my own education. All these things sort of snowballed from there.”
Beaulieu, 71, received a doctoral degree from the U before teaching American Indian studies at several colleges around the Midwest and in Arizona. He served as director of Indian Education at the Minnesota Department of Education; as commissioner of the state’s Department of Human Rights; and as the director of the federal Office of Indian Education.
Everywhere he went, he had to teach.
“The main battle, even after all these years, is to deal with ignorance on the part of public officials, legislators and others,” Beaulieu said. “I learned a long time ago that these issues of stereotypic images and prejudice that are uniquely branded at American Indians will never go away. The real need is being vigilant against it.”
The scholarship that bears his name is still in need of donations to hit its $50,000 goal; the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community gave $10,000 to get the fund started.
Indigenous students in their final two years of undergraduate study in education, policy, political science, or public administration are eligible for the award.
“We need individuals who have a passion for Indian affairs work, a passion that comes from their own sense of the past and their own history,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu had that passion, as did his inspiration, Ruth Myers, who is called the “grandmother of Indian education” in Minnesota.
“She had such a focus on Indian students and needs, which I’ve worked on most of my life,” he said. “The idea I could work in her legacy in the years before I retired was really attractive to me. I have such respect for her.”
In addition to the endowed professorship, Beaulieu is working on a book recounting the American Indian education movement, which he says has come a long way but has much work yet to do.
“That fact that significant numbers of Indian people are now in state offices and Congress and venues like that is at least one indication of the success of Indian education efforts over the past 50 years.”