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School liaison aims to improve lives of Moorhead Native American students, families

Delores Gabbard is one of four winners of the city's 2021 Human Rights Awards.

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Delores Gabbard, a Native American liaison for the Moorhead Public Schools, smiles during an interview this week at district headquarters. She is one of four winners of the Moorhead Human Rights Awards for 2021. Dave Samson / The Forum
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MOORHEAD — Delores Gabbard wants to see Moorhead's Native American families be successful and become more of a community.

As the lead liaison for the Native American Education Program for Moorhead Public Schools looks back at history she sees the tribes were communities who helped each other and lived together.

Gabbard, who is one of the four winners of the city's 2021 Human Rights Awards, is giving her best effort to see those "ultimate goals" advance.

It is a daunting task as the number of Native American students and families continues to grow each year in the district.

Currently there are about 600 Native American students in the district.

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The mother of 13 children or "three batches," as she and her husband describe their family, said she probably knows about 75% of the Native American families with children in the school system.

She's made connections during her five years as a liaison, but has lived in Moorhead for 12 years and said she has connected with many of the families through different events, committees and organizations.

One of her admirers, Fauntel Deshayes, who nominated her for the honor, said Gabbard "connects with entire families because students' needs are best met if the entire family's needs are met.

"She has devoted her life to meeting the needs of Native youth in the community," Deshayes wrote. "Her heart is huge and she does not turn anyone away who needs help."

Gabbard indeed believes a student can't have a good education without also meeting the "basic needs of the families."

And troubles exist with many families, she said.

Quite a few of the Native American families are single mothers who often struggle in poverty. There are other families who are homeless.

So she's trying to help by working through the school district's state and federal aid programs to help students and families but also by seeking aid from the regional tribes in a volunteer effort to make sure students have warm coats, shoes and school supplies.

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She has gathered substantial, but partial, data on where students and their families are from. Most or almost 30% are from northwest Minnesota's White Earth or Red Lake reservations. The numbers who have come from North Dakota are 20.8% from Turtle Mountain, 11.3% from Spirit Lake and 9% from Fort Berthold.

It's her job as a liaison, though, where she finds the most joy as she smiles about the relationships she develops with the youngest Native American students from pre-school to the fourth-grade level.

Her goal with the students is to make sure they want to come to school and feel comfortable, as they often don't see "people that look like them" among the teachers and staff.

Gabbard also wants Native American children to learn about their heritage and tries to offer educational assistance in that way, too.

As students move through the school system, she is assisted by three other liaisons in an effort to guide the students and families through middle school and high school years, too.

She doesn't have statistics on how many Native American students graduate, but she said attendance is another problem because of the lack of transportation or resources.

Gabbard said she's "not going anywhere" as she continues striving for a better life for families and students.

As for how to judge success, she takes a punt.

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"We want families to feel like they are supported, though," Gabbard said.

Oh, then there's the three batches of children in her own family. The native of the Dakota tribe in Manitoba said the first batch was her husband's six children and her one daughter before they met. The second batch was two children she had with her husband, who is from the Delaware tribe in Oklahoma.

To fill out the family of 13, the third batch is three foster children, all under 3 years of age.

The couple is certainly helping to add people to the Native community that Gabbard hopes to become stronger in the coming years.

3 more winners

The other three winners of the 2021 Human Rights Award selected by the city's Human Rights Commission who will be honored at this Monday's Moorhead City Council meeting are:

  • Hakun Dabar: He leads the Afro American Development Association and works with the New American community. He is being recognized for his outreach to educate and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Rory Bell: He works for the Clay County Public Health and with the New American community. He is also being recognized for his work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Allison Pillar: She works for the YWCA Cass Clay and help develop and launch the organizations 14-day Equity Challenge designed to help community members build more effective social justice habits around issues of race, privilege, power and domestic violence.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONMOORHEADMINNESOTA
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