When he was elected in June as the District 3 representative for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, 30-year-old LeRoy Staples-Fairbanks III promised to make education a priority, and he’s done just that by creating a scholarship.
On December 14, he presented a check toward the first installment of the LeRoy Staples Sr. and LeRoy B. Fairbanks Scholarship Fund—named in honor of his late grandfather and his uncle, key inspirations in his life—to Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, Minnesota.
Staples-Fairbanks III has pledged $50,000 out of his own salary over four years to endow the fund.
“In my campaign for the District 3 office, I was asked many times about the relatively high pay of council members in comparison to the local average household income. These conversations got me thinking about ways I could give back to my community, and ways to inspire other community leaders to invest in our communities as well,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. “I decided on developing this scholarship program at Leech Lake Tribal College (LLTC) because the college has a great track record of success in our community, and I wanted to be part of promoting continued growth in the future. There is no question that education is one of the keys to reducing poverty, and I want to be a part of that.”
The scholarship, once available in the fall semester of 2014, will be awarded to second-year LLTC students to further their education at a four-year institution.
The magnitude of the personal gift hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“This is a very meaningful gift on a couple of different levels. The financial support, of course, is incredibly important in helping to ensure access to education for students with financial need, which is virtually all of the students at Leech Lake Tribal College,” Kyle Erickson, LLTC’s director of advancement told ICTMN. “Perhaps even more important is the message that is sent to the students and the community when one of their elected leaders makes a stunningly generous personal gift to support education for his people. It’s a very real statement that education is a personal priority as well as a political priority, and I hope it will encourage others to grow their support for the causes they believe in as well. Too often communities rely on outside support and grant funding to try to effect change, but I believe that lasting change has to come from within. LeRoy’s gift to Leech Lake Tribal College is a perfect example of how that can happen.”
Staples-Fairbanks III hopes his gift will begin to affect that change as well. He hopes his personal investment will mobilize his people to start investing in the community’s future.
“I want to lead by example, and kick-start a movement of giving back to the community,” he said. “I believe that this will emphasize the importance of education to the younger generation, and show them that there are people who support them and believe in them and want to help them reach their goals. In making this pledge, I want to challenge not only our local leaders, but leaders around the country to make a personal investment in their community. When you invest in something, you want to see it grow. I have confidence if we all pull together, it will set the stage for incredible growth.”
It’s already started to work. Erickson told the Bemidji Pioneer that the college has received additional donations because of Staples-Fairbanks III and other families have inquired about donating toward his fund or starting their own.
The tribal representative sees education as the best way to start this community growth.
“Education is important to me because, in my opinion, it is the best way to empower people to become less dependent,” he said. “It opens the door to more opportunities. We need to make education a priority, and we need to all work towards ensuring that our children and grandchildren have every opportunity to achieve the highest level of education.”