Manistee’s Next Generation Learning Center Temporarily Closed

In Mid-August, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Council voted to limit the students at Next Generation Learning Center to Native American children and staff.

That resolution took effect on Oct. 1.

“There’s basically been a domino effect and that’s what I was worried about,” said Ogema Larry Romanelli.

The Ogema, or Tribal Chief, has been vocally against the decision to limit students since the beginning.

“The whole United States is facing a daycare shortage and a problem within it, so the timing didn’t seem right to me,” said Romanelli.

He said once the majority vote was made on the Tribal Council, immediate changes were made.

“What happened almost immediately is we had a couple people that resigned their positions,” said Romanelli. “In that instance, it also created a problem for the children and the parents because you have to maintain certain staffing levels to maintain the center.”

Romanelli said parents started to pull their children out of the program after the announcement. It wasn’t just families outside the reservation that were leaving, families on the reservation left, too.

“Even tribal members were upset by the action and they found a daycare elsewhere,” said Romanelli. “So when they [Tribal Council]were counting on these people to come in in droves, it just didn’t happen.”

The Ogema is not part of the Tribal Council, and was not a part of the vote.

“Since that time, we’ve been trying to figure out what do we do and we eventually had to close the center temporarily at least for now because the numbers weren’t there,” he said. “The numbers of staffing to child wasn’t there.”

He says he doesn’t know if the Tribal Council did any research before voting.

“Often times, if you want to take an action, you should have researched it,” said Romanelli. “If they did that, they should have had solid numbers of how many [families] this would affect going out the door, how many people are expected to go in the door and they should have known we had 11 grants associated with it.”

Romanelli said with the closing of the center, he’s not sure what effect that will have on the grants.

“This is a community center. It wasn’t just for Native Americans,” said Romanelli. “What the Tribal Council intended to do from my understanding was to make it focused on Tribal member children and if you look at the numbers, it didn’t make a lot of sense that you’d have sufficient numbers to run a center of that size.”

Romanelli said he’s meeting with Manistee community leaders to discuss the next steps for the center.

“We’re a part of this community. I’ve worked within this community for 14 years and we’ve always had a good working relationship,” said Romanelli. “We don’t want permanent damage done from this. We’ve worked too hard for two many years to have something fall apart in 6 months.”

9&10 reached out for comment from the Tribal Council.

Tribal Spokesperson Ryan Champagne declined to comment.