Making the Most of the College Experience


By Toya Stewart Downey, May 5, 2015

Her ultimate goal is to one day be an elected leader for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Until that happens Ah-Nung Matrious has a few other big things she wants to cross off of her to-do list.

One of those big things will happen later this month when Ah-Nung graduates from Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) with her Associate of Science Degree. After that comes pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, followed by a Master’s degree, she said.

Though she knows what direction she wants her life to take now, it wasn’t always that way.

Ah-Nung grew up with her family in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. That’s where she lived for most of her early life except for a few years when she attended the Flandreau Indian School. After high school, Ah-Nung earned a certificate as a first responder; back then she thought that might be her career.

Still she wasn’t sure if that’s what she really wanted to do. She moved to the Lake Lena area to live with her grandfather, Lawrence “Larry” Matrious and for a while worked at a few jobs, including as a blackjack dealer at Grand Casino Hinckley.

Besides working, Ah-Nung was heavily immersed in the Ojibwe culture. She spent time teaching young people how to fish, helped at the sweat lodge that was in her grandfather’s back yard and participated in the big drum ceremonies. After her grandfather passed she continued to live and work in the area, but wanted to do something more.

She decided that going to college was the next step she wanted to take.

“When I came to the cities from the small Lake Lena community I didn’t know much about what it was like to attend a school in the city,” she said. “I was nervous, but I found out that a lot of students at MCTC come from small towns and reservations, so I knew I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.”

She also knew that she wanted to be successful. When Ah-Nung crosses the stage to receive her degree on May 21, she will have maintained a 3.3 grade point average, been the first Native American president of the Student Senate, and she was also the president of the American Indian Success program.

She has held leadership roles in UNITE, which is a student organization that is part of the American Indian Success program. Last year, while serving as the interim secretary for UNITE, she helped coordinate the first ever inter-club collaboration between UNITE and Xicanos Latinos Unidos (XLU)

“I also helped coordinate the largest collaborative event on campus which was an ‘End of the year BBQ/Round Dance’ which included nine other student organizations and served more than 350 students.

“I’ve also helped lead a Student Senate initiative on campus whose aim is to work with the Administration to furnish a viable child care center for students with child care issues, as a means to increase enrollment and retention rates.”

She added that the college’s administration has designated a research committee to explore the idea and are considering a $500,000 – $1,500,000 renovation on campus and an additional resource center for students with children.

“The purpose of the collaborative events was to pull our Native students out of their comfort zones and introduce them to students of other ethnic backgrounds as a way to help them network, and gain more of a general sense of comfort here on campus,” she said. “To create more of a ‘community’ feel because students who are more active on campus feel more comfortable, and studies show that students who feel more comfortable on campus tend to do better academically. “

Ah-Nung also took the lead to coordinate UNITE events on campus including a night of music and poetry, the winter storytelling event and the end of the year picnic and round dance that celebrates the accomplishments of the Native American graduates from MCTC.”

In April, Ah-Nung was recognized as one of the recipients of the Excellence in Leadership Award that is given by the college. As the president of the Student Senate she has worked with the deans, vice president and president of the college.

She helped plan the first-ever diversity conference, called the Inclusion Experience, that was designed to help students from different cultures learn to understand each other.

“When I came down here I was shell-shocked and I didn’t know about people’s customs or what was the best way to respect their cultures,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to shake hands with males or make eye contact with people from other cultures.

“I didn’t want to offend anyone and I wanted people to understand my culture,” she said. “During the Inclusion Experience, we were in a safe environment to ask each other questions and to learn from each other.”

Ah-Nung will continue her own learning as she explores what college she will attend next to complete her Bachelor’s degree. She eventually wants to attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, where she wants to pursue a Master of Science degree in American Indian Leadership. For now, she’ll work and save money to help cover her tuition.

After graduation Ah-Nung is planning go back to Lake Lena, or spend as much time there as possible: “I’m not much for the city life,” she says. She will continue to learn and practice the Ojibwe language, participate in the big drum ceremonies, visit family and attend powwows.

As she has pursued higher education Ah-Nung said she is especially grateful for the encouragement and love she’s received from her parents, Band member Brian Matrious and mom, Susan Henry, a member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. And for the support of her other family members including her aunties, Lauren Matrious, Bonnie Matrious and Robin Fredericks and her uncle Nelson Fredericks.