The first class of the Charter School Nixyaawii took its place in history Monday, marking just one more step in the struggle to rebuild the tribes' self-reliance.

And, along with so many of the steps in recent years, that class walking into the first day of school represents a collaboration between the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the people of Pendleton.

These 40 students in grades 9-12 who came to school on the reservation Monday have more to do than earn a diploma.

It's not easy carrying the hopes, dreams and expectations of a whole community, but that's what those students and all who come after them will carry in addition to books and backpacks.

Anthone Minthorn, chairman of the board of trustees, welcomed the students and made a point that couldn't be lost on the youngsters - they must expect to work hard if the new school is to make its mark in the struggle for self reliance.

Donald Sampson, executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, added his own challenge to the students by pointing out they have a role in creating a unique curriculum if they step up to the challenge.

The Confederated Tribes are a source of pride for all of Oregon and native people. They have used all available resources to create an economic and social community for themselves.

Targeting jobs for their people, they have created an economic model that has cut unemployment on the reservation and still has much work to do.

Targeting salmon and water, they have re-created the spawning runs that are integral to their social fabric, and through Tamastslikt, the museum, that social fabric is being preserved and shared with generations of visitors.

A charter school is no slam dunk, but the prospects for Nixyaawii are bright. Even with all the assistance from the Pendleton School District, charter schools only thrive with the support of students, parents and the community members who care about excellence in education.

Nixyaawii has that, and that will ease the burden on this historic first class and all the classes that are sure to follow.

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