The Sustainability Leadership Cohort (SLC) season officially began with a trip to the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s (WIEA) conference in Milwaukee the weekend of April 9th-April 12th, 2015. This was the first formal gathering of this summer’s cohort members. Along with staff from the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), the students headed south for what would be a weekend of learning, fun, networking, good food, and new experiences.
After a night’s rest we all rose early to enjoy a delicious breakfast and attended the opening ceremony. WIEA President, Brian Jackson greeted everyone and welcomed the Indian Community School students who graced us with their drumming while the Veterans proudly made their grand entrance into the ballroom. After a short welcome speech, Mr. Jackson introduced the keynote speaker, Doctor Brian McInnes. Dr. McInnes is an enrolled member of the Wasauksing First Nation in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. Learning of lineage to the Ojibwe Nation brought him to the United States where, in a valiant attempt to save a language near extinction, Dr. McInnes opened an immersion school in Wisconsin and now is program director of Enweyang Ojibwe Language Nest at UM-Duluth.
If it were not for the workshops waiting for us, we could have sat and listened to Dr. McInnes all day. Conference attendees had choice of hearing about the Milwaukee Public Museum, or what University of Wisconsin Green Bay students are learning in their research of government boarding schools.Those not interested in learning about history could attend a workshop about proactive approaches in teaching children, or the Woodland Indian Arts Initiative, which was aptly renamed (though not officially) the Wisconsin Indigenous Arts Connection.
On Friday the high school students attended youth day and took part in the activities at the Milwaukee Indian Community School. During the evening we made our way to the beautiful Indian Community School (ICS) for a feast and pow-wow. There were three drums, one of which was the ICS youth drum. Mr. Jackson led the grand entrance and we were provided a couple hours of rich cultural interaction.
Saturday was a day to share with the students and attend the array of workshops together. The SLC team including Cherie Thunder, Justin Gauthier, and Rebecca Edler presented about the great work that has been done with the program. The returning students spoke about their experiences and why they continue to be involved. It was quite heartwarming to watch the students so eager and interested to learn.
After presenting during our workshop and attending other throughout the day, our SLC crew boarded the van and headed to world-renowned, Milwaukee-based Growing Power. The brain-child of former professional basketball player, Will Allen, Growing Power is Milwaukee’s answer to fresh vegetables and locally raised fish that supply the many neighborhoods unable to grow gardens.
That experience alone was worth a trip to Milwaukee. It is amazing what Mr. Allen has done with this little plot on Milwaukee’s north side. The tour, which lasted just over an hour, was both educational and fun. We witnessed the amazing work done by the volunteers and employees at Growing Power. They are raising a variety of plants and vegetables and have installed a hydroponic system which is responsible for the raising of tilapia and trout which are sold to local businesses.
In addition, we toured the three acre “garden” in which they raise goats and chickens. The students saw beautiful gardens and growing spaces in the mist of buildings, concrete and discovered the amazing work being accomplished. They soon were discussing how this could be done on the Menominee reservation.The day ended with a wonderful meal and award ceremony where students, educators and community members received recognition for their dedication to the work they do. We gathered later for a talking circle to do a short re-cap of the weekend events. We all shared our thoughts and our favorite parts of the first trip as a group. Some of the students who were on the bashful side had obviously come out of their shell by the end of the trip. That alone was proof-enough the WIEA Conference was a positive trip for SDI and SLC.