Written by: Cherie Thunder, Sustainability Education Coordinator
The 2016 Sustainability Leadership Cohort (SLC) was part of something pretty amazing this summer. They weren’t able to run across the U.S. like the Standing Rock Tribal youth to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline and put an end the mining operations happening right now on indigenous lands or walk to Michigan to support water rights. Instead, they chose to dedicate their summer to making a fiction film to raise awareness about issues many Nations like Menominee and Standing Rock are facing every day.
The film titled Kāēyas Mesek Oskēken (It’s Old and It’s New), was the first of its kind for the SLC. In the previous three years, the students produced short documentaries featuring the history of Nama’o (sturgeon), the importance of knowing where your food comes from, and what stops Menominee athletes from reaching their full potential. In 2015, The SLC produced a news magazine television program highlighting the ways different indigenous communities in Wisconsin and in Belize go about sustaining their families and communities.
Now, the brave Menominee, Oneida, and Stockbridge-Munsee youth combat a very important issue, the Back 40 Mine in Stephenson, Michigan. This mine will not only affect the residents of Stephenson, but also threatens the Menominee people and our wild rice. The land, water, and animals will all be negatively impacted if this mine is approved. Kāēyas Mesek Oskēken, the SLC’s newest video project, is the way they choose to stand up for the water and the Menominee People. Although there were five returning students, the new SLC members learned skills to produce the film on the job. The high school students and POSOH interns, with the help of Director, Reynaldo Morales, and Screenwriter, Justin Gauthier, wrote the script, acted, produced, and edited the film all during the month of July. Ryan Winn, College of Menominee Nation Faculty, also played a part in coaching the students with their acting skills and reviewing the script.
I would like to thank the community for supporting the students and showing up to learn more about the Back 40 Mine on Monday, August 15, and to celebrate the work of the SLC students. David Grignon, Menominee Historic Preservation Director, gave an invocation to start the evening off in a good way. Menominee Tribal Chairwoman, Joan Delabreau welcomed the guest and expressed her concern about the Back 40 Mine before watching the feature presentation. Presentations from local experts, Mike Ripley and David Overstreet, about the effects of mining followed the film. The attendees learned that the mining operation would not only affect the sacred sites of the Menominee Nation but non-native communities as well. The night was a great success with interested community members staying until the very end.
The SLC has been an integral part of my life now for 4 years. These students have made such a great impact on me and the way that I think about the community I come from as well as the places they call home. Because of this, I know this group, the 2016 SLC, will do the same for all of you. Your families, friends, and co-workers will change in the way they the go about learning, thinking, and doing as well as teaching the community’s children. The change will come from being involved in community events like the SLC Film Premiere and Mining Forum; cheering for the students as they succeed, supporting them when they need it the most, and watching them grow as they continue on their path.