First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has given a grant to support the strengthening of tribal and Native institutions through peer learning and model development, which will, in turn, improve control and management of assets for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The Native Asset-Building Partnership Project has paired up the natural resources departments of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
The Mille Lacs Band’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been partnered with a mentor, the Spokane Indian Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Mille Lacs DNR wants to implement a summer internship and mentorship program for tribal youth. There is a low graduation rate from college and little knowledge of the many tribal departments that offer employment. The ultimate goal is for tribal youth to gain interest in the environmental, scientific and natural resources fields, to attend college and to study those fields. The final and ultimate goal is for the tribal youth to return to the Mille Lacs DNR for employment.
The Spokane Tribe’s DNR has a summer youth mentorship and internship program in place. The program has been in operation for more than a decade. The Spokane Tribe’s DNR incorporates culture and traditions into their summer internship and summer learning camps in order to teach their youth how their ancestors used science to fish, hunt, build housing and achieve other goals. They have been developing their program through the years and are very willing to share that knowledge with the Mille Lacs Band.
The first in-person meeting was hosted by the Mille Lacs Band at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia, Minnesota, in August 2013. The Spokane Tribe presented on their summer internship and mentorship program. Specifically, they brought a summer intern with them to present. She described how the summer internship program is run, how many weeks each student dedicates to each program, and the outreach the tribes conducts to recruit interns. She also presented on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) summer programs for the younger kids, 4th to 6th grade. This presentation was part of her internship requirement of learning to speak in public. The Spokane Tribe’s DNR also shared information on the history of the tribe to familiarize the Mille Lacs Band with the culture and tradition of the Spokane Tribe. The Mille Lacs Band’s DNR staff was able to ask in-depth questions about the internship program as well as learn about their mentor’s cultures, traditions and history.
At the beginning of November 2013, the second in-person meeting was hosted by the Spokane Tribe in Wellpinit, Washington. The Spokane Tribe’s DNR brought in their partner, the University of Idaho, to present on the Summer Learning Camp and the STEM Curriculum Development. The university has partnered with the tribe to help develop the curriculum. The tribe provides the culture, tradition and historical knowledge that they want incorporated into the curriculum. Further presentations included staff members from each DNR program discussing the impacts of the internship program and sharing best practices from their unique and individual points of view. During this meeting, the Mille Lacs Band shared information on their history, culture and traditions.
The face-to-face meetings are a critical way to build trust between the two tribes, to share tribal culture and tradition, and a way to learn the critical knowledge that is needed to help the mentee tribe reach their goal. Helping tribal youth see the value of college and learn about employment opportunities with their own tribe is a great way to lower the tribal unemployment rate, to build the knowledge base of tribal youth, provide opportunities for the youth, and to build up tribal sovereignty and independence.
By Lisa Yellow Eagle, First Nations Program Officer