Indigenous Parent Leadership Initiative celebrates graduation of second cohort
Ten individuals were celebrated this week at the second graduation of the Indigenous Parent Leadership Initiative, an intense 22-week program that develops “champions of change” for their community.
This marked the second graduation of the IPLI in White Earth Nation. The most recent graduates join 11 women who graduated last year through the first cohort.
“We (now) have 21 parent advocates; we have 21 heroes … we have 21 leaders in the community,” said Barb Fabre, CEO of Indigenous Visioning and president of All Nations Rise. “Just imagine all the leaders if we keep going with cohorts three, four, five, six. Just imagine what that would look like, imagine what our communities would like, because you’re making that change graduates; you’re making the difference in our communities.”
Each program participant develops a personal passion project designed to empower their community.
The following details each graduate’s plans.
Judd Brown (Gaawbo Makonce)
Judd, a single parent of four children, intends to train through White Bison to become a Warrior Down Support Group facilitator to help individuals returning to their community after incarceration.
He spoke of his own struggles with addiction after losing a child and a cancer diagnoses, but ultimately finding the “red road” on May 24, 2019, going to college, earning his associate’s degree, and obtaining employment with White Earth Nation as a peer support specialist.
“(I will) begin a support group to help our people to transition back into society in a good way,” he said.
Ashley Bunker (Wase Mo Niimi Kwe)
Ashley’s project is titled “Innaate,” through which she will advocate for the implementation of prevention-oriented child sexual abuse education in schools. This would offer age-appropriate techniques on how to recognize child sexual abuse and how to tell a trusted adult. Ashley is focused on the implementation of Erin’s Law in Mahnomen schools. This law has been adopted in 38 states, including Minnesota.
“My project is to shine light on the silent epidemic of child sexual abuse … in our schools and education communities,” she said. “I believe the more we discuss this issue, the more we can prevent child sexual abuse.”
She is scheduled to address the Mahnomen School Board in August.
“I would also like to collaborate with White Earth Public Health and the Naytahwaush charter school and eventually expand into all the schools in our area,” she said.
She said that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18 and only 1 of 10 will ever talk about it.
“Ninety percent of our children are abused by someone they know,” she said. “I believe this will encourage our children to use their voice to stand up for themselves and break generational cycles.”
Mykee Brown (Makwa Midewiyaanikwe)
Mykee’s project aims to create a community-based gathering, growing in wisdom by looking seven generations back and seven generations ahead.
“It’s a wholesome grown group that will focus on mental health and healing,” she said. “There will be different age groups that meet separately, as well as coming together as one.”
The gatherings will be held throughout the White Earth reservation, as well as “travel as far as our hearts will take us.”
“We will come together and set goals and help one another achieve them, hoping to accomplish more stability in homes and create more leaders and role models for teens, children, and future generations to live up to,” she said. “I believe that teamwork makes the dream work and together we can better future better as a nation for future generations one step at a time.”
Sarah Fox (Waasigan Ikwe)
Holding a poster-sized frame photograph of her son, Sarah spoke to how she intends to work with Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration to create an underage drinking awareness campaign for the Rice Lake community.
“I will distribute literature to parents and children door to door” and also distribute to the Rice Lake Community Center and local businesses, she said. Sarah plans to work with the Bagley School District, White Earth Tribal Council, Rice Lake Community Council, and IPLI graduates to continue raising awareness.
“I know I will have succeeded when I see less teenage drinking and more parental involvement in my community,” she said.
Initially, her project was going to develop a program to teach youth life skills. But after Sarah’s son died in March, she adopted a new project named in his honor – Mikinaak Ode, which means Turtle Love. The week of his death was the only week Sarah missed of the 22-week IPLI cohort.
“I was really nervous when I first started (IPLI), I didn’t stretch right away to come out of my comfort zone,” she said. “They all became family to me … when I returned (after missing that week), they showed me so much love. I know I have another family.”
David Hanks (Ogimaa Bines)
“Nisiiyay Cultural Mentorship Program” will teach boys to be responsible young Anishinaabe men, David said.
“To take pride in who they are,” he said. “With this formula, myself and the other big brothers will aim to teach our oshki inini fun activities, as well as cultural teachings.”
David, to laughter, said he only took part in the program because his wife forced him.
“I didn’t think I’d become this involved,” he said. “We shared a lot; we shared sadness, anger, pain, all of that together as one group.”
Emil reflected on the experiences of grief. He was 16 when he experienced his first loss – his sister – and then lost another sister, brothers, grandparents, and friends in the years beyond.
“I thought I could deal with grief; I was wrong,” he said. “In 2019, I lost the love of my life of eight years in a car accident. That was a real test for myself as I grieved.”
From those experiences, Emil now intends to create a Grief Support Group to help community members who are grieving.
“I want to learn and obtain knowledge on how to deal with grief,” he said, referencing the five stages. “With the knowledge I gain, I want to create a group of helpers who are willing to offer help to others in a time of need while our community members are grieving.”
His intention is to have three groups – one for those who lost a loved one in recent days, one that is open for all, and one for children.
“I want people to know that they’re not alone and that we can deal with this sadness together,” he said.
Maria Hvezda (Miskobinesi Ikwe)
Maria’s project will bring autism awareness education to the Rice Lake community to create safer environments for children with autism.
In 2017, Maria took in her 3-week-old nephew and has raised him as her own.
“This little boy brings so much joy and happiness for us all,” she said. “He is my world. He changed mine and my whole family’s life for the better.”
She wants the Rice Lake community to be safe for him, as well as other children who have autism.
“My biggest fear is that he will get hurt or get bullied or teased,” she said.
Maria will partner with the Multicultural Autism Action Network for educational materials for the community.
“I want Darwin to know that he’s unique, special, Anishinaabe, and is loved by so many people,” she said.
Fawn said that while she was growing up, the opportunities to learn and participate in cultural activities were limited.
Her intention is to create “Niigaan Naabin,” which means “look ahead,” to provide Rice Lake youth the opportunity to learn and experience their culture. Aimed at those aged 13 to 18, she believes this will help that youth of the community grow as individuals and build strong relationships.
Weekly meetings will incorporate activities and teachings, such as food sovereignty.
“I plan on empowering our youth to be kind, responsible activators who can share and enjoy their culture,” she said. “I hope to be able to share my knowledge but also invite guest speakers to share their knowledge each week at our gatherings.”
Christina wants to implement a life skills program for youth aged 13 to 18, partnering with a local Boys & Girls Club to volunteer teach about topics such as grooming, healthy eating, and cooking. She also plans to obtain education materials from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Personal Responsibility Program to offer resources on financial literacy and self care.
“When you turned 18, did you know what a credit score was or how to use it? Did you know what a bank account was or did you have one?” she asked. “Well, I didn’t. It was hard to rent my first place or buy a car. Now that I’m older, I wish someone would have taught me these things.”
Tess remembers was it was like to be bullied and to see others going through similar experiences. Bullying, she said, can lead to depression, self-withdrawal, suicidal ideation and attempts.
“For my project, I am raising awareness (with a) bullying prevention focus,” Tess said. “Suicide rates are higher in the native communities compared to all other racial ethnic groups.”
Her program – Stand Strong Together – will raise awareness, enforce policies, and strengthen prevention.
“Collaborating with existing community resources can be an important aspect of prevention in this community,” she said. “The preventative measures we could take to help all those getting bullied … and those holding them strong together will be a committee of parents, teachers, and any community members that want to help.”
About the program
The IPLI program culminates with the graduation ceremony but the work does not end. Each program participant develops a personal passion project designed to empower their community.
“It’s about finding out what the cause of the problem is and creating that change,” said Kris Manning, IPLI facilitator. “You are our leaders. You have taken the step to be change agents in your community, and you will make a difference not only for your family, your community, but our future generations.”
In the first phase of the program, participants learned to be vulnerable with one another, leaning into teachings about leadership and self-perception, how to define a problem and work a solution.
Beth Ann Dodds, the IPLI program coordinator, explained how that phase used a series of activities through which participants examined their personal assets and needs, with focuses on their families and tribal communities.
“That process helps them learn about their passion with purpose,” she said. “There’s a lot of tears. There’s a lot of hugs. There was a lot of laughter. There were some arguments; we talked about difficult topics.”
That process leads into the second phase, which looks at the life cycle of a child, functions of the family, evaluation and outcomes, accountability, and understanding public policy.
“There was so much laughter, a lot of tears – emotions – that (this) cohort went through (together),” Kris said. “You all came into this cohort a fighter, and we can see your passion for your community.”
Two former graduates of the first cohort – Susie Ballot and Marlena Hanson – have become IPLI facilitator trainees. Susie’s program upon graduation last year was focused on helping Anishinaabe people reconnect with their culture.
“I wanted to help our people reconnect who we are through our names,” she said,” because that says a lot about who we are as Anishinaabe people. With this second cohort, I think there are only one or two who didn’t get their names, so that makes me feel really proud, that they’re finding out who they are as Anishinaabe people.
“I’m really proud of all of you and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
The IPLI program is made possible due to support through a Minnesota Department of Health Community Solutions Healthy Child Development grant, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, and White Earth Nation Project Launch.