Reflections from the OAP 2014 Class: Leech Lake Immersion

Salavador Miranda

Salavador Miranda

By Salvador Miranda

“Survival of the Fittest (dominant frame) OR Survival of Those With the Most Adaptive Skills”–Shirley Nordstrom

This May, the OAP 2014 Organizing Traveling Class had a two day immersion — a cultural experience hosted by Nicole Buckanaga (Leech Lake Nation) and family and friends at the Leech Lake Tribal College in Walker, Minnesota. The tour that Nicole and Jeff Harper (Leech Lake Nation) took the class on included hearing the history and update on the “super fund” site, where logging businesses, multi-national corporations, and local and federal pollution control agencies continue to debate responsibility for the clean up. Meanwhile the lake water, fish, and surrounding ecosystem are dangerous to local residents.

The tour included visiting sites where tribal lands — reservations created by treaties some 150 years ago — are home to reservation offices, family homes, and some businesses. Plans for renovated family housing, resources for training and jobs, and expansion of the Tribal College are signs of “survival” — renewed growth.

Later, we settled into the Tribal College, where we witnessed the richness of the tribal sacred spirituality, customs, traditions,language and Blessing of the Traditional Feast – powerful!!! As a native Minnesotan, raised to be assimilated in the dominant culture and language, I could feel the liberation – the power of these fellow Minnesotans committed to preserving the gifts given to them by their ancestors and Mother Earth. I was in awe of this self-determination and survival of the indigenous people in this part of Minnesota. Special thanks to Dr. Don Day, Leech Lake Tribal College President, for leading the opening ceremony.

One presenter, Simone Senogales (Red Lake Nation) shared her experiences with food sovereignty, preservation of seeds, and the Food Justice Movement growing in our communities. Efforts to grow our own food, pass it on to our children and freedom from multi-national corporations and institutions tampering with seed and natural food systems is at the center of her passion for these efforts. She also spoke of her interaction with educated whites at a Food Summit, where they spoke of food deserts in urban and rural communities and her question was a reality check – how in this abundant land, can we have food deserts? This is a structural issue of access and distribution. Manipulation by the marketplace and investors seeking wealth need to be held accountable (e.g. Walmart,  Koch Brothers, and others?).

Another presenter, Shirley Nordstrom (Red Lake Nation), spoke of “Nutricide – the practice of killing the food source – intentionally bringing about or causing deaths of large numbers of people.” Pointing out the 1800’s massive killing of the buffalo, displacement of entire tribes from the lands and food sources, and taking children from families for placement in boarding schools are all examples of Nutricide. She discussed the “ecocide” in Minnesota — the settlement of Europeans in Minnesota which created the structural violence — preventing people from access to healthy food. A colleague reminded me of what happens when cancer cells enter the body, bringing about destruction of healthy cells and ultimate death of the system. Is this what is happening? Not if these leaders have anything to do with the survival of our community/body. They are passing on ancestral gifts of survival to the children – our future.

Jeff Harper spoke of the Seasons: through syruping, fishing, ricing, and hunting that they are engaging youth in “hands on” experiences during a summer internship. Princess Titus (OAP Class organizer with Appetite for Change) asked about urban youth connecting to these experiences. Jeff responded that absolutely, let’s get urban youth up here! Jeff shared a story about the elders he encountered growing up in the area – his story is the elders would always say to him, “Pay Attention.”
Jeff reminded all of us that since Creation, our elders have done their job of taking care of us and Mother Earth. That care is threatened now if we fail to do our job!

What I took away from the experience, is that there are some who are “doing their job” — leading us to stop the cancer from spreading, taking measures to heal the environment, challenging those addicted to fossil fuels and chemical additives in food, taking back the land for growing food, trees, plants, and protect animals from extinction. The list goes on. All of this movement work will lead to the “survival of those with the most adaptable skills.“ Always has been that way and always will be…


The Equity Rubric: The Power of Parent Voices

Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez

Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez

By Gabriella Anais Deal-Márquez, Research and Policy Associate

“I have a question,” Sacramento said at the end of our training. “It’s not really about this, but I just want to put it out there.” Sacramento, a mother of three students in the Robbinsdale School District, shared frustration about the dangerous place the bus picked up children from her apartment. Rather than driving in front of the building, it simply stops on the corner, at the top of a hill where there is no enclosed place for the children to wait. “What can I do about this?” she said.

I’ve had a seat at the table with the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative (EEOC) for the last two years, but my conversations in Robbinsdale with Latina mothers on the inquiry team have reminded me what is at the heart of this project. I immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Mexico in 1998. My family chose to move into the northern suburb of Shorewood because of the highly ranked public schools there.

I often find myself revisiting memories from my childhood, remembering the confusion of that first year, trying to navigate literal translations, new accents, the humiliations of being a stranger in a new land, and understand why my parents were given judging glances and kept at a safe distance. Early on I learned the art of code-switching, knowing how to show different parts of myself, when to highlight and when to drop my accent, as to not make anyone too uncomfortable. Looking back on the challenges of that experience, I’m thankful to have had parents with the language skills to advocate for me in the classroom even when my teachers did not.

From the earliest stages of the Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project, the EEOC has been very intentional about incorporating parent and youth voices to ensure an authentic level of engagement with communities of color and American Indian communities. Parents’ voices have been pivotal in crafting the pilot framework and guide the shape it will take in the different districts. When Sacramento shared her concern about the bus route, it was with the purpose of coming up with a solution, a concrete plan for action. She promptly came up with a plan to call the department of transportation and propose an alternative pick-up location.

The Education Equity Rubric Pilot project is built on the idea that parents and communities of color have the knowledge to bring about the change their children need. I share this as a story of what happens when community sees their power as an asset. If you ask parents like Sacramento and her friend Nancy what they want for their children, what they need for success, they will respond without hesitation. Too often, communities of color are told we cannot hold power in our own hands, we cannot mold change. But with that simple statement and plan of action, Sacramento is already shattering this misconception. The exciting part is that the best is yet to come.


Education Equity Rubric: Voices from Deer River

Nelima Sitati

Nelima Sitati

By Nelima Sitati, Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator

My travel to Deer River in Northern Minnesota means a long three hour drive. The introvert in me enjoys these quiet moments when I am alone in the car and have the ability to gather my thoughts. The winding roads and scenic beauty ensure that I do not even remember the length of time it takes to get there. Most importantly, I look forward to meeting with the Deer River Education Equity Inquiry Team. I always leave those meetings having learned a lot and feeling energized to continue doing this work.

The Deer River Education Equity Inquiry Team is a team of parents, district administrators, community stakeholders, and teachers and district staff. They are working together to identify barriers to education equity and co-create solutions to close these gaps. Lael Storlie is a member of the team who works for the Itasca Community College as a Trio Talent Search Advisor. She is based in four high schools – Deer River High School, Bigfork High School, Northland School (Remer) and Bug O Nay Ge Shig. She provides support and expands college access to low income and potential first generation college students in grades 6-12. She is also a community member who is raising three children. She is a 2002 graduate of Deer River High School.

The Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project is a statewide project that seeks to advance education equity throughout the state of Minnesota. The project moves away from the traditional top down solutions and believes that the people most impacted need to be involved in identifying what barriers exist for them and in the solution-making process. The project also moves away from the usual test score measures as the only way of measuring education equity, and seeks to dig deeper into other issues that are ailing the education system and could be contributing to these gaps. As Lael puts it, she is involved in this project because she believes that, “every student deserves equal access, opportunity and support.”

The project aims to include voices that are traditionally not included at the decision making table. Lael says that her experience so far has been very positive; and that by participating in the project she is finding her voice as well as growing as an individual. The project works towards achieving eight goals that the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative worked to identify as being useful in order to achieve equity. These goals resonate with her. She “believes in equity and that in its truest form it provides solutions to many issues on a broader scale.” Her hopes for the Deer River School District and this work are that they will use this project as a platform for an opportunity to propel them into action. She sees this happening through the data that is being collected and the room that is being provided to have conversations that propel growth.

Lael believes that the work of this project provides a great opportunity for change, and feels very fortunate to be included in doing this work in her home district. With the continued work and dedication of Lael and the rest of the team, the Deer River School District is on a good start to making education equity for all a reality. I am very excited to be part of their journey.

Learn more about the Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project on the OAP website.