We arrived in Wisconsin on this fifth and penultimate leg of our trip to an unseasonably hot and humid climate of Green Bay, then to the thicket of the Menominee Nation. Making our way through the forest, we arrived at the College of Menominee Nation (CMN) in Keshena to meet our our subjects for this project. They were gathered on the steamy afternoon planting their sustainable, permaculture garden under the blue water tower on campus at the entrance to the Menominee Nation Reservation.
Fruit trees, carrots, corn — all types of veggies and fruits remain from the previous growing season and newly planted foliage are near the walking trail that leads into the forest behind the campus. Some of the beds are plotted to shape out the letters CMN. The garden, set up by a grant from the Clinton Global Initiative, is led by education major Dee Cobb. Using plants that replenish themselves by seed or annual fruit production, this sustainable garden is much like the students we meet to interview, being that they are all looking for their role in what types of seeds they have planted for themselves at this small tribal college.
The college on this reservation and the people here seek to thrive through education to better their community and traditions. One group, coming off a busy day of interviewing from their own video project, hope to learn and study elders’ experiences and observations concerning climate change.
We enjoyed a visit with tribal college president Verna Fowler and learned more about the programs at the school and what we could expect from CMN in the future. There is an excitement towards the development of niche, Native American-driven, four-year degree programs beyond the sole four-year major in education currently offered. Many of the students we met are completing their degrees to move on to one of the many other colleges in the state of Wisconsin. Everyone remaining on the campus since classes ended is preparing for their commencement ceremonies on June 5.
One of our highlights of the trip has been the opportunity to talk with Cedar – one of our students featured in our Think Indian PSA campaigns. We found her on campus, no longer a student, but a recent graduate from a nearby university and now employed as an alumni employee of the college. We took time to interview her in a stunning atrium joining Shirley Daly Hall and Glenn Miller Hall in the center of the campus. The glass-paneled room, lined with hand-carved wooden accents, has a large Menominee ancestral bear carving bearing a ceremonial pipe and wearing a headdress, and made from the trunk of a butternut tree.
We also met one of our students and wer honored to be invited to see where he lives. Ironically, we were delayed by troubles with the vehicle he uses to commute to school, underscoring his financial need, but we continued on with our meeting and shared stories and songs along the shores of Legend Lake as he welcomed us into his life.