Leech Lake Tribal College
Tallie has always seen herself as a healer. When she entered Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, Minnesota, Tallie’s goal was to get her associate’s degree with a science emphasis before moving on to nursing school.
What Tallie didn’t realize before graduating in 2009 was that her educational journey would be about more than healing the body. It would extend to healing the land, lost traditions, and the past hurts of Native people.
Today Tallie works for the Department of Resource Management in the Plants Department for the Leech Lake Ojibwe tribe. She got the job after she completed internships while in college. Her boss asked her to stay after her internships were completed to take up the tribe’s invasive species program. “I rid the reservation of these problem species without pesticides and herbicides, using the most natural methods possible,” Tallie says. “I am also learning about medicinal plants with the elders.”
This summer Tallie headed to Canada to participate in her first year of Medicine Camp as part of a four-year program to learn the medicinal and spiritual properties of plants. Each year she will learn about 12 different medicines. When participants graduate, they are honored with the presentation of an eagle feather.
Participants are chosen to participate if they speak humbly and carry themselves in a humble way, a cultural value that is ingrained in American Indian people and is necessary in order to be considered to be a Medicine Keeper, or person responsible for speaking and singing for these species. “I want to preserve what we have and share it with other people,” Tallie says.
Native people have a strong connection to the earth and to their history, and Tallie sees where healing is needed there as well. This summer she was a volunteer for a Condolence Ceremony for 150 Natives from around the world. The program was the result of a vision of elders from six nations who had a vision that coming together to pray in Minnesota by the waters would heal the wrongs of the past. Tallie helped to welcome people from Guatemala, Six Nations, South America, the Lakota and Dakota nations, the pueblos in the southwest, and more to Leech Lake for the weeklong ceremony. She pitched tents, chopped wood, and cooked for the gathering.
Because of Tallie’s connection with the earth through her job and beliefs, she also decided to train to be a firefighter for forest fires. She completed training in June at Leech Lake Tribal College as one of six women in a class of approximately 50 people. “It was pretty intense with all of the gear they wear and the ax,” she says. “And that was just a taste of all that they do.” She stays fit by training regularly to be able to withstand the heavy activity on the line while waiting to be called to duty. Seasonal firefighting is a good source of income for many Natives in areas where there is high unemployment, and many students train and put themselves through college with the extra money they earn.
Tallie says, “My path is coming together slowly.” This fall she plans to complete a semester of courses in prerequisites for nursing back at Leech Lake Tribal College, then transfer to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Minneapolis. Tallie, originally from Oklahoma, would like to return to the Leech Lake Reservation, where she was adopted into a family of the Bear and Eagle Clan, after earning her bachelor’s degree. She would like to serve the Ojibwe community by incorporating western medicine with traditional Native medicine as a nurse—just another facet of her role as healer.
Listen in: From a KAXE interview with Tallie. Tallie discusses her current work in invasive species plant protection, and her plans to get a PhD in Ethnobotany. She also talks about the giving and receiving of respect, the importance of continuing education after high school, and positive change on the reservation due to the existence of Leech Lake Tribal College.