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Red Lake Youth: Ojibwe Culture at National Convention.

RL Drum and Dance
RL Drum and Dance Group performing in Orlando, FL

Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club Drum and Dance Group Performs at the Boys and Girls Club of America Native Summit!

This group of kids are just straight up rock stars! …They've been selected because they've been exceptional club members. They're students. They're kids who come to club regularly and they display good club behavior and attendance and participation…They've already performed at different things - Last February, our drum and dance program got to perform at Target Center before a Timber Wools game. And that was an awesome experience for them. It was really cool because their talents and their engagement in the culture was rewarded in a way where it got put on a national level. - Thomas Barrett, Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club CEO

RL Drum and Dance Program

The Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club Drum and Dance Program was invited to another major event and has been performing at the Boys and Girls Club of America Native Summit in Orlando, Florida this week. In this Area Voices, CEO of the Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club, Thomas Barrett (aka Thomas X) discusses the Native Summit, Ojibwe cultural programming at the club, and how that programming influences kids’ identity and enhances their day to day lives.

We utilize our position here to create Ojibwe cultural programming - whether that's history, ceremony, language, music, arts, crafts.  We try our best to show the kids here in Red Lake all the different and unique aspects of what it is to be Ojibwe, or as some people would say, Anishinaabe. It’s important because it's creating a sense of identity for a lot of these kids. And it's our way of re-indigenizing the youth in our community. So whether it's big drum programming, moccasin games, ribbon skirt making, arts and crafts, the language table, our power hour involving Red Lake and Ojibwe history lessons, the kids come to the Red Lake and Ponemah Boys and Girls Clubs, and they're going to be exposed to some type of Ojibwe culture that's going to bring them closer to their identity.

Click the green bubble above for the whole conversation!

Full Transcript:

Katie: The Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club drum and dance group has been performing this week in Orlando, Florida at the Boys and Girls Club of America Native Summit. Thomas Barrett is the CEO of the Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls Club, and I caught up with him before they left town. So first of all, Migwich, for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk, I was just wondering if you could catch us up. The Boys and Girls Club in Red Lake I think is a pretty magical and unique place due to the fact that you've got so much great cultural work, it's threaded through the fabric of just the day to day of how things run up there. Could you talk about that aspect of the Boys and Girls Club and how that kind of sets your club a little bit differently compared to others?

Thomas Barrett: Sure. Yeah. So we're one of the Native Boys and Girls Clubs organization. Boys and Girls Clubs of America, back in 1992 established a group called the Native Services Team, which is a team that consists of indigenous Boys and Girls Club workers across the country. And they did this because back in the early 90s, there was already a high number of Boys and Girls Club being established on different reservations and native communities throughout the country. And the Native Services Team is basically a team of directors of development that oversee different clubs in different regions. So like ours would be like here in the Midwest, our DoD overseas clubs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, etc…

 Boys and Girls Clubs on reservations and native communities, we have the opportunity to create indigenous programming. And in our case, we have this club here on the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe…we have two clubs, one in the town of Red Lake and one in the town of Pohnema. And we utilize our position here to create Ojibwe cultural programming, whether that's history, ceremony, language, music, arts and crafts, we try our best to show the kids here in Red Lake all the different and unique aspects of what it is to be Ojibwe, or as some people would say, Anishinaabe.. It’s important because it's creating a sense of identity for a lot of these kids. And it's our way of re-indigenizing the youth in our community. So whether it's big drum programming, mocking games, ribbon skirt making, arts and crafts, the language table, our power hour involving Red Lake and Ojibwe history lessons, the kids come to the Red Lake and put in Boys and Girls Club, and they're going to be exposed to some type of Ojibwe culture that's going to bring them closer to their identity.

Katie: Was the Boys and Girls Club around when you were growing up?

Thomas: The Boys and Girls Club actually was established in 2006. I was a junior in high school. Back then, they didn't have its own building. They were just like keeping the school gym and cafeteria open after school. And, you know, sounds really simple, but for me and my peers back in high school, it meant a lot that we had a place to go to after school because there wasn't a ton of after school programming, let alone a Boys and Girls Club type of program going on in the community. So the fact that we had an open gym to play ball in, that they would feed us, that they had things set up in the cafeteria, like board games and different kinds of lessons and programs by different speakers and teachers and people from different backgrounds, it meant a lot to us. And it was something that gave us a sense of pride, of being from Red Lake, that I'm a member of this Boys and Girls Club. So it started in 2006, and I'm proud of Red Lake Club alumni.

Katie: Wow. And then when did you guys get your stand alone building?

Thomas: The Red Lake unit was built in 2008. Ponemah unit was built in 2012. Our Ponemah unit also acts as a community center as well.

Katie: Okay, I wondered and we'll talk about the drum and dance group specifically in a couple of moments here, but if you could talk to the notion of seeing the growth that happens in the kids as they get more in tune with their identity through the activities.

Thomas: It's like a natural, evolving thing. When you see some of our kids who like to get involved in the drum and dance program, we've seen kids seek out people to make them regalia, and they'll be dancing in regalia for the first time at the next summer powwow. Or they simply just want to go to powwows and see the different drum groups singing and see their friends and their relatives dancing in the arena because it's something that they're into now, and it's because they were able to be a part of it.

Here at our program, we did initiatives with the language where if you learned how to introduce yourself in the Ojibwe language, you would win a touch screen tablet. Some kids did it, and they did it just to get the tablet, but some kids learn little pieces of the language, and now they kept going, and they kept seeking out these language speakers and figuring out how to say this, and then all of a sudden they want to learn-What's their Ojibwe name? How do I get an Ojibwe name? And then they start instinctively learning about that. They can use their culture for mental health services, like attending the sweat lodge ceremony or how the Ojibwe people pray by putting out our tobacco and burning sage and using these different medicines.

We collaborated with Liz Barrett and Jon Thunder to develop a children's book about the seven Grandfather teachings. And these… children are reading this book or having this book read to them. They hear this cool story but they're looking in the book and they're seeing the Red Lake Nation flag flying in there and they're learning… hey, I see my grandma burn stage. And they're talking about sage in this book, and they're connecting all these dots.

We're just one program of many in our community that's trying our best to promote more of a culture. So to be one of the pillars that's doing that for our kids, it means a lot to us here.

Katie: It's just fantastic. So let's talk about the drum and dance group specifically that's heading to Orlando. They've been working hard. What's going on? Who are the kids going? Tell me what you can tell me about the group.

Thomas: So this group of kids are just straight up rock stars. Like, they're just like amazing singers and dancers. They were singing and dancing before we established any kind of program for this at the club. They're just the kids that kind of come do it and the other kids see them doing it and the other kids want to get involved because it's their peers singing and dancing… We've had different kids get involved in our programs. Some are just now learning, some have come and gone and just join when they can when they're here. But the kids…going to Orlando, Florida… they've been selected because they've been exceptional club members. They're students. They're kids who come to club regularly and they display good club behavior and attendance and participation. And they've always been there when it came time for like when we needed kids to sing and dance in Regalia and they've already performed at different things.

Last February, our drum and dance program got to perform at Target Center before a Timber Wools game. And that was an awesome experience for them. They got to watch the Timber Wolves play that night and to dance on a stage on Target Center. It was really cool because their talents and their engagement and the culture was rewarded in a way where it got put on a national level. They performed at things like the GMAT Conference, which is an organization through BGCA. And some of the kids I've been involved in my music projects that were collaborations with the club. My song I'm Anishinaabe featured some of these kids singing and dancing in that video as well. And Boys and Girls Club of America, they recognize these kids through the video through our programming, and they've been calling on them to perform at these different things. So sometime early this spring, in 2022, native Services called us and said, hey, we want you drum and dance group to perform at the annual Native Summit. They're excited. They get to go to Orlando, Florida, and they're also excited that they get to represent our club and our nation in Red Lake at this stage.

Katie: Oh, my gosh, congratulations. That is so cool. So, Thomas, what happens at the Native Summit?

Thomas: It's like a gathering of all the Native Boys and Girls Clubs in America. And it's mostly staff that go to this. It's a conference where we get to go to different presentations and seminars and learn how we can work together, learn how we can gain access to different resources and grants and things like that. It's a chance for us as club staff to get together and share our work with each other and our ideas. And Native Summit always invites a couple of clubs to bring their kids out to perform. Like, I went out there in 2019 and the Boys and girls Club of Samoa performed and they did - My best way to describe it was a form of the – haka dance. So it's more so like the clubs bringing their culture, their specific culture from where they're from, to the Native Summit. So this year they picked the Red Light Club and we're going to represent with our Ojibwe style of drum, singing and dancing in regalia.

Katie: So the kids have been working on their regalia, too, preparing.

Thomas: Yeah, a lot of them, they're already set. They're usually pretty fresh with their regalia. They're growing kids, so they got to get a new outfit almost yearly. And some of them are actually royalty. Some of them have been. What I mean by royalty is the Red Lake Powell crown, what would be called a brave and a princess. It's like a competition for the youth to dance. And then the team of Labor Day also has a brave and a princess, too. So we're actually bringing kids who are past royalty and current royalty with us as well. So these kids are champion dance.

Katie: How exciting. So do you find when you go to those conferences, do you feel like as other directors, as you guys all connect, do you have some of the same challenges? Are you noticing some of the same ways to make really great impact in kids when you all get your minds together?

Thomas: Definitely. Yeah. Like when I went to 2019 when you said in different seminars and presentations, there's always room for discussion and we have the challenges, similar success stories. And our communities have a lot of similarities and trials and tribulations and triumphs. So to come together and hear different people's stories and to be able to share each other's ideas on what works and some of us will take home in our club. So it's a real educational and beneficial summit.

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Katie Carter started at Northern Community Radio in 2008 as Managing Editor of the station's grant-funded, online news experiment Northern Community Internet. Since 2016, she's produced Area Voices showcasing the arts, culture, and history stories of northern Minnesota. She's our local host of NPR's All Things Considered and CBC's As It Happens every weekday from 4-7pm.