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The Healing Power of Connecting with Native Identity

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Martin Jennings, Jennifer Greenleaf & Sedrick Hindsley discuss their cultural journeys and the importance of sharing with the next generation.

The Northwest Indian Community Development Center is a native controlled nonprofit offering a wide array of individual and social supports for the native community of northern Minnesota by identifying, coordinating and delivering resources that promote wellness and equity – programming undergirded in the Anishinaabe way.

Last week on Area Voices, Executive Director Martin Jennings, Family Services Lead Jennifer Greenleaf, and Youth Programming Assistant Sedrick Hindsley discussed the many programs at NWICDC. In this segment, they discuss their personal journey in terms of their path to and connection with their culture and the importance of sharing the ways with the younger generation.

…The Bureau of Indian Affairs was encouraging families to leave the reservation… And part of the relocation strategy really was to mainstream Indians and acculturate them into dominant society. And that was my family's experience. We wanted to follow kind of like middle income values and fit in … the culture side of it for me didn't happen until I left the cities and came back up north and went to college here and then kind of got reconnected...I had different men that came into my life that opened up this pathway of learning. And so for me, coming from an acculturated family, there was always kind of like a spiritual void that really couldn't be fit by Christianity. – Martin Jennings, Executive Director, NWICDC

Later in my life I really started to get more connected to it. My dad got really sick and his Midewiwin teachings were really important to him…that's when it really started to become more apparent how healing and how important they were to him. And I just felt more in touch with it myself… I lost a child and it was just like glaringly obvious that I had to bury her the Native way. I never even really considered doing it any other way, and that's just where my heart was at. So I guess that's pretty much what it's always been. I guess I just didn't really completely know it. – Jennifer Greenleaf, Family Services Lead, NWICDC

I kind of started with… a city life… til I was about seven… My dad got out of prison and he kind of pointed us in the way of NAC - Native American Church. And … that really is kind of one of the most unreal things I've ever felt... A Native American church is feeling the presence of God, singing for him, praying for him. You go in the NAC church, you don't pray for yourself at all. … in my later years, I learned my Ojibwe side. I started staying with my grandpa Mick. He showed me the big drum ways… before I left the first time to go to finish school, he gave me a note that said, ‘don't forget your teachings. You're growing your hair out now, by the way.’ So ever since then, I kind of lean myself on my teachings… - Sedrick Hindsley, NWICDC Youth Programming Assistant

Last week NWICDC hosted a Round Dance at the Bemidji Armory. The event featured the many area youth and was organized in large part by Youth Programming Assistant, Sedrick Hindsley.

I like seeing a lot of kids smiling and having fun... it's really awesome to see the different levels of maturity through the kids and how they act ...I’m a new father myself... My daughter is six months old... She's always happy…when we go to powwow, she's a little bit more happy...She just loves hearing the music and feeling the drums through the ground. - Sedrick Hindsley, NWICDC Youth Programming Assistant

Family Services Lead, Jennifer Greenleaf noted the importance and healing power of holding cultural events off the reservation, where people with limited access can attend.

...there's a lot of people in Bemidji … off-reservation natives that are hindered by poverty. They don't have the transportation, they might not have the money to go, but if we provide these in a location where they can get to, they can attend … This could be like a four generation type event where, you know, the baby's all the way up to the great grandma, and we see that quite a bit… we're fortunate to see that with the genocide that was put upon us…That’s important to our healing…

That NWICDC has a calendar full of programming including a December 6th workshop for women going into nontraditional careers of plumbing, HVAC and commercial refrigeration - lots of great opportunities and assistance! … check it out here!

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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.