New program aims to improve lives of young Native men
By Joe Morey
A new program at Lac Courte Oreilles focuses on improving the lives of young Native men through learning their cultural identity and traditions.
The Gwayako Bimaadiziwin program, or Living the Right Kind of Life, started with a three-year grant in the amount of $260,342, through the Native Youth Initiative for Leadership, Empowerment, and Development (ILEAD).
Luanne Kolumbus, director of the program, explained the initiative as a strengths-based program to improve the lives of young men by strengthening Ojibwe identity and resiliency.
“Since we started in February, we meet two to three nights a week and we’ve had 64 guys come through that are currently here or have been here,” Kolumbus said. “Some have jobs now that conflict with our scheduling and some have left for the military.”
Kolumbus said they have a consistent 18 to 20 guys each night. The program aims to connect 25 young men with their cultural traditions through seasonal subsistence activities and also address unresolved trauma through trauma-informed group therapy.
“Each of the guys has created a Life Plan where they write down where they want to go in life, or what is their current state of being,” Kolumbus said. “It’s a big part of the program and was a requirement of the grant.”
Kolumbus said that part of the Life Plan is they learn employment skills, independent living skills, and they are taught to be respectful.
“They will be surprised when they look back in a year on what they wrote down,” said Kolumbus.
Kolumbus explained each night the guys meet, they do a certain activity or have speakers come and talk to them or teach them. She said they meet at the LCO Tribal Office and they all must be there by 5:15 pm or the doors lock and the meetings go till 7:00 pm.
“When they get here, we first have a meal out for them,” Kolumbus said. “This week, Julie Snow, our Elder teacher, is here teaching them how to make moccasins.”
Kolumbus said the guys get paid a stipend for attending the meetings but they have to stay for the entire session.
Jason Martin also works with Kolumbus, and she said he is a mentor to the guys.
“They depend on Jason a lot. When they have troubles they know they can talk to him, sometimes for hours,” Kolumbus said.
The ILEAD grant describes the purpose as supporting local community projects that foster Native youth resiliency and empowers Native youth. There are four areas of focus which include projects that promote leadership development; projects that build a strong sense of positive identity, connection to the community and social-emotional health; projects that foster engagement in school, learning, and investment in Native youth educational success; and projects that help develop positive work habits, support working effectively in groups, and encourage engagement in public service.
Kolumbus shared some of the projects they have been doing, such as learning how to rice, make dream catchers and birch bark baskets, and Dr. Mike Sullivan coming next week to sing and drum with the guys. She said they took the guys to the Chippewa Flowage where they met with some Elders who talked with them about the flooding of the Flowage.
“Many of the guys never knew about the flooding,” Kolumbus said. “They got to see Church Island and where many graves are located.”
Kolumbus said the guys are also encouraged to go to school where they are taking college classes or achieving their HSED. She said some of the guys have even volunteered to join the LCO Fire Department and are going through training.
Kolumbus said the guys got a couple of vans on Election Day and went through the reservation offering rides, and where ever they found someone wasn’t home, they left information against heroin in their doors.
“These guys are heroin warriors. They have chosen to take a stand against it,” Kolumbus said. “They all have someone they’ve lost to heroin, either friends or family.”
Some other activities she said included Keller Paap coming to meet with the guys to teach them about the Ojibwe language, and another person taught them about making maple syrup.
“At each meeting we open with the passing of tobacco and one of our guys will say a prayer in Ojibwe,” Kolumbus said. “Our guys are required to learn how to introduce themselves in Ojibwe.”
Kolumbus said they also have learned how to correctly handle and prepare a feast in the Ojibwe way. Each quarter they are required to have a feast and the guys prepare it, bring it out and put it out on the floor.
“Diane Sullivan has also been here to meet with the guys a couple of times to hold trauma-informed talking cirlces,” said Kolumbus.
Any Native young man between ages 17 to 24 interested in participating in the program can call Luanne Kolumbus or Jason Martin at 715-638-5107.