Bridging cultural differences and developing youth leadership
Adolescence can be a hard time for many children, a time when they need assistance building their self-esteem and
making good choices for their futures. Children on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation face the added pressures of racism
and fear as they prepare to enter the critical high school
years. Children attend grade school on the Reservation
and then are bused to a high school in Minocqua, where
they suddenly find themselves a minority amongst the
The Lakeland Union High School Intercultural
Leadership Initiative (ILI) Transition Day Program was
started in 2004 to bridge cultural differences and build
self-esteem amongst 8th graders, before they enter the
new world of high school. Eighth grade students from
all area schools participate, as do their 8th and 9th
The sessions are similar to an Outward Bound
program, in which the children participate in activities
designed to build trust, cultivate cultural awareness and
acceptance, increase self-esteem and allow the children
to develop new friendships in a supportive setting.
There is one session in May, at the close of eighth
grade and another in September as the students prepare
to start high school. Both are held in the forested area
behind the high school.
Transition Days has become an annual event. It has
been so successful that in 2007 the school district took
over financial responsibility for the program (with
ongoing organizing and facilitation by the ILI program
staff). They have also implemented ILI's
recommendation that the 8th grade May Transition
groups be broken into "families" that become their homerooms for the next 4 years of high school.
ILI staff also worked with the school administration to set up the Lakeland Area Transition Committee made up of
guidance counselors from each of the elementary schools and the high school. The purpose of this committee is to
oversee Transition Day events as well as beginning a regular dialog between the schools on other transition issues such as
discipline, substance abuse prevention and common curriculum.
Said one student, "Before I went to Transition Days I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get along with anyone. The
program changed my whole way of thinking about high school!"
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Creating a healthy local economy and family-supporting jobs
"I had always dreamed about coming back to where I
grew up," says Kiesha Beltz. "It was hard to do because
I have kids and needed to support them and
opportunities on the Reservation were limited. NiiJii
Kiesha now owns her own hair salon, Natural Colors.
She works in Adaawe Place, a business incubator
sponsored in part by NiiJii to provide a space for Native
entrepreneurs to get their start in retail. For Kiesha the
discounted space is only a part of the help provided to
launch her business.
"I had to learn to budget," says Kiesha. "NiiJii has
provided the training and support."
"I went to several banks for the money to start the
business, but I kept getting turned down because I had
no collateral. I even went to the Tribe for help. That is
where I learned about NiiJii giving business loans.
Another Native business client referred me."
"This program gave me the opportunity to come back to the Reservation where I grew up, work near my home, spend
more time with my children and become a successful business owner," concludes Kiesha.
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Preserving Native language and culture
Vernadine Longtail's aunt and uncle taught her to speak their native language when she
was a young child. She then taught herself to read and write the language. Now, as a
respected elder in her Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Vernadine wants to teach her
native language to children and adults before it dies and is lost forever.
Vernadine first got involved with NiiJii as a worker in the Elder Worker C-Sep
Program. At that time, she had not been working and was not engaged productively in
the community, despite her educational attainment. She needed support.
"My self-esteem was very low, but staff from NiiJii encouraged me to apply for the
position of Cultural Preservation Director," said Vernadine. "This helped me get back
into teaching my native language. History is embedded in language. The more we, as
Native Americans, know our native language, the more we know who we are as people.
Where we are from and where we are going is very important."
NiiJii went on the fund the production of tapes, manuals, classes and language camps
for adults and youth to preserve this invaluable cultural resource.
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Meeting basic needs and protecting the environment
In 1997, the Menominee wastewater treatment lagoon system was overstretched by 110% and water distribution systems
Lew Boyd, then Director of Economic Development, was given the job of finding a way to attract resources to the
Reservation for infrastructure development. The following year, Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community was formed,
bringing with it access to special set-aside dollars for infrastructure and public works.
Since the spring of 2003 the wastewater and water improvement projects for the Menominee Reservation have brought
close to $10 million in capital improvements and publics works projects. After Neopit's waste and water improvement
projects are completed, USDA Rural Development will have extended close to $14 million in financial assistance to the
"Without NiiJii's help, the Menominee Tribe would have been hard-pressed to get the infrastructure problems rectified
and other pressing public works needs tended to," said Dave Corn, Menominee County Administrator.
Indian Health Service honored the project managers with an "Outstanding Performance" award in a special ceremony.
Amidst a moving drumming ceremony and prayer in celebration of the construction of the Keshena Water
Improvement Project, and surrounded by dignitaries, partners, elders and community members, then Menominee Tribal
Chairwoman Karen Washinowatak reflected on the importance of water to the Menominee Spirit. "Water has always
been spiritually very important to the Menominee people. We are grateful to have help in providing good water to
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