Place-Based in Cyberspace

It’s summertime and for me, usually, summertime means many things—powwows, research, fairs, and travel. More than anything else though, summertime is a time to gather up with friends to soak in the life-affirming joy of land and water. This summer is no different in that regard, but what is different is who joins me in those spaces. Normally, I’d be clad in my boonie hat and my hiking boots tottering around through the woods with groups of visitors and friends from faraway places, pointing out this and that tree, dodging mosquitos, eating lunch, and swapping stories on the cliffs overlooking the Wolf River. For obvious reasons, I can’t do that this summer. The extensive time spent in cars and vans to get to those places poses a tangible threat.

One example of that is the Indigenous Planning Summer Institute, which has taken place at Menominee every summer for the last several years. Every IPSI (as it is known) starts off with an introduction to the land. Through greetings, presentations, and tours, Menominee members of the planning team introduce new friends to the land as we might introduce them to a beloved and respected elder who is always looking out for us. Through this, we allow these new friends to know us in a way that is unique and important to people in a place-based culture. It is an enriching experience, even for those of us who have known this place our whole lives. This year, with the institute taking place virtually, the challenge of meaningfully introducing ourselves and our home to participants over Zoom provided some unique opportunities. It was also the first year that I participated as a presenter, though, luckily, I did not have to go through the experience alone.

The first step was of course to root participants in history and culture. A very talented colleague of mine led the group through an introduction to our history and who we are as a people. After personal introductions and an overview of the plan for the session, it was my turn. I was able to compile a video using footage from the Menominee reservation through all four seasons. I drew together the most striking footage that I had to underscore my presentation. I was even able to recruit the help of a friend who worked in drone videography to provide a stunning eagle-eye view of some of the most beautiful places on the reservation. To finish everything off, we provided a link to a 360-video walk-through of the forest put together by a faculty member at the college—an immersive experience with sound and sight and depth, minus the mosquitos and ticks. I had mentors and colleagues helping me through the process at every step, offering certainty and reassurance when I was unsure how to proceed.

Although there is nothing that can compare to standing in the forest and gazing up at the rich canopy and smelling the earth and leeks under your feet, it made me feel good to show off the world of my ancestors. It forced me to think about relationships in a different way, both with the land and other humans, and to think about what it is to be grounded in a place that might not always be easily within reach. I look forward to the day when I can once again watch a new friend’s eyes light up as they step into the woods for the first time. But for now, it feels good just to know that it will still be there, waiting in peace and beauty, when it is safe to return.

Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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