Never a Dull Moment at Tribal College

I can honestly say that things never get boring at tribal college. We’ve already completed our three-quarters examinations with just a few weeks until finals. Because I’m working as a security officer and transport officer, I’m extremely busy with work as well.

There are so many interesting things going on at tribal college. Every Monday, we have drum circle and a communal meal, bringing students, faculty, and members of the community together for traditional activities. The Arts Department also offers short (3-6 session) non-credit classes in beading, ribbon skirt sewing, and other traditional arts. Every college is different, but ours charges nothing for the training or materials for these practical non-credit classes. I know some ladies and gentlemen making good money selling beaded jewelry, ribbon skirts, and even pine needle baskets online.

Students had the opportunity to catch and smoke fish the traditional way a few weeks ago. At Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) colleges, wild rice gathering is popular in the fall and maple syrup making (“sugarbushing”) at the end of winter. Along with earning a degree or certificate that can help you get a good job, you have many opportunities to connect or reconnect with your culture, learning traditional skills that may have been lost in your family of origin due to boarding school or general assimilation. You can gain life skills for raising your children in their culture, rather than from the outside, looking in.

This time of year, deer hunting is a major topic at tribal college—who’s going, what the weather was like, and how many points on the deer’s antlers, a sign of age and resilience. Nothing will be wasted; families will feast and the skins will be brain-cured in the traditional fashion to make the best moccasins over the long winter season. It warms my heart to realize that the people have been coming together and discussing these things for thousands of years, and we continue to do so today. Deer still play a major role in modern culture as well; one of my tasks as a security officer includes chasing herds of deer off the hospital helipad and out of the parking lots.

In traditional culture, there is a proper time and place for everything. Because winter is approaching, it is the time for storytelling. Guest authors and storytellers will come to the college and share their stories. Some of the stories have been told and retold for thousands of years.  There are still important moral and social lessons to be learned from the traditional stories.  These stories help us to better understand who we are and they help us find our place in the world. Even the motto on the splash page of our tribal college website advises: “Come Find Your Place.” I smile when I read these words, because in my case, they are proving to be true. The tribal college is certainly helping me find my place in law enforcement, but I have a feeling that my life will come full circle again and that I might eventually return to a tribal college to teach.  I would be honored to “pay forward” some of what I have received while at tribal college.

You have many choices for college, but few institutions can offer you the rich academic and cultural opportunities to be had at tribal college.

Rachel Peterman, JD, is a student at Leech Lake Tribal College.

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