New Friends, New Futures

On March 12, 2020, the College of Menominee Nation had an honored guest: Marlon White Eagle, President of the Ho-Chunk Nation. It was a cool and drizzly day, but spirits at the college’s Cultural Learning Center were high as we came together for a session hosted by the University of Wisconsin Extension. As is custom, President White Eagle was greeted by an elder from our tribe, who opened the day with a very heartfelt prayer, and a longtime member of our tribal legislature.

My colleagues and I had worked together in previous years on a policy to eliminate the use of styrofoam at the College of Menominee Nation, which marked the first time that a student had successfully lobbied for a policy change at the board-of-director level. However, like much of the rest of our leadership, our thoughts were on the future and how to carry the values of sustainability beyond our current plans at the college.

President White Eagle had come to tell us about how the executive branch of the Ho-Chunk Nation had successfully implemented a plan to meaningfully reduce the amount of styrofoam and single-use plastics used in their administration. It was inspiring to hear that level of commitment to environmental values and stewardship from the top of an institution such as theirs. Because of the amount of lobbying and system navigation that often needs to happen when someone approaches a sustainability initiative from the grassroots level, the time to see actual change is often much longer than is desirable. With leadership such as President White Eagle’s and the rest of his team, meaningful change can occur much closer to the pace that it is needed.

My experience with leadership roles is that they tend to make one much busier than one could have anticipated, which leads to a constant re-evaluation of priorities as weeks evolve. It was therefore very reassuring to know that in such a chaotic time, President White Eagle had seen the value of such environmental stewardship and taken the time to present his story to us. I could see in the eyes of everyone in the room that the wheels were turning with brighter and brighter ideas for the work ahead of us.

The day concluded with a nutritious pre-contact lunch full of root vegetables and wild rice, as well as a group activity aimed at inspiring us toward actionable goals that we can use to steer our community toward more sustainable consumption. It brought me a great deal of comfort to know that no matter how crazy things get, even in the midst of a pandemic, there is a future that’s worth planning for and looking forward to—and it’s on us to make that the best future we can.

Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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