The Journey of a Young Native Leader
Sitting at the table of decisions, I listened to the conversation of implementing the Menominee community food system and the “One World Youth Project” hub between my fellow economic advisers. The issue of funding, acreage, and labor were the biggest problems of the community food system. The One World Youth Project hub was traveling through the bureaucracy where good ideas go to die. I felt a year of advocacy to the Menominee Tribal Legislature, the Menominee Indian Economic Development Board, showing my Brower Youth Award video with⁞ the help of friends on the inside to Obama Administration officials, and the Embassy of Kurdistan had sealed the deal to secure food sovereignty and begin building international relations for the Menominee Nation, but I was wrong.
The launch of “Let’s Move in Indian Country” on May 25, 2011 on the Menominee Indian Reservation inspired Menominee youth to become leaders of the nation in nutrition and eating healthy. I sat in the audience and felt proud to know I played a part in bringing national attention to the work of the Menominee Nation. At the same time, Menominee’s broke ground on the pilot acre devoted to the community garden. Two months later, the Menominee Indian Economic Development Board and I broke ground for the new full service grocery. After nine years of being a “food desert” as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, Menominee Reservation became one step closer to being food secure.
One World Youth Project was an idea Jess Rimington and I collaborated on to open the door for Menominee Reservation to house a educational hub to create 21st century empowered globalized citizens. Two Brower Youth Awardees changing the established order of the Menominee Reservation is no easy undertaking. Change never happens on the Menominee Reservation quickly I’ve had to suck up in order for acceptance of the fact. The effects of United States Federal Indian Policy plague tribal governments throughout the United States and good ideas always die within the bureaucracy. Jess and I decided to continue the fight for a One World Youth Project hub on the Menominee Reservation. We hope to secure one in the next five years.
As the grocery store and the launch of “Let’s Move in Indian Country” made me proud of the work on the Menominee Reservation, I remembered the leadership teaching of step up, step back. The youngest Menominee to serve on a governing body, overseeing economic development for the tribe is a dream come true. A dream though, not ready to become a reality. My yearlong experience as an economic development adviser was eye opening. I found out my knowledge gained over the years could only help me so far. I needed to continue my education and the path of humility in order to become the true leader I’m destined to be.
Humbly resigning from my economic development adviser post, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to accept an Americorp position at Earth Care International in collaboration with the Santa Fe Food Policy Council. My objective to learn all I can about the community food system in Santa Fe as well as the food system in New Mexico. Working with the Santa Fe Food Policy Council and the New Mexico Food and Agricultural Policy Council has allowed me to observe how food policy councils work; And what not works.
Earth Care International is an amazing place to work. The Food Cadre program, the one I am a part of, works to systematically change the food system in Santa Fe. We are a 15-member group with nine members in the schools teaching nutrition and sustainability. The last six members are placed in city, county, and local non-profit organization positions affecting change throughout the community. I work on food policy and outreach in the community. Beginning this spring, I will be launching a local food awareness campaign to inspire community residents to grow food for the community of Santa Fe.
Leaving the Menominee Reservation is always the hardest thing for me to do. I love my people and dedicated to the preservation of our language and culture that is intertwined to the natural old growth forest we protect. Santa Fe has been a holistic educational experience for me personally. I am learning how to build a successful community food system, writing the culturally based curriculum Menominee schools need, and healing myself from years of activism; one of the toughest jobs in the world.
Last week, I met up with a friend and old co-worker from the Menominee Reservation. We talked about life and our work. “Marcus, the grocery store you helped build has been a blessing to our community and the reservation have been talking nonstop about green economies,” my friend and old co-worker said. “The students at Tribal School have been asking about you and when you will come back to teach again.”
Feelings of happiness and inspiration filled by body as tears fell from my face. “Tell the students, the Muffin Man will return to educate and help build the green economy with his fellow Menominee’s one day,” I answered. “For now I need to continue my education, learn hands on how to build a community food system, and travel to China to build international relations.”
My path has been set for others to follow in my footsteps. My hope is for young people I meet in communities I live in and on the Menominee Reservation become environmental activists earning Brower Youth Awards, finding solutions to the world’s problems through education, and committing acts of civil disobedience. Recently, the Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, and the Republican Legislature have pushed a mining bill to mine iron ore in Northern Wisconsin just above the Menominee Reservation. I pray and hope everyday they do not mine for Northern Wisconsin holds the Great Lakes Aquifer and key to fresh, clean waters for the Great Lakes.
We cannot allow this to happen and if the day comes some entity tries to mine in Northern Wisconsin, I will be there at the forefront using every creative non-violent weapon, upholding the environmental activism David Brower instilled in the minds of future generations.