The Minnesota Indian Education Association (MIEA) kicked off its annual conference at Grand Casino Hinckley on November 14, and the event was an inspiring mixture of culture, history, language, and the arts.
Master of Ceremonies Ricky White, the superintendent of Circle of Life school on the White Earth Reservation, blended Anishinaabe humor with extensive knowledge of the educators who had gathered for the conference.
He introduced the Mille Lacs Band Color Guard, made up of Allen Weyaus, Tony Pike, Jamie Short, and Quintin Sam, who led a Grand Entry of MIEA board members, elected officials, dignitaries, and students.
Timber Trails drum group played Grand Entry, Flag, and Veterans songs, and Elder Joe Nayquonabe Sr. gave the invocation.
Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin welcomed attendees, saying "Educators do the most important work anyone can do, especially when it comes to protecting the future of our tribal communities and protecting future generations."
She referred to educators as "dream-makers" for helping children identify their gifts, and she emphasized the importance of language and culture in education of young tribal members.
"My hope for students today is that you will continue to work towards learning about your culture and your language because there is no more effective way to protect our future," Melanie said. "Knowing who you are and where you come from is one of the greatest gifts that you can receive, and once you have that, along with a strong education, nobody can ever take that away from you."
The Band is well represented in MIEA, with Band members, community members, and employees serving on the board: Chris Nayquonabe, Adrienne Benjamin, LeAnn Benjamin, Wendy Merrill, Byron Ninham, and Suzanne Wise.
After Melanie's welcome, the crowd heard from MIEA Chair Ramona Kitto Stately and Office of Indian Education Director (and former Nay Ah Shing Principal) Dr. Jane Harstad. Two keynote speakers gave entertaining and informative addresses to the 400 registered attendees, who came from schools and tribal communities around the state.
Artist Steven Paul Judd gave a multimedia presentation about his work that drew laughter from the crowd. Steven is an accomplished writer, painter, filmmaker, and multimedia "mashup" artist.
He showed short videos and numerous slides of his work, most of which combines Native and pop culture images into thought-provoking, colorful, and humorous works of art.
The following day, Judd worked with students to produce an original work of art, much like the painting of Larry Amik Smallwood that he created with Mille Lacs Band students in the Ge-Niigaanizijig program last year.
After Steven's presentation, Dr. David Beaulieu gave a second keynote address. Dr. Beaulieu is a White Earth Band member who is the Ruth Myers endowed chair of American Indian education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He is an emeritus professor of education policy studies at Arizona State University, where he served as the director of the Center for Indian Education, a professor of education policy studies, and editor of the Journal of American Indian Education, which focuses on research and policy issues related to the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives. A former director of Indian education for the State of Minnesota from 1984 until 1991, he was appointed Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in 1991.
Dr. Beaulieu spoke about the history of the MIEA.
Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were filled with a wide variety of interesting breakout sessions, as well as Ojibwe and Dakota quiz bowl competitions for students. Evening activities included a powwow and an awards banquet.
The conference concluded on Friday with a general assembly and a meeting of the MIEA board of directors.