Minnesota's Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are improving their management of traditional natural forest resources, as one result of their partnership with Extension and Fond du Lac Tribal Community College.
Natural resources education inspires culture and community
In 2007, tribal leaders for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa invited University of Minnesota Extension to help create a public outreach program that focused on natural resources for the community. One outcome of that collaboration was 13 Moons, a program named after the moons that make up a lunar year.
Thirteen Moons began as a partnership between Extension and the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. "We realized by working together we could accomplish more," says Extension American Indian and Tribal Partnerships liaison Dawn Newman. Newman worked with the Fond du Lac Resource Management Division to develop a grant that eventually led to the hire of David Wilsey, an Extension natural resources educator.
"Tribal members shared that they felt disconnected from cultural knowledge and natural resources," says Wilsey, who had conducted a highly participatory needs assessment with members of the University and Fond du Lac community. The group adopted the Ojibwe term "nimbizindawaanaanig" for the assessment, meaning "We listen to them."
Wilsey found the community had a strong interest in better managing the non-timber resources from the forests, such as black ash strips for basketry, maple syrup, and products—like porcupine quills and animal skins—from the woodland wildlife. These natural resources are woven into the community's identity, traditions, and cultural economy. Thirteen Moons features tribal expertise through workshops on these topics, as well as hunting, wild edible greens, traditional fishing and snaring, and Ojibwe cultural arts.
In 2011, 13 Moons leadership transitioned to the community college, and the program continues to benefit from the University partnership. Now, for example, some Fond du Lac community members are becoming trained Extension Master Gardener volunteers and have developed the Ojibwe Garden program, which promotes traditional Ojibwe cropping systems and strategies for growing organic food and medicinal plants.