Reporter Melissa Townsend sits down with Dr. Arne Vainio and Dr. Mary Owen to talk about the rising rates of diabetes in Native communities and other issues in culturally appropriate Native healthcare.
Dr. Vainio is from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. We is a physician at the tribal clinic on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.
Dr. Owen is Tlinket from southeast Alaska. She is a family physician at the Leech Lake tribal clinic in Cass Lake. She is also the Director of the Center on American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She is based in Duluth, Minnesota.
This week on Minnesota Native News, a new Bush Fellow talks about her plans for an Ojibwe language pipeline on the Mille Lacs Reservation, a new online database will help protect Native burial sites and the state legislature invests less in Native language revitalization programs.
HEADLINES: This week on Minnesota Native News, a new Bush Fellow talks about her plans for an Ojibwe language pipeline on the Mill Lacs Reservation, a new online database will help protect Native burial sites and the state legislature invests less in Native language revitalization programs.
STORY # — MELISSA BOYD BUSH FELLOW (2:20)
Earlier this spring the Bush Foundation announced 24 people had been awarded Bush Fellowships for 2017.
The fellowships are designed to pay for education and experience people need to become more effective leaders in their home communities.
Mill Lacs Band citizen Melissa Boyd is among the fellows.
Reporter Melissa Townsend spoke with her about her plans for the award.
About 10 years ago Melissa Boyd left college to come home to the Mill Lacs reservation.
She got a job working with a language apprenticeship program.
She was learning Ojibwe from elders and turning around and teaching preschool students the language.
Around 2012 Mill Lacs expanded their early childhood center, and Melissa asked if she could start an Ojibwe immersion classroom.
BOYD: I wanted a space for language to grow like a little incubator. (:04)
She was emulating the work that she’d heard about in Hawaii and New Zealand and closer to home - at an Ojibwe immersion school in Hayward, Wisconsin.
The immersion classroom at Mill Lacs opened and Melissa says it was pretty successful.
BOYD: Anything a preschool child goes through we did that in the language - i’m talking wiping noses, wiping bottoms, everything you could think of. And so it was exposure and experience for families who wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity to participate or have their children involved. (:15)
She started to dream about expanding the program to create a pipeline so babies could continue to learn the language into adulthoood…
but she ran into big challenges because she didn’t have the formal training to build a new culturally appropriate Ojibwe language program that spanned the generations.
That’s where this Bush Fellowship comes in.
BOYD: The fellowship is allowing me to move forward in my education about the work I’m in so I can be better prepared to help other teachers do the workday I can help mobilize a school and help create a more culturally responsible system. (:18)
Melissa is finishing up her Certificate of Contemporary Indigenous Multilingualism from the University of Hawaii Hee-lo and she is starting full time at The College of Saint Scholastica.
She plans to bring a level of professionalism to her work building a culturally specific Ojibwe language program for all ages.
For Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.
STORY #2 - MIAC LANGUAGE GRANTS (:52)
Among the many issues in front of state legislators this year was the state’s investment in revitalizing Native languages.
The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council had requested an increase in funds to support Ojibwe and Dakota language programs.
Dennis Olson is the Executive Director of the state’s Indian Affairs Council.
OLSON: We’ve been really active throughout the legislative session testifying in the Legacy finance committee on the house and the senate side. (:07)
The final allocation was slightly less than the previous biennium.
Over the next two years, the Council will distribute nearly one and half million dollars in grants to Ojibwe and Dakota language programs.
Just under one million will be distributed through competitive grants to language programs around the state.
And another 500 thousand dollars is ear-marked for the Wicoie Nandagikendan [wah-CHO-wee nan-dih-CAY-nahn] Urban Immersion Early Childhood Project in Minneapolis.
STORY #3 - OSA PORTAL (1:03)
Construction season is getting underway, and unfortunately that often leads to accidental disturbances of Native archeological and burial sites.
A coalition of state agencies are working together to change that.
The state archeologist, department of transportation and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council are redoing/upgrading a digital database of these significant sites.
Melissa Cerda [serdah] is the Cultural Resource Specialist for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.
She is one of the key people at the Council who works to protect burial and other sacred sites.
CERDA: For my job I get an EIS telling me that there is going to be some sort of construction passing near some mounds. So we have to dig through our files to see if we are going to allow it or see what next steps to take. (:13)
She says the new online database — called the O-S-A portal - is going to be a one stop shop for the mapped location and the known history — of every recorded archeological and burial site across the state.
The new online portal will help municipal, county and state construction crews steer clear of culturally sensitive areas.
The opioid and heroin abuse crisis has hit the U.S. hard, with overdoses tripling between 2000 and 2015.
In Minnesota, Native communities struggle with helping people heal and the historical trauma at the root of this addiction crisis.
Melissa Townsend reports.
For over a decade, the prescription pain killer and heroine abuse crisis has had a hold on communities across the U-S. Opioid overdoses tripled between 2000 and 2015.
In 2015, Minnesota had more American Indians dying from overdoses than any - other -state.
That same year, well over half of pregnant Native women gave birth to babies with opioids in their systems.
Many American Indians in Minnesota are wrestling with how best to help people heal from the addiction AND the historical trauma at the root of this crisis.
Reporter Melissa Townsend explores the unique nature of addiction in Native communities, and how it is - or isn’t - shaping a response to the current crisis.
Hey, Melissa here. I just wanted to say all those stats that Marie just read are important. They are meant to convey that this is a crisis in Minnesota’s Indian country. That said, there’s often a lot of bad news about Minnesota’s Indian country in general - and it can make people feel hopeless and tune out. Well, don’t tune out — because in this story there is a lot of hope. Ok, let’s get started.
SECTION 1 - FROM ALCOHOL TO OPIOIDS
Of course there was heroine and other opioids in the 1960s and 70s, but back then most American Indians struggling with addiction — drank.
DAVID: I don’t think there ’s anyone my age that hasn’t been left sitting in a car outside a bar somewhere in Mpls or up on the rez…
David Saice is an Ojibwe man from Minneapolis. As a kid he lived in a housing project on the north side with his parents and his siblings.
DAVID: You know your ma and dad are going out and they have friends that are going out. so they pile you in the car and everyone sits in the car …[2-3 kids] …and they go into the bar and get… a bunch of chips and pops and bring it back out and say we’ll be back out in a little while.
He says back then, there were a bunch of Indian bars in South Minneapolis along this one section of Franklin Avenue.
DAVID: You walk by a car and see a bunch of kids in it, you think nothing of it. they just keep going. … it was a diff. time.
These days, David still lives in Minneapolis, but those bars are gone, and those kids are gone.
And now when David thinks about alcohol and drug addiction, he thinks about prescription pain killers and heroine…
DAVID: Personally i’d say at least 30 people i know …are on pain meds bc they are in pain constantly. a loT of them have went through surgeries and you know, prescribed pain meds …
[purple rain cut]
David works in the maintenance department at the county morgue. On the day we talked he was getting phone calls from friends asking if Prince had been brought in. The musician had been found dead that morning. We’ve since learned — he died from an overdose of opioid pain medication.
SECTION 2 - WHERE WE ARE NOW & HOW WE GOT HERE
JOHNSON: Purdue Pharma is one of the most profitable companies…90% of their revenue comes from one drug — OxyContin.
Dr. Christopher Johnson, is an emergency room physician in a suburban Minneapolis hospital. He serves on the Minnesota Medical Association’s Opiate Task Force.
In the 1990s a pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma set out on an unprecedented marketing campaign to sell their new opioid pain killer called OxyContin.
They paid doctors, medical school professors and other leaders in the medical industry to advocate for OxyContin — and to say that it wasn’t addictive.
JOHNSON: They said opiates were less than 1% addictive
Oxycontin shot to the top of the list of pain killers prescribed for things like back pain and joint pain.
The campaign increased prescriptions for all opioid pain killers.
In the 20 years between 1991 and 2011 prescriptions for opioid pain killers tripled.
Now we know that was all wrong.
JOHNSON: 4:16 … it’ s bad medicine, it’s bad science.
In 2007 Purdue Pharma was found guilty in a court of law for their manipulative tactics.
JOHNSON: They were found culpable for misleading info for de-emphasizing the risks of addiction by cherry picking science … suggest that opiates were not that addictive.
But that did not stop the tide of opioid prescriptions and addiction…
AL JAZEERA AMERICA : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkkF9M9h3XA&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD&index=2
PBS NEWSHOUR: WOMEN AND BABIES: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbeVhMye9NQ&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD&index=47
CBS THIS MORNING: CDC ASKS DOCS TO BACK OFF OPIOIDS — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR2_2njgQ9k&index=60&list=PLW4wRvrGlUYmFTPnQP7CkVsxFDNFhDqcD
Even as the nation is hit hard by this, it’s disproportionally harder on Native communities.
SHARYL: Addiction is a spirit …that thrives on chaos and pain and fear and it’s had a strangle hold on this community for a long time …and it is using weak and wounded people to attack …
Sharyl Whitehawk has been an addictions counselor in Native communities in Minnesota for over 16 years.
Early on in her career her mentor Dennis Hisgun gave her this perspective.
SHARYL: If you’re doing a good job, that spirit of chaos is going to be threatened by you, going to attack you, you know you’re doing a good job when that starts happening bc you have become a threat.
Sharyl and others HAVE become a threat.
Generations of Native who struggled with alcohol and drug abuse have gotten sober.
But the current opioid addictions crisis seems to be a whole new level of chaos.
Nationally, the dominant non-Native culture is focused on medically assisted treatment or M-A-T. — that’s where clients are given methadone or Suboxone or another opioid to meet their cravings.
But many American Indians are concerned that - because of their specific culture and history - M-A-T programs shouldn’t be the sole focus for Native people.
SECTION 3 - NATIVES SPECIFICALLY - A Caveat
Before we go much further, we need to talk.
There is this awful stereotype in the world — the drunken indian.
The idea that all American Indians are addicts.
Talking about Natives and addiction, can make it seem like we’re reinforcing that racist and hurtful stereotype.
So let’s get a few thing straight — number one…
REZNIKOFF: There is no genetic — something about being Native biologically - no…
Dr. Charlie Reznikoff is an addictions doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis Minnesota.
REZNIKOFF: Opiates don’t care what your race is - white or black, native or what you are - they are equally cause addiction in everyone.
There is a genetic predisposition to addiction among family members — but not among specific races or cultural groups.
REZNIKOFF: If you have had another addiction - to alcohol or tobacco - you are more likely at risk to opioids.
REZNIKOFF: If you have had a traumatic childhood, a violent childhood - you are more vulnerable as well.
Many believe THIS is part of the reason addiction rates are higher in Native communities.
Now, many people of all backgrounds have stories of abuse and neglect.
These are traumatic events - the clinical acronym is ACES - adverse childhood experiences.
American Indians in the United State are a diverse bunch, but there is a unique, shared history that you might say - is full of ACES.
It’s commonly called historical trauma.
ANTONY: My name is Antony Stately.
Antony Stately is an expert on historical trauma.
SECTION 4 -STATELY STORY
He lives in Shakopee Minnesota with his Dakota partner and his twin sons.
The boys are 9 years old.
Antony says they do well in school, they go to cultural events, they have long hair, they play hockey and lacrosse.
He thinks about them as he begins to talk about his own childhood in an Indian Boarding School in Chamberlain South Dakota.
ANTONY: My mother, mother, father, their parents, great grandparents, I’m 4th generation boarding school survivor.
Indian families across North America were forced to send their children to boarding schools.
Officially the boarding school era was between 1860 and the 1920s, but some Natives went to boarding school into the 1990s.
Antony spent his first years in Minneapolis. He was 6 and a 1/2 when he was sent away.
ANTONY: Some horrible things happened to me in boarding school, like they happened to lots of diff. people, many many tribal communities and individuals — sexual abuse, physical abuse.
ANTONY: This memory stands out for me when i was there. I was 10 yrs old at the time, I decide not to go to church. I was going to pretend to be sick and stay in my dorm. Well… because I didn’t show up for church, they made an example out of me the next week at church. The shaved all my hair off and they pranced me out in front of everyone at church, down the center aisle, all the kids were laughing and it was pretty clear without saying the words — this is what will happen to you if you decide to do what you want to do instead of conforming.
Antony says he was angry and resentful for being sent away to this horrible place.
In his teenage years, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
ANTONY: When I was 15 or 16, i got into a very very, one of the biggest fights i ever had with my mother. Now i had great respect for my mother, never raised my hand or any of those sorts of things. But we were arguing about something and i got angry and i yelled at her and i was crying and i said i want to know why you sent me to that place. That place was horrible. Do you have any idea what they did to me.
Well, of course i had no way of knowing that she probably did have tremendous knowledge of what they did to me, she went to boarding school and probably experiences the same things. It’s just something we never talked about.
As he’s talking he sometimes taps a water bottle cap on the table.
ANTONY: She was crying - there was alcohol involved, I might even have been drunk when this was happening. But what she said to me was I had not choice. She broke down in tears, I had no choice. She told me about this story about how Hennepin County welfare basically said, if you can’t take care of your children… We’re going to take them away from you.
His parents weren’t together at the time, and his mom was broke.
ANTONY: Essentially my mom said - i sent you to St. Joe’s - you and your brothers and sisters because i knew that if i got you taken away from me, i’d never get you back.
Antony says this was a pivotal moment.
ANTONY: As soon as I understood all these things that had happened to me as a child and all these things that were happening to my family, I could let go of how angry i was at her
And things began to shift.
ANTONY: Of course it wasn’t instantaneous - i didn’t get sober the next day! [laughter] but the point being is that it created this seed of self-awareness where i started to understand the impact on my family and my community.
SECTION 5 - STATELY ON HISTORICAL TRAUMA
Now, Antony Stately is 53 years old and he is Dr. Antony Stately…
a clinical psychologist specializing in multi-cultural community clinical psychology.
He works in tribal communities and lectures around the country about the connection between addiction, genocide, and what it takes for Native communities to heal.
ANTONY: Volcanoes, tsunamis, earth quakes -we have really good ways of understanding that right — acts of god. [just thinking that too - laughs] There isn’t a people on Earth that don’t have some creation story that helps us understand things like the big flood and those kinds of things.
What is different about those things from massacres and genocide and those kinds of things is that historically traumatic events are rooted in processes that are man-made, they are with intent to de-humanize, and intent to harm and intent to kill.
Antony says there’s no clear story about these events.
And the pain and loss and trauma is often handed down through generations in the form of addiction and violence and dis-ease.
ANTONY: When we have entire families and entire communities who are walking around still stuck in that place of mourning and specifically … in that anger, it makes us ripe for addiction. bc addiction is essentially about escaping something that make us uncomfortable.
When it comes to the current opioid crisis Antony says - we need to save people from overdose deaths. If that means using medically assisted treatment, he supports it.
But in the end American Indians need to be able to grieve and heal the soul wound created by generations of historical trauma.
[music up and then fades]
SECTION 6 - CULTURALLY SPECIFIC ABSTINENCE MODEL
Another perspective on the opioid crisis in Indian country comes from a movement that started in the 1970s and 80s.
Elwin Benton was a leader in this movement. He is Ojibwe.
He says, back in the 70s and 80s, American Indians were not faring well in state hospitals and white facilities.
ELWIN: … they were very uncomfortable and most of them did not complete treatment and back then they had a therapeutic me lieu which consisted of hard confrontation…sit them in a chair and cuss them out and make them feel lower than well crap [LAUGHS]
In response, pockets of American Indians across the country were creating culturally specific treatment programs.
The idea was that the historical and ongoing oppression of Natives in this country called for a specialized kind of addictions treatment.
ELWIN: Some medicine people in the SW appeared before the American Psychiatric Council and provided them with what they are doing and then were able to demonstrate that they had just as much success as psychiatrists who were working with american indians,… and so they start using what we call Native practitioners.
Elwin and others brought this knowledge to northern Minnesota and in 1977, they built MashKawisen.
They say it was the first Native owned treatment center in the United States.
[frog sounds in]
It’s here in the middle of the woods in Sawyer Minnesota. Near the Leech lake and Fond Du Lac bands of Ojibwe.
The sounds of the surroundings drift in through the windows.
The is a sweat lodge in back and the pow wow grounds are next to the parking lot.
[frogs sounds out]
It’s an inpatient treatment program —
Staff here don’t believe in medically assisted treatment for opioid addicts.
Here, they believe addicts need to be abstinent from all drugs ands alcohol —
and they need to dive deep into their traditional cultural healing practices.
Studies prove spirituality - as in an active belief in a higher power - helps achieve sobriety.
At Mashkawisen, clients use traditional medicines - sage, sweet grass, cedar, tobacco
[weave drum in]
They join in circle around the drum to find the heartbeat… to get centered… to build sober relationships with other Natives.
SHARYL: The dominant culture would say we’re hoaky, crazy or weird… but …
Sharyl Whitehawk agrees with Mashkawisen’s traditional spiritual approach. AGAIN, SHE is an Ojibwe addictions counselor in Minneapolis.
SHARYL: We knew that the unseen world was as real as the seen world. we did not doubt that we did not have negative feelings about that. we knew that, we trusted that. one of our greatest resources. that if you have a dream, or a hunch or see a sign, … that they were real and we could trust them and because of that it was a strength for us.
She says American Indians who haven’t grow up with tradition still respond to the traditional teaching and ceremonies.
SHARYL: It’s like there’s a cellular memory - when you hear it, you know it for a truth and it’s ringing for you.
SECTION 7 - DAVID SAICE AND TRADITIONAL SPIRITUALITY
This is what worked for David Saice.
He was that young boy with pop and chips in the backseat of the car - parked in front of the bar - on Franklin Avenue.
As a kid, it didn’t take long for David to do what he saw his parent doing.
DAVID: Probably about 8 yrs old when i had my first drink of alcohol.
As a teenager in the 70’s, he drank and did speed. He sold drugs too. Got in trouble.
He also got in a lot of fights.
DAVID: I was proud of who i was as a Native. … You gonna call me a drunken Indian, you’re going to see what it feels like to get beat.
One of these fights actually started David on his path to sobriety.
DAVID: I was about 20 and i ended up messing up my hand… i went to swing at someone and went through a light fixture and then the light so i cut some nerves in my hand and some stitches. They weren’t sure if i was going to get use back or not.
His sister talked him into going to a ceremony…
DAVID: Which I didn’t believe in at the time - I was still drinking and what not. They had everything set up in a house in St. Paul. The lights were completely turned out, you could barely see your hand in front of your face.
I talked to a couple of different elders about that and they said a long time ago before white people came here they used to have ceremonies in the day time and you could see the spirits coming in and everyone knew what was going on and there was no issue. but with the Europeans coming in here, everything had to be kept quiet cause they wold come take people away and lock them up.
In the U-S, traditional Native spiritual practices were outlawed until 1978.
Some whites called it devil worship.
Natives didn't do their ceremonies or talk about them in public.
You actually rarely hear a story like David’s. But they are many out there.
DAVID: All the windows had covers on them. I sat back in a chair, my head touched the wall. I could see lights coming in from the ceiling.. it looked almost like fireflies. they were singing some ceremony songs and people were praying. I could hear these gourds going around the room and I kept thinking how is this guy doing this without stepping on kids bc there were kids sleeping all over the floor.
That rattling sound of the dried seeds in the gourds… he was trying to track it as it moved around the room.
DAVID: And then they kept getting louder and louder from behind me, but my head was against the wall. and pretty soon my head got pushed away from the wall and they went up and down my right arm. And a week later i got all use of my hand back.
David says - that was it.
DAVID: A light came on for me. this is the way i’m going to live my life the rest of my life. quit drugs, alcohol, everything.
He found a traditional spiritual practitioner that he trusted and he’s been on the road ever since.
He credits his 34 years of sobriety to his traditional spirituality.
But you know what — he says it’s not for everyone.
He hasn’t even introduced his grown children to traditional teachings.
He says that would be too much like how the Catholic Church forced religion onto the reservations.
He wants people to be free to make their own choices.
That goes for medically assisted treatment too — if an opioid addict want s to be on Methadone or some other drug to be OK.
Sharyl Whitehawk has a different opinion.
SECTION 8 - SHARYL - GET TO THE ROOT CAUSES
SHARYL: It’s a struggle for me …
Again, Sharyl is Ojibwe. And she is an alcohol and drug counselor in Minneapolis.
SHARYL: I believe Methadone and Suboxone were created for short term use — supposed to assist people in a gradual detox… and then … - we have to get to these unresolved traumas and reasons that people relapse or switch addiction.
Sharyl Whitehawk speaks from experience.
Awful things happened to her as a kid, but she speaks about it candidly, calmly…
SHARYL: There was this one Sunday morning where i was really hungover and i had been at a party the night before, i had been raped. and it was just another horror on top of the rest of them. i was trying to plan the perfect suicide bc i couldn't take it anymore.
The horrors started for Sharyl when she was a baby living with her parents and her siblings in Wisconsin.
SHARYL: I have generations of people in my family who come from alcoholism and family violence and that’s what i was born into. it was not a safe place to be a little girl. There was drinking all around me, there was violence all around me of all kinds…(:22)
According to the National Violence Against Women Survey in 2000, more than half of American Indian women are raped at least once in their lifetime.
When Sharyl was 11, she got drunk for the first time.
SHARYL: 57:56 …it grabbed me by the throat bc it was the first time the depression and anxiety and pain and fear and terror and shame and all of it went away. And i drank as much as i could as often as i could until something stopped me.
She drank so much, by the time she was 16 years old, the alcohol was destroying her body.
SHARYL: 58:52 … i couldn't keep food down and i was bleeding from everywhere …doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. they sent me to the mayo clinic and that was the first time the doc shut the door and asked — do you drink alcohol?
SHARYL: 59:31 i said yes, … he said you have destroyed your entire digestive system and you are going to die.
It took another year or two until that Sunday morning in front of the church.
[music weaves in]
SHARYL: It was summertime … and the people inside were singing a song - i had never felt safe in my life, someone watching over me, taking care of me and they were singing a song …, it was God talking saying i will never forget you my people - i hold you in the palm of my hand, i will never forget my own. and for some reason - i had no experience with god, religion, spirituality - and i stopped in my tracks and for the first time I felt God. I felt creator. And then god was talking to me. and saying every painful thing that is happening to you is getting at you through alcohol. Get it out of your life and you are going to be OK.
She says it was like a little light inside her was lit.
Sharyl had no money for any kind of inpatient or outpatient treatment. She was 17 years old. So she went to AA.
SHARYL: The first time i walked in there was a much of old white guys in there and i thought what am i going to have in common with these guys— female, young, brown, laughs - but you know what — you got to give a meeting 3 tries before you can quit. So i said OK, I’ll sit down. they were full of wisdom and they were so kind and gentle to me. a few crusty ones, but a few who were so cool.
She went cold turkey and stopped drinking.
But without the drinking — Sharyl still had a problem.
The violence in her childhood had created a cycle.
First, something awful and violent would happen - this is the trigger…
And Sharyl — would get quiet…
SHARYL: Be invisible, check out, comply, do whatever they say and you’re going to get hurt no matter what but if you fight back you’re going to get hurt worse or maybe you might die.
And then she’d drink to go numb.
When she got sober - she was still around a lot of violence - still around the triggers.
So something awful and violent would happen, and she would stay quiet, but she didn’t drink to — so she was just be left there with all those horrible feelings.
Over time she worked with traditional spiritual elders and she worked with therapists and then she found…
SHARYL: This one lady, i call her the angel lady, she was an experiential and shame based therapist - something that was totally different - -she had me doing these hoaky, weird little things… laughs ..
Sharyl says the Angel lady taught her how to reparent herself.
SHARYL: It was really hard… she had me look for a picture of myself bc i couldn’t quite remember when my first sexual abuse started and she said look for a picture and you’ll know it… i put some tobacco out and got all these pics from my mom and this picture just stood out to me and i said this was it.
The Angel lady told Sharyl to buy a doll and sew the picture on its little belly.
SHARYL: She said that’s you, the little you that never got held and protected and told that everything was going to be ok and all that stuff. and everyday i want you to spend time with her …and tell her now you are strong and now you are wise and now you know how to take care of us and you’ll be safe. do that for month and come back.
Well i felt so dumb doing it at first but it was really powerful. now i can do it without the doll. now if something triggers me i immediately have that picture of myself in my mind and I in a spiritual way i wrap myself around her and i tell her all those things and we are OK.
Sharyl has worked for decades through Alcoholics Anonymous, different therapies and the White Bison program - an indigenous version of the 12 steps. She says the process gave her a totally new sense of peace and power in her life.
SHARYL:[laughs] … my life is really good now.
She wants that for every woman and man struggling with addiction.
She feels in the long term - drugs offered in medically assisted treatment — help people numb themselves from the horrible feelings that come from their triggers.
To heal, she says — you need to get off all the drugs, get in touch with your feelings and …set yourself on a whole new path.
SHARYL: We are all born for a higher purpose. the whole reasons that you are here is — it’s no accident, there is something you are meant to do. … if you just keep doing the next right thing … creator has a purpose for you.
[music out or in]
SECTION 9 - ENDING PART 1
I like how you sum this up for us. I like the way you’re guiding the listener. It’s really working.
You dear listener now have a pretty good lay of the land - a broad Native perspective on addiction and treatment.
Many American Indians are concerned that medically assisted treatment programs with methadone and suboxone do not tend to the underlying trauma feeding the addiction.
People are not healing.
But the fear of overdose and death has driven others to embrace medically assisted treatment.
AMY: I respect and honor culture and community i think it’s critical. but right now those children are dying in the streets, in the bushes… in the alleyways..
How will the wisdom gained over generations be used in this current crisis?
More on that in the next half hour.
You are listening to a special edition of Minnesota Native News.
Reporter Melissa Townsend explores what we know about addiction in the Native community, and how that wisdom is shaping a response to the current crisis.
SECTION 10 - OPIOID FREAK OUT
In the 70’s and 80’s alcohol was the primary drug of choice among American Indians struggling with addiction.
Actually, it still is the most common drug of choice among all people, Natives included…
Opioids - prescription pain killers, heroine and the like - are getting all this attention because their use has risen so dramatically over the past 10 years.
and so have deaths from overdoses
The U-S, overdose death tripled between 2000 and 2014.
There’s one other thing, with many illicit drugs, men use more than women, but not with opioids… Women and men are using them equally - that includes pregnant women.
Which means babies are being effected even before they’re even born.
And that’s got many people saying the work that helped countless Natives break their addiction to alcohol and other drugs - it’s not enough to fight the chaos of opioid addiction.
AMY: This opioid animal is different from anything we’ve ever dealt with before. That receptor in the brain is demanding that opioid.
More and more attention is being turned to medically assisted treatment or M-A-T. That’s when a person struggling with opioid addiction is given methadone or suboxone or another opioid to meet their cravings. these are called maintenance drugs.
SECTION 11 - M-A-T TUTORIAL
REZNIKOFF: I’ve recently heard 5-6k people are in methadone treatment, a couple thousand in sub treatment.
This is Dr. Charlie Reznikoff. He works at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He specializes in addictions medicine at its opioid treatment facility.
He is non-Native.
This is the clinic where he works. He’s walking me through the routine when a client who comes in for her dose of methadone.
REZNIKOFF: They check in, get a number. When their number comes up they come back to…
There are 16 methadone and Suboxone clinics in the state.
And they serve 65-hundred clients.
There are also 130 doctors with a special license to prescribe suboxone. They don’t have to be affiliated with a treatment clinic like this one.
And the state does not collect information on how many patients they serve.
REZNIKOFF: Then they come back here and they meet with a nurse and the nurse does a brief evaluation, confirms their identify etc, see how things are going. They dispense a methadone dose. And then some patients have privileges where they can take medicine home with them so at that point they pick up their medicine to go home with.
Dr. Reznikoff’s clinic primarily dispenses methadone because…
REZ: 17:35 …methadone is pennies —
But it can be hard to figure out the right dose because it’s a powerful drug.
REZNIKOFF: there is a risk a person gets too high a dose and their sleepy all day…
Suboxone is the brand name for Bupenorphine.
It’s making headlines as a better alternative to methadone,
It’s not as strong as methadone so it’s easier to dose.
but its more expensive…
REZNIKOFF: Bupenorphine is $8 as much has 10 for a single dose.
He says studies show both suboxone and methadone are effective in saving lives, reducing incarceration, and reducing infections like Hep C and HIV.
Also, they stay in your system for a long time. You can take them just once a day. And they reportedly block other opioids.
Last thing — Dr. Reznikoff says all the studies show both bupenorphine - or suboxone - and methadone are safe for long term use.
In fact, when a person tapers off she puts herself at risk.
Because if she relapses …
REZNIKOFF: Statistically that’s a risk for OD and death.
But some people do taper off.
Alright, got all that? Good.
SECTION 12 - RULE 25
[sound of walking up stairs]
No matter what kind of treatment you end up with — you start in a place like this.
I’m at the Indian Health Board in south Minneapolis. I have an appointment with Richard Wright, a drug and alcohol counselor here. He’s Ojibwe, from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
Generally, when a person decides to - or is forced by the courts to - seek treatment, they start with a Rule 25.
In Minnesota, it’s required for anyone needing public assistance to pay for treatment.
It’s a comprehensive report detailing the person’s life and drug use history. It can take about 2 hours to complete. The counselor, in this case Richard, uses it to recommend a treatment plan.
Sometimes you have to wait 2 weeks between the time you decide to get treatment and the time you can get an appointment to do this.
There just aren’t enough counselors to meet demand.
As you might imagine, some people drop out in that time.
[sound of meeting with Richard]
Richard Wright’s office is cozy, there’s soft lighting and carpeted floors, there’s a braid of sweet grass hanging on the wall. There are no windows.
RICHARD: The first thing I would do is introduce myself, and say my name is Richard and on my rez they call me Crow. that’s my indian name, and i ask them if they have an indian name and i would ask them, what name can i use with you …
The Rule 25 report is computerized, the curser blinks, waiting for answers.
None of these questions are included in the report.
RICHARD: What tribe are you? Did you grow up on the rez? Are you aware of the cultural practices of your tribe and what are some of the ways that you heal?
Richard asks the client about herself and what drugs she uses…
RICHARD: A lot of them, they are fearful of this instrument and rightly so. if we take an american indian woman who is pregnant - everything she tells me is going to lead to the removal of her baby, so she is going to try to deceive me as much as she can [laughs] and i’m watching her do that and i feel sorry for her.
Richard has worked in chemical health with American Indians since 1989.
He believes in traditional medicines.
RICHARD: This here is the fourth medicine. It’s called sweet grass because you can smell it - its sweet smelling. [me] If we light it and we burn it, and it spreads in the room, then all the bad spirits will be asked to leave. If i’m treating a person then i would want to know if they were familiar with this ritual and did they want to use it in their healing…
He believes dealing with addiction is one step in a healing process …
and that healing takes intensive, tailored support…
He believes abstinence from drugs and alcohol is the goal.
That’s what he believes, but his job - when it comes to an opioid addict - is to recommend a treatment plan.
RICHARD: What i’m trained to do is send them to a methadone clinic.
He’s got some problems with that.
SECTION 13 - MAT CRITICISM
You often hear criticisms of methadone clinics and more broadly - medically assisted treatment programs.
People say — you’re just replacing one drug for another or it’s a free high.
They also say it doesn’t lead to healing the unresolved trauma that drives the addiction in the first place.
It’s also putting more drugs on the streets — addicts can get high off suboxone and methadone so the drugs get diverted and they’re sold illegally.
In some cases these drugs have actually become people’s first drug of choice.
Richard is concerned about all those things — but he’s got another beef.
For him, given the history that got us to this point — a business that runs off of addicted Indians… that’s… unsettling.
RICHARD: Methadone programs are industry programs. Yea, it’s making a lot of money.
Some Methadone clinics in Minnesota have upwards of a thousand patients.
Intensive residential treatment programs are reimbursed for only 16 patients at a time.
Methadone clinics serve more people and thus generate more revenue.
Plus the state reimburses treatment programs on a per day, per person basis — so a methadone patient can be on the drug for the long term — many many days.
A residential treatment programs lasts only 30, 60 or 90 days.
Richard Wright says methadone and suboxone clinics have a financial incentive to keep people on the drugs.
So he offers his clients some advice…
RICHARD: I always tell my people who come in here. i say you don’t have to be on this forever. talk to you doctor. when you get to the methadone clinic, tell your doctor that you don’t want to be on this forever…..
Or better yet - he’d like them to go cold turkey.
Richard and Sharyl Whitehawk say there is a case to be made for getting off the drugs and getting intensive help.
SHARYL: I have a daughter who became addicted to Oxy after a really terrible car accident and she had to detox cold turkey. It was horrible. Excruciating. She said mom, — that horror of what that felt like to detox is my greatest relapse prevention tool.
RICHARD: It’s manageable. It’s doable. You go through a lot of pain but in 6-7 days it’s gone.
But there is one big exception.
In 2015 over half of American Indian newborn babies in Minnesota were dependent on opioids.
Even Richard who favors the cold turkey approach says pregnant women addicted to opioids need to use methadone or suboxone - at least for a while.
That is what Ashley did.
SECTION 14 - ASHLEY/PREGNANT WOMEN
[AMBI SOUND: Child trips over cord and cries… child calmed down, laughing, talking with mom]
Ashley lives with her 2 year old daughter Maddie in south Minneapolis. She is Ojibwe.
Those are not their real names because Ashley asked me not to use those.
ASHLEY: She had to be in the hospital for 2 weeks bc they said she was showing signs of withdrawal. They had her on a real small dose of morphine. they said she was doing great, it was just her first couple of days. bc she was crying a lot.
Ashley’s from Minneapolis. She lived there until she was 7. Then here mom died. Her dad wasn’t totally in the picture, her grandma couldn’t take care of Ashley and her brother, so she went to live with her Aunt in Canada.
ASHLEY: It was good up there … I grew up traditional so I know my culture…
She got into a relationship with a boy who quickly became abusive… she fled Canada knowing he wasn’t allowed into the United States.
Back in Minneapolis, she says she lost connection with her traditional teachings.
Eventually she started taking pills.
ASHLEY: I was 19 at the time. I was hanging around with my oldest brother. They were already into the Oxy’s when they were big back then.
Oxy is OxyContin. Thanks!
ASHLEY: I I was doing vics and perks, not addicted, just doing them for fun.
Vics are Vicodin and percs are Percocet. Thanks again!
ASHLEY: I liked how it brought me up when i was feeling down.
It was around that time she met another young man.
ASHLEY: I had met my daughter’s dad… [daughter talks] we started off talking and kicking it - it was supposed to be a one night stand it didn't turn into that.
She ended up getting pregnant right away. She didn’t know it until she was having a miscarriage.
ASHLEY: That’s when I started with the oxys. i went from vics, to perks to oxys.
She got arrested a few times, was in and out of drug court and treatment centers. She’d quit pills for a while and then picked them up again.
She wasn’t really paying attention to birth control or that sort of thing.
And then there came a turning point that changed her life.
ASHLEY: In 2011 i got pregnant with my son. i carried him until i was 25 weeks pregnant. I thought I was going to be ok, just quit cold turkey. I didn't tell my midwife that I was using. she asked and i said no.
Ashley’s midwife is Amy Langenfeld. She works at Indian Health Board in Minneapolis. She is non-Native.
AMY: With most drugs we want you to stop all drugs and alcohol in pregnancy. If you read parenting mags and such they are going to tell you not to even eat baloney, cold cuts, soft cheese… But the concept of opioids is opposite of that.
Amy says it’s the withdrawals that really hurt the baby.
AMY: It’s cuts the oxygen to the fetus and significantly increases the risk of death and damage to that baby.
But at the time Ashley was too scared to tell Amy about the pills.
This is a nice echo of Richard’s sadness over working with pregnant women.
ASHLEY: I thought she was going to call someone on me. I was paranoid bc i was already on the run, i was pregnant, I was using. in my eyes i just look like this bad person so I didn’t say anything about it.
And midwife Amy — knows this — she’s worked with a lot of women in Ashley’s shoes.
AMY: The first thing i do is validate their bravery. They just came into a white woman they don’t know and told them something that historically would have gotten their baby taken away. I get them connected to a methadone clinic, as a pregnant woman they go to the front of the line. and it’s a long line…
A dose of Methadone lasts 27 hours. As long a you take one dose a day - there are generally no withdrawals.
Ashley didn’t know any of this.
Nice use of music here
She had already quit the pills and suffered through the withdrawals.
She thought she was doing the right thing. But…
ASHLEY: I was going in to go see if i was having a boy or a girl …the day before the appointment i felt my son moving around, but not moving around as much. As soon as she put the thing on, you couldn’t see his heart beat — he was already gone.
They induced labor and Ashley gave birth - to her son - the next day.
She’s not sure if her withdrawals are what ended his life. Its an unanswered question in her mind.
ASHLEY: I felt guilty… i don’t know if it was me or natural causes but… In my mind I thought this is a lesson. i didn’t know what the lesson was at the time…
Ashley relapsed back into using pills.
And then — she found out she was pregnant again.
ASHLEY: And I was like oh god - here we go again. I was just scared. I instantly called my midwife and i told her - i was pregnant and i was crying. i was like i don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose the baby, i don’t know if i should just have an abortion -… so at the time Amy was like OK we can get you in. I was in there the very next day. she knew i was using and …she … she helped me get through the weekend. ..
Ashley sort of stops talking here. she looks like she’s 1000 miles away. I ask her what she’s thinking about.
ASHLEY: My son - just trying to piece everything together. Like when i say i try to take the good from the bad… the creator wouldn’t just put him in my life just to put him in my life. he came into my life for a learning experience. He wasn’t a mistake. My son helped me become a better parent for my daughter
SECTION 15 - PROJECT CHILD
Midwife Amy Langenfeld works with Hennepin County Medical Center Obstetrics department, the county’s Addiction Clinic and another county service called Project CHILD.
In the 5 years between 2010 and 2015 the collaborative worked with nearly 70 opioid addicted expectant moms - like Ashley.
All but 2 of them went home with their babies. When moms use illicit street drugs, the baby is taken by chid protection immediately.
The collaborative is not culturally specific and they highly encourage staying on methadone.
[bring in kid sound]
When Ashley was first pregnant with her daughter, midwife Amy Langenfeld helped her and her boyfriend both got on methadone.
She says from the beginning she was fixed on tapering off after the baby came.
And she did.
Now - she takes care of her energetic 2 year old daughter and her 6 year old niece.
Ashley rents a house, she has a full time job, and a car and she’s planning on going to school soon.
With all these strong opinions about Methadone and medically assisted treatment.
I wondered how Ashley’s experience differs from someone who has decided to stay on methadone.
Of course, everyone in this situation has a unique experience - but I visited with a woman named Nicole.
SECTION 16- NICOLE
[sound of lock box on table]
Nicole keeps her methadone in a plastic bag in this lock box on the top shelf of her closet — out of reach of her children.
She is Ojibwe. She doesn’t want to use her last name.
She’s been on methadone for nearly 3 years.
NICOLE: I don’t tell many people because they’re like - well, you’re not really sober. and I’m like yea, i am. i got my children back, I’m living a good life, I’m functioning daily. it’s a way of thinking, I’m not out there involved with people who are drug dealers, i changed my whole life, yes I am.
Nicole’s addiction started in 2009 with oxyContin - swallowing the pills, then snorting them, then shooting them…
When the OxyContin pill changed to a gelcap you couldn’t crush them anymore… so she moved to heroine.
NICOLE: The way I feel when i think about it, I just feel sad. It was just dark and sad. i can’ t even listen to songs from that time bc they remind me of being dope sick or me feeling hopeless.
She was in and out of treatment for years. Until finally, she had had enough…
NICOLE: I said, I’m just done, i’m so sick of living like this i’m going to get in treatment and do what i got to do.
And she did it.
She got on methadone and successfully finished a intense outpatient treatment program.
She doesn’t practice traditional teachings, but she says her belief in God and her church is really a great support.
She rents a spacious house on the north side of Minneapolis with her boyfriend who is also in recovery.
And now that she has regained custody of her children, she is busy taking care of them.
NICOLE: I just try to show them love. You know I didn’t get a lot of love when i was younger. You know, so I try to make them feel good about themselves. I think I would have turned out a lot better if I would have got these things. You know what I mean?
SECTION 17 - THE NEED FOR HEALING
To this point Ashley and Nicole’s experiences on methadone are pretty similar.
Both have kicked the illicit drug use and regained a relatively stable life.
But sobriety - however you define it - is a lifelong process …
and methadone is one step…
Midwife Amy Langanfeld is a huge advocate for methadone and suboxone during pregnancy but even she says …
AMY: Once their baby is born, they’re just themselves again. Often women don’t get to adequately heal from that addiction, their self worth is usually not restored or developed, so it’s very easy for them to regress back to the emotional pain management of the illicit drugs. there are very few programs that support postpartum women.
Ashley recently broke up with her boyfriend — Maddie dad. So she’s on her own.
ASHLEY: I was let down by my mom bc you know this woman was supposed to raise me and be here for me it’s not her fault … I think it is kind of her fault for passing away - it’s kind of harsh to say that but in my eyes, if you know you have kidney failure, you’re not supposed to drink ,why do you keep drinking? I don’t know if anyone else has felt that before about a loved one or anyone.
She’s still off the pills, but she’s drinking.
ASHLEY: It’s mostly thursdays. That’s my me time to be able to go out and have some drinks, get drunk and then go back to work.
Nicole is still on methadone, she has her children, a stable income, a solid home. ..
But just like Ashley, some old wounds still need to heal.
NICOLE: It’s hard for me to trust sometimes, you know. It’s so embedded in you cause you grew up like that from not trusting the cops, don’t trust he white people. And then with alcoholic or drug addict parents…I was on my own at 13 years old. literally on my own. You know so - around people that you have always watch, wonder if they are telling you the truth or with your head over your shoulder because you don’t know what they’re going to do. You grew up in theta environment, you grew up not trusting.
Nicole is working with a group of Native women in Minneapolis to build a supportive housing complex for women who have struggled with opioid addiction
It would focus on healing with traditional Native teachings and different therapy options.
Nicole says she thinks it might be a place where she could find some people she could trust.
NICOLE: When someone lived the life i lived, i feel like a connection to them you. Like, oh she gets me.
The group is looking for funding.
Which brings us to our last consideration — besides experience and theory and opinion — there is money.
Money earmarked for opioid addiction treatment is generally headed in a different direction — toward medically assisted treatment.
What kinds of treatment are being supported by federal, state and tribal funds?
SECTION 18 - FEDERAL, STATE & TRIBAL FOCUS
[FOX NEWS - OBAMA ANNOUNCEMENT OF FUNDS FOR TREATMENT]
Congress hasn’t approved that billion dollars, but if they do, 970 million of it would support medically assisted treatment programs like methadone or suboxone.
REZNIKOFF: Methadone is Pennies.
970-million dollars is a lot of pennies.
In Minnesota, state official are also saying they want to increase medically assisted treatment.
They say it’s a good alternative to illicit drugs…it reduces overdose deaths, cuts drug trafficking and a lot of the crime that goes along with it.
But many American Indians say there needs to be more money for deeper treatment to address the pain the drives the addiction.
In Minnesota, People are waiting as long as a month between their Rule 25 and a spot in a residential treatment program.
[WHITE HOUSE video fades in]
OBAMA: Hey Everybody. I’ve got a special guest with me this week.
In May 2016 the White House produced a video featuring President Obama and the musician Macklemore - who has struggled with his own opioid addiction.
MACKELMORE: I know recovery isn’t easy or quick, but along with a 12 step program, treatment has saved my life.
President Obama list some actions his administration is taking to help people get treatment…
OBAMA: And under Obamacare, health plans in the marketplace have to include coverage for treatment.
Yes, Obamacare calls for coverage of addiction treatment.
But specific insurance directives in the Minnesota Exchange, are actually undermining some treatment programs that don’t offer suboxone or methadone.
SECTION 19 - TRIBAL RESPONSE - FOND DU LAC
Rick Colsen runs the Tagwii Recovery Center.
It’s a long term recovery center for natives run by natives on the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation in Northern Minnesota.
The program is funded by tribal, state, federal and dollars.
RICK: Early on we have figured out how to do treatment with opioid addicts - really focusing on case management services so that things outside of treatment start to stabilize so we can start working with that client internally much faster.
When a person comes to Tagwii saying they want treatment, Colsen’s staff first helps them get into a 30, 60 or 90 day in-patient treatment program.
Colsen calls it a detox period.
Once they finish, clients can spend up to 18 months here at Tagwii.
RICK: There’s lots of research the longer you keep a client engaged in treatment activities, the more successful they are.
Colsen does not want to start a medically assisted treatment program with suboxone or methadone, but he thinks he might have to.
RICK: With the affordable care act and more people on state funded insurance companies, we have to get first prior authorization to place them in in-patient treatment - we don’t always get that…
When they do get insurance company’s authorization for treatment, sometimes the patient isn’t allowed to finish out the program…
RICK: They are getting diverted into Suboxone or Methadone programs and being discharged within 10 days.
That is — they get sent home early from treatment with a prescription to a maintenance drug.
And they don’t come back to Tagwii for counseling and case management.
Rick says, he loses them.
It’s unclear how often this is happening, but Rick and others are concerned.
Fond du Lac and Mill Lacs Bands of Ojibwe and others are working with the state of Minnesota to change the rules for insurance companies on the state’s exchange.
SECTION 18 - TRIBAL RESPONSE - LEECH LAKE
It’s clear there are differing opinions about the value of medically assisted treatment.
Rick Colsen runs a program that does not embrace the practice.
But our last story is about a tribe that does.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has been running its own Suboxone program since 2009.
It’s the oldest tribal Suboxone program in the state.
The number of clients hovers around 90.
Like most other M-A-T programs — it is controversial.
Becky White is the program’s Director.
She is Ojibwe.
BECKY: A lot of the community members say that we are just giving out a pill to take care of pills that they are already taking. This is not true.
The program does not gear people towards tapering - that’s an individual’s decision.
But Becky says clients have to see a counselor or case manager weekly. They have to attend 2 group meetings a month, and they have to produce a clean urine screenings. No illicit drug use.
There’s one other common criticism of the program —you guessed it - its business side.
Many are unsettled that their own tribe is making money off tribal members who are struggling with addiction.
I don’t have the financials for the program, but Becky White says it’s doing very well financially. Here’s how she explains it.
BECKY: It’s going well. I don’t think I want to say anything more about … [is that a point of tension in the community] I can tell you how we are helping in the community - we help with funding of other buildings…
She says money from the Suboxone program has helped rehab a nearby homeless shelter, build a brand new tribal justice center and an assisted living facility for elderly people.
BECKY: So, yes, we are bringing in revenue and that revenue is helping our community.
LeRoy Staples Fairbanks is on the Leech Lake Tribal Council and he used to work at the opioid program.
LEROY: It could become perception that people become dollar signs at that point, it’s definitely not an economic development venture for us - that we are going to make money off of people and it’s going to save us.
He says the financial success of the program allows the tribe to explore opening their own in-patient facility, and shift focus to prevention.
LEROY: With the kind of drug use everything is so disconnected. We need to get the community element back together, to helping one another again, real long term stuff. [trails off]
Leroy and I are talking in his office.
He’s behind his desk and at this moment he reaches for a blue post.
He peels it off his computer monitor.
Written in pencil, in all caps it says HEALING CEREMONY.
He says he’s been thinking for a while that the tribe needs to turn its focus to healing as a community.
Like Antony and Sharyl, Ashley and Nicole — tribal communities may be able to find a way to turn this opioid addiction crisis into an opening for deep healing.
To come out stronger than they were before.
For this special edition of Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.
The Minnesota wolf hunt has killed 1,000 wolves in the past two years, and this sport hunt has shown blatant disrespect to tribal nations. As the economic, social, and political situation of tribal nations becomes more desperate, the gray wolf is delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011. Tribal nations agreed on a wolf management plan with the State of Minnesota, but the state broke their promise. In this program we hear from Anishinaabe elder Robert Shimek and Reyna Crow, who is Director of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance.
Colin Neary: Right now the state of Minnesota is in the midst of its second regulated wolf hunting season. As of December 10, 2013 the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports one hundred thirty-one wolves have been harvested, and hunters are quickly approaching the wolf harvest target goal of two hundred twenty for the 2013-2014 wolf hunting season. Last year during the 2012-2013 season a total of four hundred thirteen wolves were harvested, exceeding the harvest target goal of four hundred.
Wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan on December 21, 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe explains: “For one reason, and one reason only, we are proposing to remove the gray wolf from the list… they are no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.” Critics of wolf delisting argue that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is not simply to prevent an animal from becoming extinct. Rather, critics argue that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to recover species that are endangered or threatened and also to protect the habitats on which they depend.
For years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been following a Wolf Recovery Plan, which set a minimum population of 1,600 and prevented any sport hunting of wolves for 5 years following delisting. However, in 2011 this 5 year ban on wolf hunts was lifted, and days after wolves were officially delisted in January 2012 the Minnesota State Legislature proposed legislation that would authorize the first regulated wolf hunt in Minnesota. Robert Shimek (Red Lake Anishinaabe) provides some historic background for the current wolf hunt happening in the state of Minnesota.
Robert Shimek: As many of you know, several days after the delisting from federal protection in 2012 the Minnesota Legislature introduced legislation to authorize the first regulated wolf hunt in the state of Minnesota ever or the territory of Minnesota for the matter. There was lots of wolf hunting and trapping prior to the wolf being placed on federal protection, but there was no such thing as a regulated hunt in Minnesota. It was pretty much take as many as you could get whenever you could get them in interests of eradicating the wolf from the state of Minnesota. These efforts were largely successful. By 1973, when the modern version of the Endangered Species Act was signed into law, there were only several hundred gray wolves left in the contiguous 48 states of America, and they were all entirely within the Arrowhead region here in Minnesota.
Colin Neary: Historically, wolf declines in the western Great Lakes region were caused by intensive eradication efforts and declining numbers of prey, such as bison, elk, moose, deer, caribou, and beaver. Bounties paid for dead wolves began during the 1800s. By the early 1900s gray wolves had been eliminated from southern Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. By 1960, wolves were also gone from northern Wisconsin and Michigan, except Isle Royale, and from most of Minnesota, except along the Boundary Waters in the Arrowhead region. The tip of the Arrowhead Region is found in the northeast corner of Minnesota near Grand Marais. The Arrowhead extends along the coast of Lake Superior southwest past Duluth, extends east towards Bemidji, and north to International Falls. Since wolves were officially listed on the modern Endangered Species Act in 1974, gray wolf packs have expanded throughout the Arrowhead region.
In Minnesota a bounty on all predators, including wolves, continued until 1965. Between 1965 and 1974, Minnesota had an open season on wolves and a Directed Predator Control Program. During this time, about 250 wolves were taken each year, and the wolf population was estimated at 350 to 700 animals by 1974. The state’s control program and open season continued until May 1974, when the gray wolf gained protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Similarly, until the 1970s Anishinaabeg peoples in Minnesota and throughout the Great Lakes region experienced widespread land-theft, poverty, prohibition of indigenous languages and traditional spiritual ways, and erosion of treaty rights for hunting and gathering. Many Anishinaabeg believe that a parallel fate exists between themselves and wolves. Robert Shimek provides some historical background for the spiritual connection between Anishinaabeg, the human beings, and Ma’iingan, the wolf.
Robert Shimek: The wolf is my brother. These words have been heard among Ojibwe (Anishinaabeg) communities of the western Great Lakes region since time immemorial. At times it was common knowledge among all. In more recent times the idea was almost erased in many communities because of the acculturation and assimilation policies of the United States government and the churches established on Indian reservations. “Kill the Indian to save the man.” These now-famous words were uttered by William Pratt, superintendent of Carlisle Boarding School, beginning in the late 1870s. Carlisle was the first large-scale Indian boarding school established the United States. Within 20 years government- and church-operated boarding schools had sprung up all across the American landscape.
The words of Mr. Pratt nearly eliminated the indigenous Anishinaabeg way of thinking about the world, the wolf, and just about everything else that stood in the way of the white man’s conquest and colonization of America, including other tribes. Over many years of interaction between indigenous people and Euro-Americans and Americans in the Great Lakes region there has been a great deal of misunderstanding between the two cultural population groups. At times this has led to conflict on a variety of issues. The nature and essence of these differences has, in some cases, become multi-generational.
Colin Neary: When wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act, their management returned to the state and tribes. However, the State of Minnesota has mostly ignored and rejected tribal nations that are calling for wolf hunting bans, at least within reservation boundaries. When the wolf hunt was announced in 2012 White Earth, Fond du Lac, Red Lake, and Leech Lake tribal governments all issued letters to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, opposing the hunt. Steve Mortenson of the Leech Lake Division of Resource Management said in the letter: “There is considerable concern about taking wolves for sport. Many tribal members feel that wolves are their brothers and they should be respected as such. How can you ignore governments that have co-management authority of much of the wolf range and come up with a plan without them?”
Now we hear again from Robert Shimek about the disregard for tribal co-management of wolves by states in the Western Great Lakes, and how that reflects larger differences between the worldview of settler European-Americans and indigenous Anishinaabeg peoples.
Robert Shimek: The recent delisting of the gray wolf from federal protection and turning wolf management over to the states in the Great Lakes region has caused some push-back from Ojibwe tribes here in the same region. In Minnesota a major contention is the statewide wolf hunt that refuses to acknowledge the territorial jurisdiction of the tribes and the importance of a healthy relationship between Ma’iingan, the wolf, and Anishinaabeg, the Indian.
After hundreds of years of interaction many Euro-Americans do not understand the complexity of the relationship Anishinaabeg in the region have with Ma’iingan, nor do some Anishinaabeg understand the Euro-American relationship to the world we all share. We have been neighbors for many years. We still have much to learn about each other. To start gaining ground on a mutual understanding, some tough issues and questions have to be raised. Some here assert that here in Minnesota we can shoot, hunt, trap, and snare up to 50% of the wolves annually and the population will always rebound and be stable. They consider wolves a renewable resource that can be killed indefinitely, with no significant social, cultural, or political impact.
Some in the Anishinaabeg community would ask: How can the state of Minnesota legislate the killing of my wolf-brother? How can the State of Minnesota, after years of hard lessons, legislate a new variety of colonialism and racism directed at Anishinaabeg without consultation or consent? The statewide wolf hunting, trapping, and snaring season has become problematic for tribes to manage their resources as they see fit. Minimally, if there is something rare, endangered, special, or sacred to the Minnesota Ojibwe tribes, they should be allowed to care for it within Indian reservation boundaries.
Colin Neary: Red Lake Ojibwe Nation is the only tribal nation in Minnesota that has been successful in banning the wolf hunt from its entire reservation. Red Lake is a closed reservation, the only one of its kind in Minnesota, where the entire 900,000 acre reservation, guaranteed by the 1863 Treaty, belongs to the tribe. 2013-2014 wolf hunting regulations in Minnesota cite Red Lake as the only reservation officially closed to wolf hunting, and direct hunters to contact local tribal authorities for hunting on other reservations in Minnesota.
By contrast, both Fond du Lac and White Earth tribal governments passed resolutions in 2012 declaring their tribal lands wolf sanctuaries. However, tribal lands comprise a minority of the geographic land base of both Fond du Lac and White Earth Reservations. For instance, Fond du Lac retains 35% of its reservation or 35,000 acres in tribal trust, while White Earth retains less than 10% of its original landholdings or approximately 60,000 acres. Furthermore, both White Earth and Fond du Lac have requested the Department of Natural Resources ban hunting on remaining non-tribal lands within their reservation boundaries.
DNR Commissioner Thomas Landwehr declined both requests. "We fully recognize and respect your authority to close tribal lands to the taking of wolves, but we believe that the public should be given the opportunity to hunt on the public and private nontribal lands within the reservation boundary,'' said Landwehr in his response to both White Earth and Fond du Lac. As a result, during the 2012-2013 wolf hunting season 12 wolves were taken out of the Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge within the boundaries of White Earth Reservation. In total, 413 wolves were harvested in Minnesota last year.
For some tribal members, this is more than a sport hunt – the hunting of wolves for non-traditional purposes is a major disrespect to traditional Anishinaabeg culture. Karen Driver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa explains: “The wolf is part of our creation story, and therefore many Ojibwe have a strong spiritual connection to the wolf. Many Ojibwe believe the fate of the wolf is closely tied to the fate of all the Ojibwe. For these reasons the Fond du Lac Band feels the hunting and trapping of wolves is inappropriate.”
We now turn to Reyna Crow, co-founder of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance, to further some of the historic parallels between Anishinaabeg, Ma’iingan, and Manoomin, the wild rice.
Reyna Crow: You look historically with the colonization of Minnesota, elsewhere in Anishinaabe Akiing, as well as the rest of the country, and you see that there were bounties on scalps for the Anishinaabe people as there were bounties on furs of Ma’iingan. Clearly, an animal whom is not only a spiritual brother to the Anishinaabe people, but with whom a parallel fate is shared. Having a recreational hunt on them seems to me much like disregarding the sulfate standards that are intended to protect Manoomin as a direct assault on at least the spirit of treaties and respecting culturally significant resources in ceded territory.
I think very much they’re all connected, and I know that when I’m in the area of Northern Minnesota working on these issues it’s always wolves, women, and water that seem to be under attack. And so those are the areas where we’re working hardest. It’s difficult to talk about, but I think people need to be aware that roughly half of those wolves were taken alive in traps and snares. And those animals aren’t just killed. They’re tortured, and it’s a very disturbing thing. To me this is an enormous sign of disrespect, not only to the Anishinaabe but every person who lives in the northern woods and values nature and wildlife. A lot of us are there because we value living in a pristine area and we want to be around non-human predators and it’s absolutely senseless and a real hijacking of public policy and public interest both for dominant culture people and Anishinaabe people.
Colin Neary: Perhaps the most important factors leading to wolf recovery in the Midwest were the Endangered Species Act prohibitions that made killing and harming wolves illegal and the Endangered Species Act requirement that a Recovery Plan be prepared. The Recovery Plan focused time, money, and energy on priority conservation actions. Wolves also rebounded because their primary prey, white-tailed deer, were doing well. Deer herds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan increased through the 1980s and early 1990s because of mild winters and timber harvests that created prime habitat.
Wolves total more than 4,000 in the three core recovery states in the western Great Lakes area and have exceeded U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services recovery goals. Each state, with tribal consultation, was supposed to develop a plan to manage wolves after federal protection was removed. Originally, most involved were satisfied with the Wolf Recovery Plan in Minnesota. The minimum wolf population goal is set at 1,600. Also included in Minnesota’s Wolf Recovery Plan was a requirement that public wolf hunting be suspended for five years after delisting occurred. However, in 2011 this protection was removed, presumably from pressure by the powerful Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association lobbies.
At the time of delisting in 2012, Minnesota's wolf population was estimated at 2,921. After the conclusion of the first wolf hunting season in 2013 wolf population estimates fell to 2,211. Compare this more than 700 wolf decrease with the 413 wolves harvested during the past season, and questions begin to arise: Are people illegally poaching wolves at such high rates? Or has the wolf hunt destabilized packs by eliminating important pack members?
Reyna Crow of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance will now talk about how these wolf hunts not only destabilize packs, but increase risk to humans as well as livestock.
Reyna Crow: Wolves are not herd animals. They’re pack animals, and wolves teach people a great deal in their family structure. Tthe older wolves, the alpha wolves, teach the younger wolves how to hunt and how to be part of a pack. So when we kill off the older pack members, we have pups that are that much more likely out of desperation to encroach on human economic activity and be considered a problem. So it seems that it’s irrational policy if your concern is really wolf depredation or wolves coming too close to people, you don’t destabilize the packs. That’s going to make things worse.
Colin Neary: As mentioned previously, Minnesota’s Wolf Recovery Plan initially disallowed general public taking of wolves for 5 years following federal delisting from the Endangered Species Act. However, the Minnesota State Legislature removed that safeguard in July 2011, several months before the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stripped Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota wolves from the Endangered Species List. Wolves were delisted on December 21, 2011, and days after the state of Minnesota legislated a wolf hunting, trapping, and snaring season, pushed by powerful hunting and ranching interests including the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association.
Minnesota State Senator Bill Ingebrigsten said during a debate on wolf hunt legislation: “The depredation problem with the high number of wolves in the state of Minnesota is a big issue. People understand that. The whitetail hunting enthusiasts, 500,000 strong, want it.”
Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association Executive Director Joe Martin has gone so far as to imply the total elimination of Wolves in Minnesota, when he said, “A hunting season on wolves isn’t going to address the wolf conflicts that we have experienced and we will experience. That’s why we still need to continue the services of professional trappers to remove wolves.”
Now we hear once again form Reyna Crow of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance, discussing the conflict of interest between the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, resulting in the abandonment of the Wolf Recovery Plan agreed upon by Anishinaabeg tribal nations in Minnesota:
Reyna Crow: Within about three weeks I believe from the time it became official they would be delisted on a certain date, a proposal was first talked about for the wolf hunt. So it seems pretty clear that industry people, ag people, and sport hunting lobbies have been working with the Department of Natural Resources for quite some time or they just couldn’t have rolled out this plan quite so quickly. The first fall after delisting became effective there was a sport hunt. We have a second sport hunt that is scheduled to take place November 9th in Northern Minnesota. The wolf hunt, as you know, has started in Wisconsin already and Michigan, I believe that’s going to go to a state referendum, but it’s extremely upsetting.
There’s no scientific, biological reason to have a hunt. And basically there was a good plan that the Department of Natural Resources worked out with a round-table. The management plan that they worked out included people that were tribal representatives as well as wolf advocates and the sport hunting organizations as well as agriculture were heavily represented. Yet as soon as Ma’iingan was delisted at the federal level they chucked it. The Department of Natrual Resources has said that the ag people or the livestock producers as they call them and the sport hunters are their constituency. So it’s a real shame. We’re hoping that we can still stop it. I don’t know what the chances are of stopping it this year, but we’re certainly going to continue to fight.
Neary: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources claims that last year’s regulated wolf hunt was conservative. However, the estimated gray wolf population in Minnesota in 2008, the last year for which data was available, was 2,991 and has had dropped to 2,211 by 2013, a 25% decline. Rather than suspending the hunt until a reason for the significant population decrease could be identified, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has decided that the solution for the 2013-2014 wolf hunting season is to decrease the harvest target from 400 to 220 wolves and the number of wolf hunting permits issued from 6,000 to 3,300.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported on December 10, 2013 that so far this season 131 wolves have been harvested, which places the population estimate at less than 2,100. At the current rate of depopulation in Minnesota wolves may drop below the target population of 1,600 within the next two or three years, again qualifying them for placement on the Endangered Species Act.
Part of the reason wolves have been caught at such high rates in Minnesota over the past 2 seasons is due to some of the rules and regulations imposed by the Department of Natural Resources. For instance, the baiting of wolves using dead livestock and other animal carcasses is allowed to lure animals within range. Trapping and snaring have also taken many wolves in the past 2 seasons. Many Anishinaabeg consider the indiscriminate killing of wolves an assault on their traditional culture and spiritual ways.
We now return to Robert Shimek, who explains the thoughtful deliberation and ceremony Anishinaabeg go through before deciding on the traditional hunt of ma’iingan, the wolf, and how contemporary developments in wolf management have paralleled recent blows dealt to Indian Country by the federal government.
Robert Shimek: Ma’iingan has shown Anishinaabe how to take care of oneself, family, community, land, and nation. The wolf is a foundation component of many Ojibwe ceremonies, historically and contemporarily. There were times when Anishinaabeg did take wolves, usually only for very specific reasons. These occurrences typically revolved around the request by an individual. At these times a group of elders would discuss the request and, if granted, a small group of men were selected to go out and get the wolf. The killing of a wolf only occurred after much deliberation and ceremony.
Beyond these situations, for the Anishinaabe there is no good reason to allow the indiscriminate killing of wolves. This is perhaps one of the earliest forms of self-regulation by Indian people. The improved trends for Indians and wolves continued until January 2012 for wolves and tribes. This changed when the United States officially removed wolves from Endangered Species protection in the Great Lakes region. Within days of the federal delisting, the Minnesota and Wisconsin Legislatures introduced and passed legislation authorizing statewide wolf hunts. Shortly after that federal sequestration dramatically cut treaty funds for essential tribal housing, education, and healthcare services.
Long term impacts of both of these actions remain to be seen, but this much is known. 412 wolves were legally hunted or trapped in Minnesota’s first regulated wolf season. Despite a declaration from the White Earth Tribal Council creating a wolf sanctuary within the reservation boundaries, Minnesota wolf hunters, trappers, and snarers killed 12 wolves on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Key services to tribal members on Indian reservations have been dramatically cut. A recent Supreme Court ruling dealt the Indian Child Welfare Act a major blow. Global climate change continues unabated, altering the environment for both Indians and wolves.
The State of Minnesota continues to ignore the request from tribes to let the tribes manage wolves within their reservation boundaries. The wolf is my brother. Hopefully, this information helps clarify and provide new information for those working to better understand the cultural, spiritual, and historic relationship between Anishinaabeg and Ma’iingan.
Colin Neary: While 4,432 gray wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in the Western Great Lakes region in 2011, another 1,674 gray wolves living in the Northern Rocky Mountains were delisted last year. Now the Obama administration is proposing to delist the gray wolf nationwide. Americans have until December 17 to tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service what they think about the proposed rule to lift federal protections for gray wolves in the continental United States. As of December 5 the wildlife agency had received 194,188 comments. A majority of the comments oppose delisting. Estimates put the gray wolf population at about two million throughout North America in the 1500s. When the animals were last counted in December 2012, there were an estimated 6,100 in the lower 48 states, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
This concludes our program for Honor the Earth. Special thanks to Reyna Crow and Bob Shimek. You can find more about Honor the Earth on Facebook, Twitter, or online at honorearth.org. You can find today’s program and past programs online at soundcloud.com/honortheearth. Thanks for listening.
We often hear young people are losing interest in the Great Outdoors, but plenty of 20-somethings enjoy activities ranging from cross-country skiing to hunting. A few even pursue outdoor-related careers. In the field of outdoor communications, many of today’s young professionals are women. In this edition of Points North, Shawn highlights a few of the women who work in the field of outdoor communications.
We often hear young people are losing interest in the Great Outdoors, but plenty of 20-somethings enjoy activities ranging from cross-country skiing to hunting. A few even pursue outdoor-related careers. In the field of outdoor communications, many of today's young professionals are women. While the ranks of outdoor writers have included women for decades, it appears more females are entering the outdoor communications field than ever before. They are sure to bring new perspectives to what was traditionally a male-dominated profession, because they are anything but typical.
Consider Shelby Gonzalez of Duluth, a freelance outdoor and adventure writer and the managing editor of Northern Wilds magazine. Growing up in the Twin Cities, she had virtually no exposure to outdoor activities. In high school, she overheard a classmate who was preparing for a 49-day Arctic paddling trip led by Camp Menogyn on the Gunflint Trail.
“I had no idea someone my age could do something like that,” she says.
That night, she asked her mother if she could go to summer camp at Menogyn. The camp became part of her life for three summers. Through Menogyn, Gonzalez participated in a 17-day Boundary Waters canoe trip and then a 30-day excursion in Ontario's Wabikimi
Wilderness. She could have paddled the Arctic, but at the ripe old age of 18 she decided to make a solo trip around the world instead. That adventure was cut short when she had an emergency appendectomy in West Java, Indonesia.
Returning home, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where she designed her own major, Outdoor Adventure Writing with a curriculum that included lots of rock climbing through the school’s outdoor recreation program. She's gone on to design her own career as a freelance writer.
"Getting into the outdoors completely shifted my life's path," she says.
By contrast, Kate Watson of Grand Marais grew up along the Yukon River near the tiny village of Eagle, Alaska. The outdoors was her childhood playground.
"We had no T.V. or running water," she recalls. "For fun, you either went outside or read a book."
Her family later moved to the Upper Peninsula, where she went to high school. Her first experience with city life was going to college in the Twin Cities, majoring in journalism. While taking a magazine writing class, she went with her father to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais and wrote a story about an event called the Winterer's Gathering. Whether coincidence or fate, today she is the school's communications director.
Watson says she enjoys cities, but a small town is better suited to her outdoor lifestyle. An avid participant in active sports like cross-country skiing and hiking, she shares her outdoor knowledge through freelance stories and gear reviews she writes for Northern Wilds magazine. Although she didn't specifically seek a career in outdoor communications, she's happy with the niche she's found in Grand Marais.
Creating your own niche in the hunting industry isn’t easy, regardless of your gender, says Melissa Bachman. She credits her upbringing with her decision to pursue a career in outdoor television. Growing up in Central Minnesota, both of her parents were hunters.
"I developed a passion for hunting," she says. "I looked forward to my 12th birthday so I could start hunting. I could hardly sleep the night before I went deer hunting for the first time."
In college she double-majored in Spanish and Broadcast Journalism. Then she went looking for work. She applied at 74 companies and was told over and over that she couldn't get hired without experience. Finally, she applied at the North American Hunting Club, where again she was told she needed experience. She left the interview, thought
about it and decided the club was where she wanted to work. So she went back and made the company an offer.
"I asked if I could work for free as an intern so I could learn television production," Bachman says.
The club took her on as an intern. For months, she worked nights at a bar in St. Cloud and made a 150-mile round-trip commute for her internship. Once she gained some experience, she was hired by the North American Hunting Club and worked as a producer for four years. She occasionally appeared on the club's hunting show as a personality. To build up a video resume, she began filming her own hunts. A year-and-a-half ago, she left the club and began freelancing as a personality on hunting shows. She signed on as a full-time host for North American Hunter, the club’s television show, just a few weeks ago. It's where she wants to be.
“I had lots of ambition, knew what I wanted and worked hard to get there," she says. "As long as someone allows me to hunt all fall and all spring, I'm a happy girl."
Ada Igoe is also where she wants to be--on the Gunflint Trail. Her essays about life in the woods air on WTIP Radio in Grand Marais. She writes about nature and the outdoors for various magazines. In the summer, she works at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center on Lake Saganaga. Igoe was introduced to the canoe country at an early age, but didn't appreciate it until she was a young adult.
"I grew up in Grand Marais," she says. "When I was little we would take our vacation in the BWCAW and I hated it."
It wasn't until she worked summer jobs as a receptionist for the U.S. Forest Service and later for a Gunflint Trail outfitter that she became intrigued with the canoe country. After college, she worked as a temporary for six months in London and did a six-month stint in the Twin Cities. In a recession-ravaged job market, writing jobs were hard to come by.
"I applied multiple times at the Duluth News-Tribune, but instead of hiring, they always eliminated the position," she says.
Igoe liked cities, but decided she didn't want to live in one. She moved to the Gunflint Trail in 2009. Pursuing freelance writing allowed her to be where she wanted to be. In addition to WTIP, she writes for various publications and a local tourism blog. Her writing doesn't earn enough to fully support her yet, so she appreciates her job at the museum.
When asked if they think there is a reason why more women are becoming outdoor communicators, all say it is easier for women to break into fields once dominated by men.
"Women are a growing part of the hunting industry," says Bachman. "There are more great female role models. My Mom hunted, so I knew it wasn't just a guy thing."
Igoe, who doesn't hunt, but is willing to tag along and carry a dead grouse, says today's 20-something women have more career options than women in previous generations. She thinks women may gravitate more to communications careers than men, noting the blogosphere is mostly female. One thing is certain. Female outdoor communicators are telling new stories and reaching new audiences. In doing so, they are proving young people haven’t abandoned the Great Outdoors.
Ada Igoe is a volunteer producer at WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Each week, she shares her perspectives through Of Woods and Words. In this episode, Ada talks about learning how to live a life outside of the convenience of city life.
Maybe all kids from the country go through this, but almost as soon as I became aware of a larger world around me, big city grocery stores began to fascinate me. As soon as I stepped through the automatic doors into the fluorescent glow of overhead lights reflected in the polished floor tiles, I felt I’d emerged into a new world. Before me I found laid out more produce than I knew was possible to gather in one place, endless aisles of cereal, cheese, and even whole sections of the big box stores devoted to items that weren’t even groceries. Who knew you could pick up Christmas ornaments and a gallon of milk not only on the same trip, but in the same store? From an early age I was hooked on big grocery stores and I clamored to help my grandmother run errands when we visited her in the Chicago suburbs.
As a teenager I grew intrigued by the concept of 24 hour grocery stores. Accustomed to the rhythms of small town life where grocery shopping and banking must happen during set hours of the day on set days of the week, I couldn’t get over the fact that if I wanted to pick up a box of cookies at three in the morning that I could actually do that. When I told my college freshmen roommate that, she laughed.
“Oh Ada,” she said. “You’re never going back are you?”
At the time, I assumed she was right. Flying high on the convenience of large town living, I couldn’t imagine returning to the often inflexible lifestyle of my hometown.
But much of what we assume our freshmen years of college proves false in the long run. Even the great friendship we have with those first roommates often fizzle out in a few short years when it grows apparent that the only real thing we shared was the 10 by 15 room we crammed ourselves into that first academic year.
I haven’t spoken to that roommate in years. Today, I live 55 miles away from my childhood home and all my grocery shopping is completed at a small store that’s absolutely nothing like the big 24 hour box grocery stores that I still have a soft spot for.
Lately we’ve been spending our free time at the cabin stacking wood and installing a new woodstove. The geese have taken to their honking journeys south and the loons haven’t called out in weeks. We know winter isn’t too far off and that means it’s the time of year when you become acutely aware of the distance between you and the grocery store. Groceries are an almost constant quiet worry up here and as the winter progresses that worry increases as the Gunflint Trail grows snow-packed and slick.
I now live a life completely devoid of three in the morning cookie runs. Instead, we spend a lot of effort trying to keep our cupboards from imitating Mother Hubbard’s, with varying levels of success. I mean, who hasn’t eaten a dinner of frozen spinach, mixed with a can of black eyed peas and served over herbed couscous?
The worst supply crisis we had was when we ran out of toothpaste during the busiest time of this past summer. We spent a whole week ransacking every travel kit in the cabin, squeezing every possible bit of toothpaste out of teeny tiny toothpaste tubes before finally running to the canoe outfitters down the road to buy two more teeny tubes of toothpaste. At long last, Andy made a special trip to town after to work with the sole intent of coming home with a couple of full-sized toothpaste tubes.
This life of mine up in the woods: it’s not convenient at all. It requires special planning for even the most mundane tasks and often we fail on the most basic levels. But how else were those big grocery stores going to hold onto their charm after all these years?
Ada Igoe is a volunteer producer at WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Each week, she shares her perspectives through Of Woods and Words. In this episode, Ada discusses growing up listening to the radio.
When my brother and I were very little, our family lived briefly on the edge of the Minnesota prairie. We didn’t have a T.V. As a result, the only thing we looked forward to more than visits from the bookmobile were Saturday mornings. That’s because every Saturday morning the local community radio station broadcast two children’s radio programs.
The shows came on pretty early on those Saturday mornings: maybe about 6 a.m. It was rare for my brother and I to be up and about at that early hour, so my father faithfully taped the two half-hour shows. Over breakfast a few hours later, we listened to the taped shows.
But, when I was six, my family moved back to my mother’s hometown of Grand Marais. Everyone was a lot happier along the shores of Lake Superior. None of us missed the prairie. However, our Saturday mornings got a lot quieter. We still didn’t own a T.V. Now we also didn’t have a community radio station to tune in to. The radio show We Like Kids! from Juneau, Alaska no longer followed Vera Deara’s half-hour of stories at 6 in the morning. There were no tapes to listen to while my brother and I attempted to eat an entire box of cereal in search of the hidden toy inside the box.
Of course we missed having a community radio station. Luckily for us, in the spring of 1992, a dedicated group of volunteers started working to bring radio to Cook County. They held fundraisers, formed partnerships, applied for grants, and marched in almost every parade, big or small, that Grand Marais hosted. By the time all the money was raised to bring community radio to the area, this group of volunteers had the Grand Marais parade circuit down pat. They knew you were meant to parade around the city block designated for parades in downtown Grand Marais twice in the Christmas and Fourth of July parades.
When WTIP began broadcasting in April 1998, my brother and I had outgrown children’s radio programs. But we hadn’t outgrown radio. In WTIP we found volunteer opportunities, internships, and career exploration. We heard new voices and music, kept up on weather and news and became avid listeners of “Small Change.”
Today at the cabin, our radio dial floats between WTIP, MPR, and the CBC. But when I’m driving home, be it from travels, or just a trip to the Twin Cities, it is only when my car radio picks up WTIP that I truly feel I’m home. Around Two Harbors, when I start to get those first scratchy transmissions from Grand Marais, I know there’s not too much road left to travel that day.
I had a thought a couple months ago, back when WTIP was turning 12 years old. I realized that in the listening range of WTIP, there is an entire generation who has always had a community radio station to tune into. For any community member age 12 or younger, and to be fair, probably a littler older too, there simply hasn’t been a time when they can’t remember there not being WTIP. Maybe some members of this generation spend their weeks looking forward to listening to Rose’s Saturday Morning Story.
If you don’t want your kids to remember a time without community radio, if you spend your weekends looking forward to Saturday morning radio, if it’s the sound of WTIP that signals your homecoming, well, now’s the time to give WTIP your show of support. With your gift of time or funds, we can ensure that WTIP is around to provide entertainment for many, many Saturday mornings to come. Just call 387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847.