ChildrenStephanie Schroeder and her children Lucy and Oscar | Photo by John Doman

By Kristin Vanevenhoven, Communications Specialist

Q&A with Stephanie Schroeder on the impact of the American Indian Youth Enrichment program on her family and future generations.

Q: Tell me about yourself and your family.

A: Boozhoo! (Greetings!) My English name is Stephanie Schroeder, and my Anishinaabe name is Fire Fly Woman. We are members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe enrolled in Bois Forte, the other half of our family is enrolled at White Earth. My mom and dad both live with us allowing my kids to grow up in a multigenerational household, just as I did, and hear stories from their grandpa, ‘Corky’ Harper.

Q: How did you get involved in this program?

A: Oscar started school at American Indian Magnet School in preschool. Since we moved down to the Twin Cities, it was important that they get their cultural education, because they are growing up in the city instead of on the reservation. Being at this school, I found out about American Indian Youth Enrichment, which offers the opportunity to focus more on cultural enrichment. I was very excited. Oscar has been in the program as early as he could start and this is Lucy’s first year.

Q: What impact does this program have on your family?

A: We have deeper conversations about culture and the stories they are learning about the eagle, the bear, and the turtle. These stories bring back memories for my dad that he forgot. He was not taught the language growing up. Prior to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, it was illegal to speak the language, share American Indian culture, or practice any traditional ceremonies. So for my dad to see the kids bringing the language home, it really fills him with pride. It almost brings tears to his eyes seeing these kids coming back into the culture.

Q: What connections does this program provide?

A: Before this program, the kids knew that they were Ojibwe. But it is one thing to know the word, and another thing to actually feel part of the community. By being in Indian Youth Enrichment, they finally feel like they are part of that community. And it goes beyond this program, because we see each other in the neighborhood and at community events. And when they know each other, they feel that community piece that is so important to our culture.

Q: What is the importance of having a cultural focus in your child’s education?

A: The cultural piece is so important for a lot of children. Because if you are struggling to learn something, and the sources you are reading from don’t reflect who you are, what’s the point of learning it since it has nothing to do with you? So by having the kids come to this school, or to this program specifically, they experience—perhaps for the first time—other kids that look like them, and read stories about their families. Then all of a sudden it starts to click, and that interest is there, and it really starts to matter.

Q: What is your child’s favorite part of the program?

A: I hear Lucy tell me all about the Reading Warriors class. That is one of her favorite things, because she gets to read and then write and draw in her journal. She really enjoys writing all sorts of things. Oscar is more of a hands-on guy. So he really enjoys going on all the field trips and visiting places that are culturally significant. It fills me with joy knowing they are going to these places, and that my dad is able to see that too. I grew up with my grandpa and he got to see me go through this transition. Being able to give that to my kids has been really powerful for me, and it has been an awaking for our spirits too.

Q: What would you like to say to program donors?

A: Miigwech! (Thank You!) For a lot of these students and for American Indians in general, we are almost always forgotten. We are such a small population compared to what we used to be. When they do surveys they put us under “other” because there is not enough surveys focused on American Indians. But we have the lowest graduation rates. But I am not going to let that happen to my kids. I want to make sure they know who they are. And this program does that. The staff here tell the kids who they are. They let them know that they are important and worth it. So thank you for helping us do that.

A: How does this impact these children’s future?

Q: I drop off my kids every day, so I get to see them. And they are so happy and excited to see each other. They are making life-long friends. In a few years, when these kids get older, they are going to be the policy makers, they are going to be the important people in our community, they are going to be our leaders. And as long as they have pride in themselves they will be proud enough to be those leaders.

Q: What has been the best experience in this program?

A: It has been such a wonderful experience as a mom to watch the growth of my two kids and to watch my daughter for the first time really getting into the culture. It is one thing for me to teach them, but it is another for them to learn it from their teachers. I remember trying to teach Oscar when he was younger while reading the book “Brown Bear Brown Bear” about “mukwa” which means “bear” in Ojibwe. But he fought me on it and said, “no mom that’s bear.” It was not until he learned about it during class that he said, “ok that’s mukwa.” And now, I get to see Lucy coming home and sharing those stories with me too. It’s very heartwarming. It’s just very very cool. So Thank you!

To learn more about the American Indian Youth Enrichment program, please contact:

Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson
Youth Enrichment Coordinator
651-283-7183
rfdickinson@interfaithaction.org